Years ago a bachelor friend mused that marriage should include earned vacation. If you’ve been married a year, you get a week off, two years; two weeks off, on up to full seniority with an annual month off, not including sick leave and holidays when you need to be on deck, decking the halls.
“What can you do with this vacation?” I asked my bachelor friend.
“Well,” he said, “Whatever you like.”
“Whatever? Including the extramarital fling?”
“Sure, why not?” he said.
Why not was so obvious that we dropped the subject. Vacations are meant to reduce tensions, not increase them.
Extramarital flings aside, he had a point, though. A sanctioned chance to get away keeps co-workers contented, and the same applies to romantic partners, though the breaks I find I need most are mini-vacations, an hour to cool off in the middle of an argument.
How can couples take breaks that reduce tension, especially since the impulse to take a break is strongest when the tensions are high and climbing? At such times it’s hard to separate cleanly. Frustrated we hiss a patronizing “Fine, I’ll give you space.” Disappointed we sigh, “I give up.” “I’m exhausted.” “Nevermind.” “Just forget it” “Whatever.”
Cold silence as we exit speaks volumes too.
Taking space and leaving in a huff are often indistinguishable. It’s easy to hear, “Let’s pause this conflict but know that it’s all your stubborn fault.”
That’s not as exacerbating as an extramarital affair, but it’s certainly not conducive to the R&R that vacations from conflict best afford.
Realizing this, my partner and I wanted a specific official term for neutral disconnects, taking space cleanly, agnostic as to who is right or wrong. We tried “tapping out” since it is usually signaled when in pain. But tapping out means you’ve lost, so that’s not it. It’s sort of like “Nolo Contendere,” the law’s technical term for “no contest”—not guilty or innocent, but that’s not it either, since we’re not signaling an end of the case beinc argued, but a continuance. “Cats” as in Tic Tac Toe’s Cat’s game doesn’t work either. It’s not declaring a tie or stalemate. It’s not the end, just a vacation.
Now we simply call it “Hitting pause.” Or we say “We need a vacation.”
Partnership seniority is a factor in how much vacation we’ve earned; how much we both can afford to hit pause. The longer we’re together the better we know that the other person is coming back from the vacation, and that we’re not sticking it to each other on our way out the door.
To name it is to tame it. Understanding it tames it too. To change something, people focus on what’s wrong. To accept something, people ignore what’s wrong. No one can turn on a dime, from attending to a problem to ignoring it. Hit pause on your computer and it stops effortlessly. Not so with us warm-blooded ones. With us there’s momentum to break. So when we’re arguing both of us focused on a problem, we can’t expect to suddenly drop it, shifting to ignoring the problem. That actually takes time. A little R&R apart gives us new perspective.
My partner and I don’t schedule our mini-vacations. Still, we expect them. They’re sanctioned in our job description: Graciously, give and take mini-vacations.