Yet in marriage — one of the world's oldest institutions, one of life's greatest challenges, a relationship which can be as emotionally intense as any job, which even conventional wisdom calls hard work — there is no development leave, no ritual rest. It may not be coincidence that in biblical times the land was to lie fallow every seventh year and that the average length of marriage at the time of divorce in this country is 7.4 years, making "the seven-year itch" more than a catchphrase. What would happen if we looked to nature and let our marriages rest for a while in order to regenerate? What would happen if we took time out for an invigorating experience, focused on human fulfillment? Sabbaticals have actually been taking place in marriage under other guises for centuries. In the Middle Ages, wealthy married women who wanted time alone retreated to convents. In Victorian times, the treatment for hysteria, a psychiatric condition characterized in part by excessive anxiety, was a sea voyage, a long journey, a move from town to country — anything to stimulate the nervous system. Among the prescribed treatments for neurasthenia, a mental disorder characterized by inexplicable exhaustion and irritability, was separation from family and familiar surroundings. Water-cure establishments, sanitariums, and other retreats proliferated during this era.
No wonder these illnesses were considered predominantly female. No wonder they were overdiagnosed. No wonder they were found only in the middle and upper classes, those who could afford a retreat or sea voyage. No wonder these "treatments" usually brought relief. Getting sick was one of the few acceptable ways women could get time for themselves.