Should couples spend more time apart? Matthew McConaughey reveals his nine-day rule

Camila Alves and Matthew McConaughey pose as they attend the premiere of Illumination's
Matthew McConaughey reveals he and Camila Alves have only spent nine days apart since they married 11 years ago. (Getty Images)

The old adage may go, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder", but Matthew McConaughey and his wife Camila Alves beg to differ.

In an appearance at a Live Talk event in Los Angeles over the weekend, the Dallas Buyers Club star revealed that he and Alves have not spent more than nine days apart since they married in 2012.

McConaughey, 53, and Alves, 41, tied the knot on 9 June 2012 in a private Catholic ceremony in Texas. Since then, they have had three children together, Levi, 15, Vida, 13, and Livingston, 10.

Matthew McConaughey, wearing a white T-shirt, kisses his wife Camila Alves, wearing a denim shirt and jeans
Matthew McConaughey and his wife Camila Alves married in a private ceremony in Texas in 2012. (Getty Images)

The couple's tight bond is admirable, but it could leave many questioning how much time they spend apart from their own partners. As Britons lead increasingly busy lives, with demanding work schedules, other interpersonal relationships to maintain, and families to take care of, every partnership has different sets of needs and priorities.

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Does absence really make the heart grow fonder?

The popular proverb, which has been traced back to the Roman poet Sextus, is often used to describe a feeling of affection that grows stronger between lovers who are kept apart by circumstance.

Ellie Baker, a couple’s coach and relationship expert who founded relationship service Coupld, explains: "When our partner is absent, we’re more likely to notice the day-to-day impact they usually have on our lives and when they return our emotional response is heightened by the reunion."

A man sits on his sofa with a glass of wine in one hand while looking at his laptop, where he is on a video call with his girlfriend, who is on the screen holding a glass of wine and a card with a heart
Staying connected while being apart is important in a relationship. (Getty Images)

However, counsellor, Georgina Sturmer, adds that spending time away from your partner can sometimes highlight difficulties in the relationship.

"Notice how you feel when you’re away from your partner. Is absence making the heart grow fonder? Or are you enjoying your time without them?" she urges people to ask themselves.

When does spending time together or apart become unhealthy?

There is no singular definition for how much time a couple should be spending together, and every couple has their own way of determining if they have quality time with one another.

Baker points out that "keeping an element of independence and separateness is an important thing" for relationships for a number of reasons.

"One [reason] is when someone becomes so concerned with meeting the needs and desires of another person, that they can lose aspects of their own autonomy, their own goals, needs, opinions and feelings. Basically, their own lives are put behind their partners, which causes power imbalances (and worse)," she says.

A girl with brown, shoulder-length hair, wearing a white jumper, looks unhappily at her partner, whose back is to the camera
Couples need to ensure they are communicating what they need from one another. (Getty Images)

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Another reason to consider maintaining independence from your partner is to allow individuals to enjoy their "own pursuits" and to "bring new perspectives and conversations back into the relationship".

Sturmer says that modern life means that "some couples barely spend any time apart, while others are used to feeling like ships that pass in the night".

"The key thing here is to understand what it is that you need from your partner, and how you communicate this to each other. Are you each making sure that your needs are met in time that you have available?

"If your needs are being met, then you might welcome time away from your partner, as an opportunity to reset, spend time with other friends, to indulge in your hobbies or downtime. But if your needs aren’t being met, then you might feel frustrated or resentful when spending time apart from each other," she adds.

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How can couples who can’t spend much time together make it work?

Most couples who struggle with spending time apart stay connected through text messaging, voice and video calls, and social media updates. But Baker warns that there is a risk of this type of communication becoming "superficial".

An Asian woman sits cross-legged on the floor as she eats a bowl of breakfast cereal while on a video call with an Asian man on her laptop
Scheduling regular, longer calls while apart to enable quality time together can help couples stay connected. (Getty Images)

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She recommends scheduling regular video calls with one another that are longer and enable couples to "delve a bit deeper" into their feelings and needs. Conversation card decks or apps can help facilitate these talks by providing connection-enriching questions.

Another way to feel more connected while apart is to learn or try new things together. Baker says: "Whether that’s doing an online wine tasting class, watching a lecture together, trying your hand at a craft, like pottery, playing a game virtually or whatever tickles your fancy. I suggest taking it in turns to plan one of those special date nights, to share the extra effort that's involved."

How can couples who feel they spend too much time together ensure they keep space for themselves?

Sturmer says: "If you feel like you 'come as a pair', then be curious about what makes you feel that way. Maybe it's because you're a perfect match, and you just loving spending every spare minute together.

"But it also might be because you've fallen into a habit of bumbling along together. And that could be to the detriment of your own sense of who you are. Consider scheduling time for yourself - whether it's hobbies, seeing friends, or just sitting on the sofa watching something that's just for you."