Book Review: The Marriage Sabbatical

Posted On: January 22, 2013

The-Marriage-SabbaticalIn The Marriage Sabbatical, Cheryl Jarvis makes a case for women who take the time away from her family and/ or spouse to find themselves.

A marriage sabbatical is a “personal time-out from daily routines for creative, professional or spiritual growth, reflection or renewal.” It allows women to get away from the noises of caretaking and judgment. In the stillness, she can find her own voice by going deeper within herself.

What it is not

  • Not a separation from family. It’s a move toward rewards for her family and herself.
  • Not infinite. This sabbatical can be a week, a month, a year, or even one day.
  • Will not save a marriage that is fundamentally unhappy.

What it is

  • It is structured and purposeful.
  • May take many different forms, depending on the needs, desires, and financial considerations of the specific couple.
  • Agreements regarding how and how often to communicate, how and how often to see one another etc.

What it can do:

  • Break dysfunctional relationship patterns
  • Gain perspective on the relationship
  • Realize what your partner really means to you
  • Create a context for personal growth and change, and
  • Find a balance between autonomy and intimacy that works for you.

At the age of 48, after more than 25 years of marriage, author Cheryl Jarvis took a three-month sabbatical from her husband and two children and spent three months on a writers’ retreat. She interviewed 55 women who also put their marriages on hold, some for more than a year, to study, teach, volunteer, climb mountains, find fulfilment and refresh. Jarvis shares her only struggles with getting over the guilt of leaving, and how she discovered a new way to honor herself and her family as a mother, a wife and a person.  

Jarvis argues that, “A marriage is as emotionally intense as any job, one of life’s greatest challenges, but there’s no annual leave, no ritual rest.” It can be viewed as a less drastic alternative of divorce where if one is feeling the strain, or if one needs to decompress?

And in case you are not convinced of the case for a sabbatical, read on:

“A woman is vulnerable to loss of self in marriage, even if she doesn’t marry young or her husband isn’t dynamic. If her nature is to please, if she instinctively places her husband’s needs before her own, she is almost guaranteed a length struggle for her identity. Loss of self is insidious because, like heart disease, it invades in silence….. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard expressed the problem this way: “The greatest danger, that of losing one’s own self, may pass off quietly as if it were nothing; every other loss, that of an arm, a leg, five dollars… is sure to be noticed.”

While this book appears to be target at married women, obviously men deserve and take sabbaticals too – and would benefit from reading this book. However men might have less hang ups about taking time for themselves because of how it is commonly perceived that marriage completes a woman – she is supposed to already be happy and have no other needs; women usually being the main careprovider and nurturer of kids in the family and hence the dependence of the family on her.

Our greatest challenge – for both men and women – is having the courage to follow a path many do not dare take for themselves. Recognise and take the time out for yourself if you need it.

Book Description

From Harriet Beecher Stowe to Ann Morrow Lindbergh, women have been taking marriage sabbaticals for centuries to explore their sense of self. What is a marriage sabbatical? It is simply a time away from your daily routines to nurture your own creative, intellectual, or spiritual strengths.

In this personal yet practical book, Cheryl Jarvis chronicles the story of her own marriage sabbatical–a three-month stay at writers’ colonies–and the experiences of 55 other women who took time and space away. Through these reflective and empowering ventures, the author illuminates the issues involved: the logistics, the finances, the fears. Whether it’s hiking the Appalachian Trail, holing up in a cabin to paint, or taking a class in another city, a marriage sabbatical can bring new life and understanding to a longterm partnership.

About the Author

Cheryl Jarvis is a journalist and essayist and the author of The Marriage Sabbatical: The Journey That Brings You Home. She has written for The Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and Reader’s Digest. A former television producer and magazine and newspaper editor, she has taught writing at the University of Southern California and at Washington University and Webster University in St. Louis.

Purchase this book here.

You may also wish to read my review of another book The Marriage Shock here.


Dr. Martha Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching. She is a certified sexologist with a Doctorate in Human Sexuality. She provides sexuality and intimacy coaching for individuals and couples, conducts sexual education workshops and speaks at public events. For more, visit or email

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