Is distance the key to a happy marriage?

(Thinkstock Photos)(Thinkstock Photos)Boredom. It's the leading deal-breaker in marriages, according to a recent survey of over 100 family and divorce lawyers. Not to mention Brad Pitt.

Married for 23 years, journalist Iris Krasnow has a personal antidote to the long-term marital rut that creeps into relationships over time: separate summer vacations.

Once a year for about a decade, she's spent a portion of her summer away from her husband. When her four sons were young, she'd work as a counselor at their camp in the Adirondacks while her husband, an architect and furniture maker, focused on his own projects back at their Annapolis, Maryland home. "I love nature so I just thrived up there and he'd get so much work done back home," says Krasnow, an associate professor of communication at American University.

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After seven weeks away (with a visit in between) their marriage was usually stronger than ever. "When I'd come home, the grind of an ordinary marriage seemed extraordinary," she says.

It's one of the trade secrets she's learned in her own marriage, and through interviewing over 200 women in long-term relationships, for her new book, "The Secret Lives of Wives".

A little distance is key to growing "separately, together," as Krasnow calls it. "You can't live happily ever after in your marriage if you're not happy outside of it," she says. One major misconception in marriage, as Krasnow sees it, is believing your spouse is your only source of happiness. "No one person can make you happy, it has to come from within," says Krasnow.
"When you live with someone day in and out the 'hot' doesn't stay 'hot' unless you take time apart to discover yourself and what makes you happy independent of your partner."

For Krasnow, that means a few spouse-less weeks away. For some of the women she interviewed, it's come in the form of a girlfriends' getaway or a newfound hobby that forces a little separation between family life and personal identity. "All of the women I've interviewed with strong marriages have great girlfriends they can drink, travel, and vent with," she says with a snicker. "The trick is having separate adventures and pursuits from your spouse, not separate lives."

She limits her time apart from her husband to three to four weeks maximum and she's learned in her time away to feel comfort in her husband's absence. "It's okay to miss someone you love," she says. "It's a very powerful aphrodisiac."

Some couples take it one step further, dividing their time between two separate homes. In 2006, 3.8 million married couples were considered "living apart together." Judith Newman and her husband of more than a decade, are one of them. "Living apart has allowed us to stay married and remain in love," Newman writes in Self Magazine. From the get-go they had different ideas about how to keep a home, how to decorate, and how to live peacefully inside their shared space. Their solution was to keep two separate apartments nearby, even after they had kids. "We do find each other essential," she writes. "It's just that, like many couples, we find each other deeply annoying, too. The only difference with us is that sometimes we can breathe a deep sigh of relief at the end of the day and say: I love you, honey; now get the hell out of here!"

One reason a little distance goes a long way in a marriage: it fosters self-reliance. A study published in the journal Family Relations found that wives of men with fishing or trucking jobs that took them away from home for weeks at a time were more likely to take on male roles in the house. The ability to fix things in the home, and accomplish tasks they'd otherwise rely on their spouse for, bolstered confidence and diminished the "neediness" factor that festers in a long-term relationship.

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But not everyone believes co-dependence is a bad thing. Dr. Paul Amato, author of "Alone Together: How Marriage in America is Changing", found that couples are spending more time apart than ever. Over a period of 20 years, more spouses are vacationing, networking, and making friends outside of their family units. He suggests that too much independence and self-reliance can make the idea of divorce more palatable.

A partner-free vacation is only a problem if your marriage is unstable, says psychologist Ruth A. Peters, PhD. "When the relationship is intact, occasional separate vacations can add a terrific dimension to your marriage," Peters tells MSNBC. "But if trouble is already brewing between partners, a separate vacation may do more harm than good. Consider your true motivation for the vacation, the stability of your finances and relationship, ages of your children, and willingness to compromise."

For Angela Neustatter, compromise saved her marriage. So did a little time apart under one roof. After a protracted marital rut characterized by frustration and bickering, she and her husband considered separating, until they came up with a plan. "Separate togetherness," is how Neustatter described their deal in the Telegraph. Together the couple assigned themselves "private spaces in our home to retreat to, allowing us to choose when we wanted to be together." It did wonders. "It was the best thing we could have done. We went back to behaving as we had much earlier in our relationship...And as we grew closer, we were able to talk about having felt we'd grown apart and the pleasure in growing together again. "

Sometimes a little distance, be it a few feet or few thousand miles, goes a long way.

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