3 reasons absence does NOT make the heart grow fonder

I've always balked at the notion that "absence makes the heart grow fonder." I won't deny that it's a very romantic thought - as we are apart from our loved ones, we draw even closer still.

In my experience, however, the opposite is actually true.  Here's why:

Relationships are built on memories. Remember the time we spontaneously splashed in the rain puddles, ate peanut butter and jellies in the back of that blue pick-up truck, hatched a plan to surprise a friend with an awesome day out, and watched that ridiculous musical and belted out the tunes afterward? No? Well, THAT is the stuff of relationships. Without common experiences, we quickly lose sight of each other.

3 reasons absence does NOT make the heart grow fonder 1

Relationships are built on touch. Online interactions and telephone calls can accentuate existing relationships, bringing people together as we hear each other's voices, opinions, and stories. But people too often underestimate the power of touch in our lives. Hugs, squeezes, kisses, passing brushes...all ignite the soul and unite us.

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Relationships are built on time. Research has shown time and again that we grow in similarity to the people we spend the most time with. We pick up on hobbies, gestures, words, and ways of living. If we are around people who are overweight, there's a good chance we will be overweight. If we spend time with colleagues who curse, we are more likely to curse. If we are around people who appreciate music, we will begin to do the same. This creates intimacy - whether or not we actively choose it.

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As our family treks across the country in a very small space, we are often astounded by the simple truth that - the more we spend time together, the more we WANT to spend time together. We know each other in a safe and content way. Living side-by-side is like breathing. In-out. In-out. [This is not to say that we don't have moments when we need SPACE, but...it's usually nothing that a 20-minute walk/run can't cure].

Have you ever noticed that it's harder to connect with your spouse after he/she has been away on a business trip or has been deployed? Or perhaps your child comes home from camp or a long day at school or an extended time away? At first, you are delirious with joy and expectation...but then you end up fighting or "needing space" again by the end of the day.

If you feel yourself growing distant from your spouse, your children, or a good friend, may I posit that a solution may be to spend MORE time together? Not less. Time is a great healer of relationships.

Do you agree?

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45 comments on “3 reasons absence does NOT make the heart grow fonder”

  1. I couldn't agree more. My husband (fiancé at the time) and I spent 5 years apart while we attended college in different states. While we couldn't wait to see each other again, it was hard to adapt to him being back in my everyday life when we were back together. However, I do believe that those years that we were apart we're beneficial for our relationship now because the times we are together, we do cherish. Thanks for the constant reminder that time together and apart are both important in a relationship.

  2. I agree!! It surprises me still, that my children even get along better if they can be together more. Even after a day of arguing, they get so excited if we let them all sleep together. They stay up talking and wake up the best of friends :).

  3. I couldn't agree more with you. Right now I am on a business trip to Chicago and my husband is on one in Boston. Our kids are with Grandma and Grandpa. Although I miss them dearly - it is always hard right before and right after a trip. Before you are anticipating missing one another and you are pouty and clingy. After, you have missed some important happenings and memories - that you just don't click quite as well. Time together makes all the difference in the world.

  4. I totally agree with your post and it breaks my heart because of what is in our future. I've always been physically close to all my children due to homeschooling. That has created emotionally closeness too. Now, due to the divorce, my girls will be going to school next month. I'm worried that I will lose that bond.

  5. I work out of the home...sometimes I see this as being away for long periods of time. I totally agree that spending more time is great , yet for parents who don't have 24 hrs a day it's important the time we do have we make it quality time.

    I make fancy breakfasts on my days home from work, even if it's a school day. Some fellow moms ask how we get up so early and do all this when mornings are usually such a rush. I always say "we have to " to spend time together and talk about how our day will be and what we will do and so we can share a yummy meal together. I feel so much better that my children know we are together at the start and end of the day.

    You are doing such a great thing with your family!!!!

  6. Love this post Stephanie. Such heartfelt truth! I would love to spend that much time with my husband and children. We dream of getting a camper just for the chance to take trips and bond with each other. I enjoy vacationing with other family members but must say I feel so fulfilled when it is just our little family. I believe you are right when it comes to the adjustment period after someone is away for a while. After the initial excitement it takes time to come back together.

  7. I first met my husband when I started a new job and he was my supervisor. We continued to work/date and eventually live together for about 7 years (with a couple of small breaks). Now that we no longer work together we do miss seeing each other all of the time - of course we see each other every morning and night but it is not the same. We are a couple that work well together and love spending as much time as we can together. Co-workers (who do not have kids) always ask on Monday - "so what did you do this weekend?" My response is usually - not much, just normal family time - because that is what we love to do.

  8. I agree that relationships are built on memories, touch, and time, but I completely disagree with the statement that it's harder to connect after my spouse has been away and we end up fighting more and needing space. Maybe that's true if the relationship already had "cracks" in it, but for my husband and I, an absence proves to us how much we need and love each other.

