Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale Divorce: In Marriage, How Much Time Apart Is Too Much?

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Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale are divorcing after nearly 13 years of marriage. (Photo: Corbis)

Fans of Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale were stunned Monday when the power couple of nearly 13 years announced they were divorcing.

“While the two of us have come to the mutual decision that we will no longer be partners in marriage, we remain partners in parenthood and are committed to jointly raising our three sons in a happy and healthy environment,” Stefani and Rossdale said in a joint statement to People.

Both have filed divorce documents, implying there’s no hope of reconciliation.

But…what happened? Despite frequently appearing united in public (even as recently as mid-July), Stefani has hinted that they’ve had issues, telling Cosmopolitan earlier this year, “We go through so much together — it’s a miracle that we could stay together this long.”

She added, “It’s good to have those days when we both do our own things. I think that’s what keeps relationships going, when both people can be themselves and have their own individuality.“

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Sources told TMZ that time apart was part of the problem, with both being away from home due to busy work schedules.

This scenario isn’t rare, says licensed marriage and family therapist David Klow, owner of Skylight Counseling Center in Chicago. “Spending excessive time apart can be difficult for a marriage to overcome because physical contact and intimacy are cornerstones of a healthy relationship,” he tells Yahoo Health.

Klow says couples who are often apart are also more likely to argue because fighting is one way of connecting when you can’t physically be together.

“The same center in our brain gets activated when we fight as when we are having sex,” he says. “If we can’t touch our partner because they are miles away, then perhaps we unconsciously fight with them as a way of having an emotionally elevated connection.”

Frequent fighting, along with an inability to connect in person, can add up, Atlanta-based psychologist and relationship coach Jared DeFife, PhD, tells Yahoo Health. Over time, it’s very easy for couples who aren’t physically together to feel out of touch and disconnected, he says, and conversations can easily focus more on daily details and check-ins that lack emotional depth and just aren’t that exciting.

But spending too much time together can also be bad for a relationship, licensed clinical psychologist Erika Martinez, PsyD, tells Yahoo Health. “Anything in excess isn’t good for a couple,” she says. “Too much time together eats away at each partner’s sense of self and the pursuits they enjoy individually.”

Related: Divorce May Not Be So Unhealthy After All

Unfortunately, experts say there’s no magic “sweet spot” for how much time a couple should spend together or apart since every relationship is different. However, it’s still possible for couples that are frequently away from each other to have a great relationship.

“Couples who navigate distances successfully are good at keeping a positive image of their partner in their heads, even through tough circumstances,” says DeFife. Keeping in frequent contact is key, he says, along with openly expressing care, affection, and personal vulnerability.

But the most important way to make a marriage work when you can’t physically be together is to repeatedly let your partner know they’re a top priority. Says Klow: “The key is to know that the other person has you on their mind, and that you are thinking about them too.”

Stefani and Rossdale would have celebrated their 13th wedding anniversary next month.

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