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Laurie Puhn Headshot

Be Apart to Stay Together

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No one expected the typically close-mouthed Barbra Steisand to share something so personal on Katie last month, the new TV talk show. But when Katie Couric asked her about the secret to her happy 14-year marriage to James Brolin, Barbra revealed her secret, without hesitation. Barbra and James spend time apart. They talk to each other on the phone often and then, when they do see each other, the thrill, excitement and romance of their relationship blooms bright.

As I heard Barbra's revelation, I wondered, does the "time apart" love connection have meaning for the rest of us non-celebs? Does absence really make the heart grow fonder? Turns out, it does. Going out and doing things without your honey can be good for your marriage.

New research shows that happy long-married couples often say their secret is, "We give each other space." According to an unpublished study by Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, having enough space or privacy in a relationship is more important for a couple's happiness than having a good sex life. So guys and gals, I suggest you consider a night out without your spouse as merely doing a service for your relationship to keep it alive and well. That weekend retreat you were considering? Go for it.

But just a minute... This isn't a rallying cry for individuals to band together to say, "See! This proves that I should be able to do what I want, whenever I want." First of all, if you have cheated on your mate in the past, then you have lost your right to socialize without your spouse, until your mate decides that he/she trusts you again. Second, even if you are as pure as driven snow, securing alone time for yourself requires a tactful conversation.

As a couples mediator, relationship expert, and bestselling author of "Fight Less, Love More: 5-Minute Conversations to Change Your Relationship Without Blowing Up or Giving In," I ask you to use a simple two-part peaceful negotiation to get what you want: Ask first, enjoy second. If you want to attend an event or make a specific social plan without your mate, talk to your honey before you commit. Offer a trade-off that will encourage your mate to take a guilt-free night out for him/herself while you stay home with the kids, if you have them. If your mate doesn't latch on to this idea, then consider some possible reasons why. Could it be because he/she thinks you don't pull your weight at home when you are home? If that's the case, 'fess up and follow through on doing more at home in return for some agreed-upon alone time.

If that's not where your mate's resistance comes from, then perhaps it's time for a hardcore "I really love you" talk, coupled with "time for myself is important because it helps me stay balanced and happy." As I write in "Fight Less, Love More", don't expect your spouse to be a mindreader. Ask for what you want, or you won't get it. Be honest, confident and loving when you ask.

Don't ignore any jealousy and/or trust issues that might surface. If she thinks, "I just don't like the idea of his being out with the guys drinking, and doing whatever," or he thinks, "she doesn't need to go out to a bar and be hit on by single guys," then you should remove these obstacles by putting your cards on the table and talking about what you actually do when you're out and about. Keep in mind that spending time apart can also include mundane activities like spending time shopping, exercising, attending a sports game, or doing errands and going to lunch without the kids in tow. You own that time, and how you spend it is your choice.

Being happily married doesn't mean you have to spend days or weeks apart, as celebrities often do. What it does mean is that you should think about whether absence would make your heart and your honey's heart grow a little fonder.

Share your thoughts! Does absence make your relationship happier?