Journalist Celia Walden talked of taking a six-week ‘marriage sabbatical’ from her marriage in a recent essay, ‘as in, six weeks apart from my spouse and marriage’. In the post-Covid age, there are undoubtedly many couples who may benefit from a break, but six weeks seems a bit long. Where would you go if you had six weeks to travel? Would you have to stay at a hotel? When you learn that she is married to Piers Morgan, the real mystery is why she would take a holiday at all when she could be sending out resumes.
The Seven Year Itch came about because it is typical in the United States for the wife to go on summer vacations while the husband stays behind to work and have adulterous relationships. Walden claims that as a result, the marital sabbatical has a lengthy history and origins on both sides of the Atlantic. The book The Marriage Sabbatical: the Journey that Brings You Home by Cheryl Jarvis, published in 1999, is where the phrase originally appeared.
Jarvis, a native of St. Louis, Missouri, developed the idea in the same manner that a work sabbatical is used to pursue a personal objective. Women’s goals were directly tied to it; it was something they wanted to achieve that was important to them personally. Simply put, it was something that a lot of the women in their hometowns were unable to accomplish. You can open a bakery in your hometown but you can’t go trekking in the Appalachian Mountains.
While it’s debatable if this holds true now, it was clearly more common during the turn of the 20th century, when a woman putting herself first was viewed as a disturbance and even an insult to the social order. ‘The problem wasn’t her absence from the home since, in Jarvis’s words, ‘a lady might say: ‘I’m going to go be with my ailing mother… and nobody said anything – she was a great woman,’ Not if her priorities shifted, though, since ‘when she wanted to do something for herself, it was regarded quite differently, that she was selfish’.