    1. I agree that trips away don't always lead to disconnects. In fact, sometimes short trips can bring a renewed sense of gratitude and love. I was referring more to frequent and/or extended absences.

      Thanks so much for your comment (as always).

  9. In general, yes absence (long and frequent) is not normally beneficial to a healthy relationship. Can you get through it and still (through hard work) have a good relationship? Yes. I think the likelihood of a relationship surviving absences is strengthened when both parties strive to retain a strong emotional bond during the absence. It takes intentionality. I've done physically absent - it's hard but doable. Emotionally absent is the relationship breaker.

    I spent two semesters (separated by a summer with my husband) 400 miles away from my husband during our first year of marriage (and the 8 months prior to our wedding.) I spent Monday through Friday afternoon 160 miles away from him during the second year of marriage. It was important to me to finish school, but I would have much rather seen him everyday. We are also a military family and while we haven't experienced a deployment yet, I know one is coming sometime in the future.

    I think absence is hardest on children. Children need the physical touch as well as the emotional one.

    1. I agree that long and/or frequent absences are especially difficult for children - perhaps because they love so intently, perhaps because they're brains are developing so rapidly, perhaps because they have fewer memories to keep the connection strong.

      That being said, I think our society often underestimates the power of physical touch for adults too. We crave it as well...even if we don't necessarily acknowledge it.

  10. Oh my, you have hit home. My husband has been away since Feb for business and does it suck! I feel so disconnected even though we skype and text back and forth, its just not thesame. He is heading back home this month, and I am so so happy for that.

  11. I couldn't agree more. Stephan has a week on/week off schedule. He works a part time job during his week off. But, we get one whole week and part of another with him every month. It's wonderful. We're working really hard now to put ourselves in a position for him to quit his second job entirely. Then we'd get him to ourselves for two weeks a month. I can't wait.

  12. Amen! Ryan and I have always said that we do wayyy better being together ALL the time, than having to be away from one another.

  13. I stayed in a miserable job for 2 years because my husband also worked there. I had other offers but I couldn't bear the thought of being away from him all day!

    Now I stay at home and he works somewhere else and seriously, some days it is torture! I hate that we have to be apart!

    I've never understood that saying either, but my husband and I have never really been apart (other than work) so who knows? I don't really want to try it out though!

  14. Great post! I totally agree. I think it would be worth it for many families to try to come up with ways where they can spend more time together if they are struggling. And for military families and such that do not have this option, they certainly have a special cross and have to work hard at staying close despite the distance.

  15. I think I fall somewhere in the middle on this one. When my husband and I were dating in college it was my study abroad trip to Europe (he stayed behind) that completely sealed the deal on our relationship. We were engaged just a few months later.

    And now that we are married we activitely seek time together and avoid extended time apart. But I have to say the time when we have been away from each other for a night or two (never more than four that I can recall) are the times when the petty arguments fall by the wayside and we start to realize what really matters. My husband and I NEVER disconnect after we've been away from each other. For us, the exact opposite is true.

    In general, I think long-distance relationships are very difficult to maintain but I do think it can be done. As an example, I know many military families that have marriages that are exemplarily. Perhaps the reason for the absence makes a difference?

    1. Short stints away can (and often do) renew gratitude and put things in perspective. Even a quick ten minute walk has a way of dissolving conflict. A little space can go a long way.

  16. It's funny that you posted this. Before we got married I was sort of scared that I would "get tired" of Noel eventually. (I've never been a hugger...or wanted people around all the time, I very much like my space). It's turned into a joke between us over the years, just last night we were going for a family walk and I said, "I'm not tired of you yet! How crazy is that?!" :)

  17. I agree with all your points about growing healthy relationships but I don't think you are using the term "absence makes the heart grow fonder" correctly. I think the term has more to do with desire. I believe that absence can increase the longing ("fondness") in our hearts to be reunited with our loved ones. I don't think the term was meant to encourage separation as a means of drawing closer (though some may incorrectly use it as justification for doing so).

    1. Perhaps you are right about the literal definition of the phrase.

      That being said, the phrase is most commonly used in our society to imply that your relationship will be stronger because of an extended absence.

      Being away from someone may indeed create "fondness" and a desire to reunite, but I don't think that frequent or lengthy separations lend themselves to strong, healthy relationships.

      Thanks for commenting (as always).

