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Do This Once a Year for a Happier Marriage

Go away! You absolutely must. You must go away, but not with your spouse, though occasionally that’s a good idea, too.

What I’m talking about is grabbing your closest female friends for a girls’ weekend. You should do it no less than once a year. And you should trust me when I say it’s going to help your marriage and mothering in countless ways. But let me back up a bit.

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When Marilyn and Diana, my high school bffs were young mothers (they both walked down the aisle six years before I did) they suggested we meet for a weekend at a borrowed beach cottage almost equidistant from each of us who lived in three different New England States. That was 1996 and no hassle for me to kiss Mark, my then-fiancé, goodbye and take off for two days.

The three of us had a wonderful time catching up over wine and clam rolls and taking long chatty walks, but it seemed to me that both of my friends were a little over-the-top with talking about their young kids and the associated affects on their marriages and sanity. Would I be so crazed and in need of a break when I had a baby?

Uh, yes.

Let me tell you, those 24 hours with my friends who had known me for 20 plus years were manna for the soul.

Two years later with a sleepless, eczemic 1-year-old boy, my friends pushed for another night away together. “Phinny’s too young,” I protested. “I can’t leave him yet.” But they pressed harder than I resisted, and we met for a second girls’ weekend this time at a hotel where—key to a clutch experience—there was no cooking or cleaning required of us.

And let me tell you, those 24 hours with my friends who had known me for 20 plus years were manna for the soul. I was struggling badly with being a stay-at-home mom who was trying to keep her writing career afloat, but when I fell into the comforting company of girlfriends who could laugh with me over my fears, guide me through some doubts and point me back to myself, I was restored on the cellular level.

My friends and I are now on our 19th girls’ weekend. In the early years, we had to improvise a bit, like when my daughter was born and Marilyn and Diana came to my house in Boston to spoil me with love then pull me away for a fancy dinner. And while none of us has ever intentionally canceled, one time Marilyn got the stomach flu and her husband had to hide the car keys to keep her from coming anyway.

Yes, we are staunchly dedicated to sharing those two days, and over the years we have perfected a system that maximizes our short time together: We meet on Saturday morning at a bed and breakfast in a quaint New England town like Portsmouth, N.H., or Brattleboro, Vt. We settle into a long lunch with the requisite cocktail—the one day a year I have a strong drink in the daylight hours—and chat and giggle until the waiter knows to stay clear. We spend the afternoon poking around the town, talking on top of each other and teasing. There is always so much teasing about who got asked to the prom first in high school and why Marilyn didn’t kiss the pool boy that day when we were 16. Back in our B&B, we share a bottle of prosecco and appetizers before going to dinner where the heavier conversations usually happen.

We talk through struggles with our kids—now teens or grown—our long marriages, the challenge of caring for aging parents, all of whom we’ve known since high school days. The year my mother died, they understood more than anyone how complicated our relationship had been. And when Diana was going through cancer and came to our girls’ weekend bald, we tried on crazy wigs and wept with gratitude for the sustenance of 35 years of friendship.

You can go out to dinner with your friends, but it’s not the same as going away, sharing a room and falling asleep together watching “Saturday Night Live,” just as you did decades before. It’s not the same as the girls’ weekend traditions that form, like buying 10 scratch tickets every year in the hopes of hitting the jackpot together or Marilyn always appearing with plates of homemade cookies that Diana and I devour on the drive home.

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On Sunday, when we wake up, we have a leisurely brunch and head to a nearby museum or tourist site for an hour or so. When it’s mid-afternoon and time to leave, we take a photo and then agree on a wacky “theme” for the weekend, usually some experience that has repeated itself in weird ways. Once it was “ironical.” Another time, “bread.”

Then we hug goodbye with tears and encouraging words before driving back to our lives where our families wait for us. When we get home we have more patience for our husbands, a deeper understanding of our kids' issues and a reminder that the friendships that have supported us for decades are still there working their magic, keeping us going.

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