President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are known for their PDA. Frequently photographed holding hands, both always deeply embrace each other after either partner gives a speech. So, it might seem strange that one of the most publicly affectionate couples in politics recently took separate vacations.
While the first lady and her daughters jetted to the ski mecca of Aspen, Colorado over Presidents’ Day weekend, President Obama spent the same period golfing with Tiger Woods in Palm Beach, Florida. They did connect over a romantic dinner for Valentine’s Day in D.C., yet some are questioning what their subsequent time apart might say about the state of their marriage.
“Going through [a] mid-life crisis and taking separate vacations. Hmmmm……,” commented one user on an ABC.com report. Sure, conventional wisdom states that when a couple takes vacations apart it is a sign of relationship issues.
But while Michelle Obama’s bangs might be a middle years distress signal (as she has described them), it’s not necessarily the case that she and Barack are no longer solid as a rock.
Interestingly, “according to a new poll by the travel website TripAdvisor, 59 percent of site visitors report having taken a vacation separate from their significant other,” a 2012 Reuters article states. The piece also correlates “a direct link between that mindset of increasing openness, and declining divorce rates.”
Folks who support the trend argue that a couple can strengthen a relationship by recharging through nurturing — rather than sacrificing — separate interests. For the first couple, the difference between their desired means of relaxation is acute, necessitating the occasional retreat from coupledom.
As The New York Times reports, skiing is “not a sport favored by the Hawaii-born president,” and by enjoying his golf hiatus on his own before plunging back into the fray of politics, President Obama was able to enjoy it without burdening his family. It’s highly unlikely that Michelle and the girls would have liked what was a male-only group outing.
Dr. Larry Davis, speaking in a 1997 Jet article about the health of separate vacations, agrees that taking time apart can be beneficial.
“It’s a good idea for couples to take separate vacations some of the time,” the psychology professional told the magazine. “We need to take a break from everything at one time or another. It (a separate vacation) gives you a chance to put your life in some perspective and think about the relationship.”
Others experts interviewed for the piece cautioned that separate vacations should only be embarked upon by those who already share a strong bond.
“If the relationship does not have trust and honesty as part of its foundation, then separate vacations can be harmful,” Dr. Tracy Shaw told Jet. “When the relationship is not stable, either partner can assume the other person is spending time away with someone else.”
But some think the greatest impediment to married people travelling apart is worrying what other people may think about their decision.
“The biggest hassle is probably the jury of your family and friends, who might look at you and judge you,” Laurie Puhn, author of Fight Less, Love More, told Reuters. “You have to be comfortable enough as a couple to withstand that criticism, and know that separate vacations are part of what makes your marriage balanced and joyful.”
Whatever inspired the president and first lady to spend time doing what they love away from the one they love most, their confidence in doing so likely demonstrates the depth of their commitment. For a 20-year union as sound as theirs, separation might increase their solidarity.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.