  18. You make some excellent points. I do think that my mission trip 2 years ago was instrumental in my husband realizing how much he valued me. He had grown kind of lackadaisical in that area. However.... I value our memories together. Instead of going on my next mission trip alone, I want him to go with me. I certainly appreciate our times together, but I also value our times apart, because I think that all aspects are a part of making our relationship as great as it is. :)

  19. This is a beautiful post and I agree with almost everything that you said. BUT I worry this could offend some of your readers. While spending time together as a family is the best way to make memories many families do not have that option. We are living in a country where close to 10% of our population has served in the military causing families to spend a year or more apart from each other. We don't all have the option to pack everybody up and travel the country in a RV. This might make some feel that since they cannot spend every waking moment together that their relationship will fall through the cracks. My husband is currently on his third deployment and I honest to God think this makes our relationship stronger. I never feel I need extra space from him when he comes home. I think it's a bit unfair to overgeneralize and say, "Have you ever noticed that it’s harder to connect with your spouse after he/she has been away on a business trip or has been deployed?" Especially if you have never been in that type of situation. While I think it may be true for some it is has been my experience in a military community that this is not always the case. I LOVE LOVE LOVE your blog and I will still continue reading it. I just disagree with a few points in this post.

    1. Hannah, I must have glanced over that part & missed it. I agree with you that being away does not create distance. The act of being absent for a time alone does not do that. And I too disagree a long business trip creates emotional distance. When my husband gets home, I want to be with him, just as much as before. Him being gone does not make us fight or need space from each other.
      If the absence is something that is resented & leaves one feeling on the out, then I think fighting would follow the home coming.

    2. Thanks for stating your disagreements, Hannah. I always welcome disagreements here on Metropolitan Mama (and in real life) - especially when they are stated as eloquently and graciously as yours were.

      I appreciate hearing your perspective immensely. I certainly don't mean to imply that those in the military cannot have strong relationships (they can - as evidenced by your testimony), but I do think that time away can lead to strain...especially when kids are involved.

      Also - I am grateful for the sacrifices of our military - both those on active duty and the families who support them.

  20. My husband and I are perfectly happy being together 24/7. I loathe it when he's gone (He's in Shanghai right now) and miss him terribly. When he's home we are together all the time. We run errands together, go to appointments together. Everything!
    I seriously cannot wait until we are old retired folk and never have to leave each other's side. Really!

    1. I love how much you adore each other! You are a great couple.

      Tim & I can't stand being apart either. We're just so much better together! :)

  21. I love your theory that the more time you spend together the more you want to BE together. When I took my girls out of school and we began homeschooling, over and over I would hear "what about your free time?" . I realize I don't need that much "free" time. My husband gives me a break when I need one and other than that I actually ENJOY the amount of time I spend with my girls!

    1. I relate to this! Short breaks are welcome, of course, but...I really do ENJOY spending copious amounts of time with my husband and girls. We've been together in tight quarters for months now and I'm not tired of them yet! ;)

  22. I couldn't agree more...space is one thing...but absence really sucks in healthy relationships. My heart breaks for so many military families who deal with this so often.

    1. My heart aches for those families too. We have many friends and family members who are in the military and it is clear that deployment takes its toll - on the person stationed in a far away place AND on the family left behind. I'm not certain what the solution is for this, but I do know that I have gratitude and admiration for all of those who faithfully serve our country.

  23. Agree! Family time is so, so important.

    Just curious - have you ever read the book "Hold On To Your Kids" (Neufeld and Mate)? It's such a good read, and stresses the importance of spending time together with family, and the importance of reconnecting with your kids, especially with physical touch, whenever you've been apart, even for short times. So much good stuff to think about after reading that book. And your post reminded me a lot of it. Thanks for your thoughts!

  24. Yes! I so agree with you. This goes hand in hand with the Quantity vs. Quality time that Tim wrote about. Being together matters. In a huge way.
    Temporary, brief absence makes me miss someone, & perhaps have a renewed sense of gratitude. But, that is only if our normal is time spent together. The normal can't be absence if you want to experience growth in closeness.
    Thanks for writing this! Great post.

    1. I agree about the renewed sense of gratitude. When Tim goes away, I am reminded again what a perfect team we are. His temporary absence inspires thankfulness for all that he does for me and for our family.

      If he were to be gone frequently and for long spans of time, however, I know it would affect our relationship negatively.

      1. Yes! My tweet to you, Stephanie, about agreeing and not agreeing was this point exactly. I NEED those moments of renewed appreciation and gratitude, which means I need to be away and alone and me for a while... not mom,not wife, just ME. But I agree that the more we spend time together the closer we are. I am trying so hard to remember that in those HARD moments with my two year-old. That if I work HARDER on engaging him, my appreciation for him will grow. If I work LESS on trying to carve out "me time," I will be rewarded with special moments with him. There's a balance... and life right now is about finding that balance. Thanks for this post. It's one of my favorites that you have written recently.

        Same goes for my relationship with my husband. There are nights he is away, and it's ok. I miss him terribly and he comes home and we love each other more. But if he is gone too long, we get in a rut of doing things our own way and need to figure out relationship again.

        1. You described it exactly right.

          This part of your comment perfectly captured the main point of my post: "But if he is gone too long, we get in a rut of doing things our own way and need to figure out relationship again."

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