Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones: Should Couples Take a Marriage Break?

Is this the end for Douglas and Zeta-Jones? They might not even have the answer (Getty Images)After several years of battling divorce rumors, Michael Douglas, 68, and his wife, 43-year-old Catherine Zeta-Jones are "taking a break" from their 13-year marriage, according to a story published Wednesday by People.

The marriage hasn’t exactly been blissful lately. There’s been Zeta-Jones's battle with bi-polar disorder (the actress revealed her illness in 2011), Douglas's bout with throat cancer in 2010, and his 34-year-old son Cameron Douglas’s nearly 10-year imprisonment for selling methamphetamine and cocaine. Throw in the showbiz couple’s absence at red carpet events and their separate vacations, and news of a split doesn’t come as much of a surprise. 

However, neither Douglas nor Zeta-Jones has filed for divorce or even made motions toward a legal separation, according to People. "Catherine and Michael are taking some time apart to evaluate and work on their marriage. There will be no further comment," Zeta-Jones's publicist told multiple media outlets via a statement on Wednesday.

Back in high school, when your boyfriend became clingy or the combo of taking exams and maintaining your love life felt overwhelming, going “on a break” seemed logical. Spend a few weeks or months apart to regroup, maybe even date other people, then reunite under the dizzying spell of romantic novelty. It was an appropriate coping mechanism at the time, but breaks aren’t for married people, according to couples mediator Laurie Puhn, creator of the nationwide relationship course Fight Less, Love More.

"Married couples who take a break, rather than divorce, are allowing themselves to end the relationship without dealing with the pain associated with it," Puhn told Yahoo! Shine. "It’s a way of making tough decisions without facing the fallout—and if you have kids, it’s even more damaging."

It may sound tempting to sublet a place to clear your head or crash with a girlfriend to see if you’re happier without each other, but couples who do so are subconsciously hatching a permanent exit plan. "The hardest part about leaving a marriage is taking those initial steps — finding a new home, establishing yourself financially — you’ll accomplish those things more easily if you tell yourself it’s only temporary,” said Puhn. In the beginning, it can feel like a relief (no more nagging!), but that's because you’ve excused yourself from the responsibility of problem-solving. In some cases, moving on can be healthy. Not all marriages are meant to last, after all. However, if things are so bad, wouldn't divorce be a smarter option?

What's more, couples who take a break not only find themselves in amorphous "What are we?" relationships (Good luck explaining that at dinner parties), but temporary time apart could either prolong the painful decision to divorce or cause both parties to miss each other so much that they reunite for the wrong reasons.

And if you have children (Zeta-Jones and Douglas are parents to 13-year-old Dylan Michael Douglas and 10-year-old Carys Zeta), they’ll only suffer for it. "There’s no way to explain a 'break' to a toddler or even a teen," says Puhn. "They may cling to the hope of a reconciliation and if it doesn’t happen, they’ll be let down twice."

Of course, after a tiff, there's nothing wrong with spending the night at a friend's to calm down — even the happiest couples need space every once in a while.The key is, to limit the time apart (a weekend, max, says Puhn) and resolve to problem-solve when you return home. 

In Hollywood, it’s not uncommon for celebrity couples to live chaotic lives, often living separately due to work schedules. Which is why, for the sake of their children, it’s even more crucial for Zeta-Jones and Douglas to solidify their status.

However, if Douglas and Zeta-Jones believe in their marriage, it's better to stay put. "After all, you committed to your spouse for better or worse," said Puhn. "Aren't there better ways to solve problems?"