If the mathematics of marriage is two becoming one, how do you factor in couples that have decided that some temporary division improves the odds of their relationship's longevity?

A recent Slate piece highlighted one of the findings from Iris Krasnow's recent book, The Secret Lives of Women: Women Share What It Really Take to Stay Married: Strategic absences can make spouse's hearts grow fonder.

Krasnow discovered that spending the month of July apart from her husband of 23 years so each could pursue their own interests strengthened their relationship. This was not a Hall Pass-style break, but rather an intentional choice by both partners to devote time and resources to personal growth. Krasnow currently uses her July marriage sabbatical for writing time on one coast, while her husband focuses on building his furniture business on the other. Krasnow notes that when August rolls around, the two are "hot to see each other, high on our personal accomplishments, and purged of the inevitable resentments that arise in the grind of the ordinary that long marriage becomes."

Krasnow interviewed more than 200 women who'd been married 15 years or more. Wives who were married to spouses who were gone for extended periods of time, such as fisherman and truckers, reported that the separations honed their communication skills, matured their sense of self, and encouraged them to develop their own toolkit of practical skills. A broken toilet in a busy household can't wait for a husband away on a business trip.

The one marital separation that does not offer these benefits is when a spouse is on active duty in a war zone. Krasnow reports that the damage from the stress of the situation erodes any individual growth gains that may occur during the separation.

The idea of time away from a spouse may sound counterintuitive to those who vow to love, honor, and cherish until death parts them. Church and culture alike portray the marriage ideal is two becoming one and living together happily ever after - emphasis on together. Popular Christian marriage manuals like The Love Dare and Love and Respect underscore the idea that growing a marriage that goes the distance means actively fighting the temptation to drift apart over time. Togetherness is typically prescribed as the de facto solution to this drift.

Krasnow challenges this notion. She found that "the happiest wives have a sense of purpose and passion in work and causes outside of the home. Wives who counted on a spouse for fulfillment and sustenance were often angry and lonely." Though time apart can be beneficial to both parties in a marriage, the studies quoted by Slate underscored the reality that time away may be more beneficial for women than for men. One possible reason for this may be because some women may be tempted to submerge some or all of their God-given identity for the sake of the relationship.

After 32 years of marriage, I affirm Krasnow's conclusions about time away, albeit with a slight modification. Short-duration slices of time spent apart from my husband have created space in my life to focus fully on writing projects, service and learning opportunities, and cherished friendships. My husband has encouraged me to pursue these things, and honors them for the growth opportunities they are for both of us. He has enjoyed the quiet around the home to read, watch movies, and relax, and is considering some "time away" options of his own. Krasnow has noted that time away can function as a reset button on some of the niggling annoyances that build up like dryer lint in a long-term relationship. My husband and I agree.

However, during the early years of our marriage, the kind of time away our relationship needed most was time together. We had three children in the span of 36 months, and it was essential for us to get away together a couple of times a year so we could pause from our Mommy-Daddy roles and remember who we were as a couple. Using our limited time resources to build our marriage was the right call for us during those busy years.

But as our children grew up, I realized that I've needed to do some growing up as well. That has meant developing as a couple, investing in our family, friends, and in a ministry in which we are both involved. It has also meant pursuing growth as an individual. Long-married couples learn over time to blend their lives in ways that become habitual and comfortable, but that comfort can become a stale plateau for both parties. That plateau is not a spiritually or emotionally healthy place to live.

Paul's words to his friends in Corinth about marriage offer scaffolding upon which long-time marrieds can build if they take some time away:

- Our bodies are not our own

- Both spouses should agree on the nature, purpose, and duration for their time apart

- The goal of temporary separations isn't to encourage couples to grow apart; it's to come back together in order to move forward

Paul, who was single when he penned these words, sums up this segment of his instruction to married couples with this reminder: " … each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that" (vs. 7).

Married couples may benefit from the decision to carve out some individual time in order to discover, exercise, and refine those gifts. In this way, they can become gifts to one another the way God intends when he brings two people together in order to make them one.