Does Absence Make The Heart Grow Fonder?
The Rumor: Time away from our partners makes us love them even more.
Around 25 BC, the elegiac Roman poet Sextus Propertius penned the phrase, "Toward absent lovers love's tide stronger flows." Two thousand years later, we often hear people say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. But does it really? Or does distance drive a wedge between us and our loved ones? Experts say the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
The Verdict: Absence often strains relationships.
Psychologist Dr. Michael Broder advises separated lovers to ease up on having any expectations about how things will be when they see each other again. "I travel sometimes," he says. "My wife travels as well. There are times when we come home and we absolutely want to spend time together. But other times, we might come back [and] we're both jet-lagged, we're tired... [Togetherness] is just not the thing to do at that moment."
Broder says the trick is to allow for some flexibility, and to keep it in mind that your partner may not have the same needs you do at the moment you reconnect. "Couples who don't understand that often have a hard time," he notes.
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness, says we tend to romanticize our partners while they're away. That's nice and lovely and all... until they (and reality) return. And it won't help things if the first thing they say when they walk in the door is, "Not now, honey, I need a nap." "It's important to avoid taking your partner's reaction personally if they need some time alone," Lombardo says.
Tensions can also spike if one person is left to handle the lion's share of domestic responsibilities, such as childcare. "They'll miss their partner on an emotional level, but they may feel burdened by the absence," says Dr. Jane Greer, a marriage and family therapist.
Greer believes that couples can improve their relationships by continuing to communicate while apart, and by talking about the balance of responsibilities. Perhaps most importantly, each person needs to acknowledge the other for what he or she has accomplished, whether at home or away. Partners need to try to be supportive instead of defensive when they reconnect.
"It also helps to focus and plan on [spending] some quality time together when your partner returns," says Greer. Reconnect with a date night; if you don't want to leave the house, cook dinner and watch a movie at home. Or just talk. Or play cards or a board game. It doesn’t really matter what you do, as long as you do it together.