Book Excerpt: The Marriage Sabbatical

A sabbatical is a greater issue for women because it is harder for women to leave. In spite of men's increasing involvement in family life, women still outnumber men in all caregiving roles. Studies overwhelmingly show that in families of two working parents, women still put in longer hours with children and household tasks. When a child of two working parents gets sick, it is still the mother who most often stays home. Women spend significantly more time than men taking care of elderly relatives, and this time is destined to increase. An American working woman today can expect to spend more years caring for an aging parent than she will for a dependent child. And as women themselves grow older, they are more likely to take care of their husbands than their husbands are to take care of them. Sabbaticals are also a bigger issue for women because of psychological gender differences. As behavioral psychologist Carol Gilligan theorized in her groundbreaking work In a Different Voice, women are conditioned to be more relational than men and while men develop their identity through separation and autonomy, women develop their identity through relationship with others. Because women are raised to invest more in relationship, because their sense of self is organized around affiliation, it is psychologically more difficult for them to move away from the relationships in their lives.

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung proposed a different theory of psychological development, but equally relevant. Historically, our culture has suppressed what we once called "male" characteristics (power and independence) in women and "female" characteristics (emotional expressiveness and nurturing) in men. The task of the second half of life, said Jung, is to claim our contrasexual energies — in other words, to find our missing selves. To fulfill this task, "to become whole," men who need to discover their "feminine" side are pulled inward, toward home and family life, while women who need to develop their "masculine" traits are pulled outward, away from home and family life. Although increasing numbers of women find personal power in their twenties and thirties, those who spend the first half of their adult life raising children often don't discover this power until their middle and later years.

And finally, sabbaticals are a bigger issue for women because women have fewer role models. In the classroom, we grew up on male archetypes. The Odyssey was the world's first story that combined wanderlust with married love, but it was the Greek hero Odysseus who traveled the world while his wife Penelope stayed at home. His ten-year sea voyage after the Trojan War was a journey of self-discovery; her ten-year wait, a model of virtue. Homer wrote his epic prose poem more than 2,700 years ago, yet the marital myth of men's mobility and women's rootedness still predominates on the screen. Whether the Knights of the Round Table ride into forests to search for the Holy Grail, soldiers cross continents to fight for a cause, or adventurers dare oceans, mountains, and skies just for the challenge, our cinematic history is filled with images of men leaving and returning home.

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