The On-Again-Off-Again Schedule That Makes Great Marriages Work

Time away brings you closer together.

Couple embracing, and distanced at the same time Jasmine Carter via Canva |  janiecbros via Canva

Is alternating time together and time apart good for couples? How about emotional highs and lows? Successful couples, with or without marriage, allow their relationship to breathe in and out. They separate and then come close again, and sometimes play loudly and sometimes softly, like an accordion.

While they are always attached emotionally, that is, caring about each other, sometimes these healthy-attachment couples will be physically in the same place, eating meals, raising children, and doing shared activities. Shared time refreshes their connection. At other times, however, they will be physically apart, each at separate work sites, enjoying separate friends or doing independent activities.


RELATED: Top 10 Secrets Of Those Highly Successful Couples We All Envy

Why the on-again-off-again schedule makes marriage work

Alternation of separate and together time keeps relationships continually revitalized, much like breathing in and breathing out facilitates a steady flow of fresh air to your lungs.


Great marriages require balance 

Still, it's important to note that there are risks to in and out movement. Too much time apart can be like too much time holding your breath in between intakes of air; your relationship may suffer a collapse from insufficient togetherness. Too much together time also can overload the relationship. Finding a good balance of "I" and "We" time is essential.

RELATED: Why Time Apart Is The Best Way To Stay Together

Time apart is sometimes time to heal 

How about ups and downs with emotional roller coasters of depression and/or explosions of anger? While some variability of emotions, like variations in the volume and mood of music, is normal, intense highs and lows pose serious risks to relationships. When one partner is depressed for a long period of time, the relationship is likely to become strained. If one or both is often angry, the anger can corrode their love.

Some couples say they like the excitement of fighting, especially if it's followed by intense reconnection and love-making.


For most, though, fighting gradually builds walls between them, brick by brick, battle by battle, making them enemies instead of lovers. All couples have periodic upsets, and that's normal. The key is to handle disagreements with calm talking that results in mutual understanding of how to avoid similar problems in the future.

Escalation into high-pitched battles seldom resolves differences. It only causes war injuries. Better to get skills for communication in relationships when the issues are sensitive, and learn to exit the situation if there's too much heat.

The poet Robert Frost once wrote, "Some say the world will end in fire, some say ice." I say both have their dangers. Aim for a balance of togetherness with time apart so that too much distance doesn't cause your relationship to grow cold. Learn skills for interacting with consistently calm goodwill, lest your partnership becomes consumed by fire.

RELATED: 25 Experts Explain What Choices Make A Marriage Actually Work Long-Term​


Dr. Susan Heitler is a clinical psychologist and author. She is a subject matter expert in breaking bad habits and addictions.