An increasing number of married couples are spending planned time apart. Does absence make the heart grow fonder?

Like many couples, Viva and her husband John had spent more than enough time with each other during the pandemic. Viva, who is 40 and originally from the Philippines, but lives in the UK, longed to spend time with her family when restrictions lifted, while John had work commitments at home.

But John had a suggestion.

Rather than either of them compromising on how they wanted to spend their time post-lockdowns, why not spend it apart? The couple were also healing from miscarriage, and they thought a breather could be good for them.

At first, Viva was unsure. She hadn’t been away from John for a prolonged period since they were married seven years earlier. But she was eventually convinced – and she hasn’t looked back. The couple are now three months into a planned separation, which Viva has spent in Manila with family. John has been able to visit his own family in Ireland, take work trips and is planning a vacation in Denmark.

Some people might think choosing to spend so much time apart would be the death knell of a relationship, but Viva and John have found that it has reinvigorated their marriage. “We keep in touch every day, through WhatsApp, Facebook and email,” says Viva. “It’s like going back to how it was at the start of our relationship.”

Viva isn’t the only one looking for a way out of her marriage, at least temporarily. Some counsellors and relationship therapists report coming across couples that don’t see a desire to sample a new life without their partner as a sign that a relationship is over. Instead, some are choosing to take a so-called relationship ‘gap-year’, to give them the space to explore different interests, travel experiences and – in some cases – sexual partners.

But can a gap-year really strengthen a relationship, or is it a sign that couples are on course for a split?

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