(LifeWire) -- When Vicki and Brian Meldrum bought their first home four years ago in Cleveland, they made a pact: She could decorate and furnish the rest of the 1,110-square-foot house however she wanted, but the 15-by-10-foot finished basement was his.
Brian Meldrum filled his "man cave" in the basement with vintage movie posters and sports memorabilia.
"I have it decorated with all the sports memorabilia that my wife would not allow anywhere in the house in a million years," says Brian, 30, a sales director for a print media company.
But for Brian, it's not just about holding onto the ratty futon and the "Fletch" movie poster from his bachelor days. It's about having a "mantuary," or "man cave" -- a space just for him where he can watch sports uninterrupted or play Xbox games with his buddies.
"When his friends come over, they will go downstairs," says Vicki, a 31-year-old account executive at a communications firm. "It's like the basement in 'That '70s Show.'"
What does Brian have stashed away?
"Millions of movies," he says, plus a 32-inch flat-screen TV, film posters, his guitar, an exercise bike, and a few family treasures, including the first-place trophy he won at a melanoma charity golf tournament he played in honor of his deceased father.
Having a room of one's own can provide refuge in a stressful world, but can a mantuary actually help a marriage?
Steve Brody, a clinical psychologist from Cambria, California, who specializes in marriage counseling, thinks so.
"Separate time is important," he says. "A good relationship has both intimacy and independence. Man caves may just be the 21st-century wrinkle to it." See some more amazing man caves »
The Fine Art of Compromise
But retreating to the cave will only get a guy so far.
"I work with a lot with couples where it's an issue that the guy is always on the computer and the gal is feeling like he's not there for her," Brody says. "The man cave in many instances can be more harmful than helpful because it develops distance, it establishes a barrier, and people take it personally."
An all-or-nothing approach to spending time together (or apart) is never the answer, Brody says: Talk it out and split the difference.
"As ridiculous as the idea of watching six hours of golf is to my wife, that's how ridiculous the idea of watching six hours of 'America's Next Top Model' is to me," Brian Meldrum says.
The Meldrums adopted a his-and-hers approach to TV viewing. "He has his space, and I have mine," Vicki says. "It makes for a more harmonious household."
Sal Guarisco, a 51-year-old sales manager from Atlanta, negotiated a mantuary with his wife, Wendy, 50, when her 88-year-old parents moved into a cottage in their backyard and began joining them for dinner each night.
"It's a place to decompress so that by the weekend you're not hiding out," Sal says.
Sal, an amateur musician, populated his cave with four guitars, two microphone stands, an engineering table, an electronic keyboard, a computer to record tracks on, a TV and DVD player -- and a "Star Trek" lamp.
"Sal has a lot he needs to escape from, so it's good that he has a place to go," says Wendy, a public relations consultant. "If my mother-in-law was living in the backyard, I'm sure I'd want a sanctuary, too."
Man Cave Rules
While Sal doesn't have a "no girls allowed" sign on the door, he makes his daughter Emilia, 11, ask permission if she wants to "play 'American Idol'" and use the microphones.
"If he's been gone all day and something is amiss in there, it's like the Inquisition," Wendy adds.
Out of respect for your partner's sanctuary, Brody suggests knocking or announcing yourself by asking, "Hey, is this a good time?" before entering.
"You'll often hear guys complain that when they're watching a game on TV, their wife comes in at the fourth quarter and starts talking," Brody says.
Jill Scully, 31, of Pescadero, California, doesn't sneak up on fiancé Nicholas Woodman, 32, in his lair, a barn outfitted with $13,000 of race car simulation equipment.
Nicholas, an amateur club circuit racer and owner of a digital sports camera company, takes the jostling driver's seat for hours on end -- helmet on, lights off, surround sound blaring. Interrupting her fiancé might make him "crash," so Jill, who helps run Nicholas' company, waits until the end of the "race" before announcing herself.
"This deal conveniently ensures I have to be a spectator for a good half hour until his race comes to a close and I can interrupt," she says.
Not Just for Men
From garage-sale bric-a-brac to the $75,000 custom-built home theater, one's cave provisions are limited only by his budget.
But mantuaries aren't just the domain of flat-screen-worshipping sports fans.
"It doesn't have to be Batman. It's just a place where somebody goes and has a meaningful experience," Brody says.
Even if that somebody isn't a man.
"My wife has a lot of quilting and sewing stuff in her office and she likes to sew and not be bothered," Brody says. "I think we all have that need."
Vicki Meldrum certainly does. Not to be outdone by her husband's dreams of upgrading his man cave (kegerator! pool table! wet bar!), Vicki has begun entertaining fantasizes about a cave of her own.
"I'm going to have a dressing area," she says. "I want the vanity. I want the makeup table. I want the whole enchilada." E-mail to a friend
LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Michelle Goodman is a freelance writer and author of "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube."
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