Is taking a ‘marriage sabbatical’ a selfish thing to do? Some say it is

In a recent article, journalist Celia Walden discussed taking a six-week “marriage sabbatical”—”as in, six weeks away from my husband and marriage”—from her marriage. 

There are definitely many couples in the post-Covid era who could benefit from a break, but six weeks seems a bit excessive. Where would you travel for a full six weeks? Would a hotel be required for your stay? The true question, though, is why she would take a vacation at all when she could be sending out CVs after you realise she is married to Piers Morgan. 

In the United States, it is customary for the wife to travel for the summer while the husband stays at home to work and engage in extramarital affairs, hence the Seven Year Itch. As a result, according to Walden, the marriage sabbatical has a long history with roots on both sides of the Atlantic.

The phrase was first used in Cheryl Jarvis’ 1999 book The Marriage Sabbatical: the Journey that Brings You Home. 

It was conceptualised by Jarvis, a resident of St. Louis, Missouri, in the same way as a work sabbatical is taken to pursue a personal goal. It was closely related to the aspirations of women, something they desired to do that had personal significance for them. It was simply something that many women in their hometowns were unable to achieve. In your hometown, you can start a bakery, but you can’t go hiking in the Appalachian Mountains.

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We may debate whether this is still true today, but it was undoubtedly more prevalent at the end of the 20th century when a woman putting herself first was seen as a disruption and even an affront to the social order. 

The issue wasn’t her absence from the house since, according to Jarvis, “A woman could say: ‘I’m going to go be with my sick mother… and nobody said anything – she was a wonderful woman.” 

However, not if her priorities changed, “When she wanted to do something for herself, it was perceived very differently, that she was selfish.”

(with inputs from agencies)