Negotiating Time Alone Versus Time Together

Relationship Help Quick Tip

Relationships involve a series of negotiations and compromises (some of these may be clearly articulated in a relationship, while others get resolved without direct communication—see my article on the problems of unspoken relationship rules). One particularly important marital/relationship issue that needs to be openly addressed is how couples spend time together versus how they spend time apart—as well as the types of activities engaged in while they’re apart.

This can be particularly challenging for the following reason:

Some couples have greater needs for ongoing connection in the form of time spent together, while others may desire more time spent apart (in the pursuit of solitary activities, or socializing with family/friends). Understanding these inherent differences (between the need for time spent together versus apart) can go a long way in preventing hurt feelings and marital/relationship conflict.

Hurt and anger usually arise when the spouse/partner who prefers more time together feels rejected by the partner wanting more time alone or outside the relationship.

This occurred for Deloris early on in her marriage to Hale:

As she recalls, “I used to think Hale didn’t want to be with me, but then one of my friends pointed out that Hale is an introvert and seems to prefer time by himself. While I of course also realized he was an introvert, I thought my job was to break him out of that, or perhaps that he wouldn’t need to be an introvert when he was with me. Then it struck me, this isn’t about me–he’s not pushing me away. It’s about him…his personality, his preferences. And that’s okay. I decided that maybe my job was actually to accept him, rather than try to change him.”

Once Deloris realized that Hale rejuvenates emotionally when he’s alone and therefore he needed  regular periods of down-time (and that that wasn’t a statement about her), her entire perspective shifted and she felt more secure about their marriage.

Do you often interpret your spouse’s/partner’s need for time alone or time with friends as an act of rejection?  Is it possible that it has nothing to do with you or the state of your relationship, and is simply a reflection of his/her own rhythms and needs?

All best,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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