I Took A Sabbatical From My Marriage

At 42, I left Vermont for Rome, taking a sabbatical from my husband.

woman sitting on cliff edge overlooking ocean Artie Medvedev / Shutterstock

Be true to yourself; allow for reinvention.

Ostensibly, I was tracing my Italian roots. I had landed a job teaching first grade for a semester in the hills outside of Rome, and traveled there with my three youngest children, while my husband remained home working.

Before I left, my father pulled me aside, “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“What don’t you get about this, Dad? I have a job teaching in Rome.”


Little did we imagine then that I would return with a new name, “Giovanna,” Italian for Joanne, and he from then on would be “Babbo.”

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A sabbatical (from the Hebrew shabbath, from Latin sabbatticus, from Greek; sabbatikos) is a rest or break from work, “recurring in sevens or on every seventh.”

At the time of my “quest,” or sabbatical, if you will, its impetus wasn’t fully conscious to me — perhaps a vague sense of dissatisfaction, or a “there must be more” feeling; or maybe, it was just something that I’d always wanted to do, which was true. I


had three pivotal experiences that appeared almost like clockwork across the decades of my marriage.

Marriage, in particular, needs some part isolation and distance, or it loses focus

I share this with you not to sow discord in your relationship; but rather, to encourage self-contemplation and self-realization: a better you.

For my part; it did turn out that I was deeply unhappy and needed those times away, physically, or simply emotionally, to fully realize that, and eventually, come to terms with it. Tolstoy said the same; you have to go on an adventure and come back to reinvent yourself. Be true to yourself; allow for reinvention.

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I encourage everyone of all ages and situations to entertain the idea of taking a sabbatical from the usual.

Not with anger, or dissatisfaction, and without expectation; but just to look around, and take a break. It’s easy to be subsumed by what we’re doing, work, marriage, raising children, and forget who we set out to be.

Own that free space in your life until you recognize yourself again! Marriage, in particular, needs some part isolation and distance, or it loses focus.

I deleted a scene in my novel whereby my character dreamt an ancient tomb lay open before her, and as she watched the pages flip from left to right, they stopped at random of their own volition before continuing. It happened so quickly she couldn’t decipher anything. Life can, and does, pass unread for the most part. 


Powered by your own steam

How many stories proceed with logical precision?

When multiple planes of reality exist at any one time?

Instead of rewriting those moments, when something we know to be true, didn’t materialize the way we expected — or materialize at all — listen for the tidal thought that turns your world upside down. In listening, I am more alive because some piece of me wants to remember. Those moments of fill-in-the-blank are in truth, a call to action that you have given yourself. 

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Don’t fear stepping outside your role as “wife,” “husband,” or “son,” “daughter;” you won’t be lost, or possibly surprised — you’ve greeted your original self.


In the best of times, you’ll return to whatever station you choose, powered by your own steam.

Go out and plant Whitman’s grass around an emerald lake, even if only in your backyard! If in our youth, life manifests fiery-hued mountain and volcano periods, then why not do so again in middle age, at any age?

As for “hero quests” and “sabbaticals,” I leave that to you. They worked for me, so much so that they inspired my first novel, Never a Cloud. I say first because I feel empowered.


Though the subconscious forces, a drive for independence and a desire to recalibrate as an adult, remained at the time veiled, they did land me in Rome, where indeed I had a new view, and the time and space to look around.

I encourage you to make the effort and take the chance, and land in your own Rome.

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Jo Brunini is an artist and a poet who interviews French artists, and blogs about her life, the art world, and the beauty in everything.