Relationships

The case for space: Why it's OK to crave alone time in relationships

Author: Canadian Living

Relationships

The case for space: Why it's OK to crave alone time in relationships

You may be madly in love, but that doesn't mean you and your partner want – or need – to spend every waking second together.

In fact, craving alone time is perfectly natural. With that in mind, we wanted to share some simple ways to find a healthy balance between spending time together and apart, and what to do if you and your partner have different needs for space.

To find out more about why couples need time apart and how best to cope when you feel like flying solo, we reached out to Tina B. Tessina (a.k.a. "Dr. Romance"), a licensed psychotherapist and author of several books on relationships, including Lovestyles: How to Celebrate Your Differences (Borgo Press, 1987).

The importance of alone time
Spending time solo and having interests and hobbies separate from your partner is important for both you and your relationship. Separation can refresh and re-energize your relationship, and it also gives you a chance to miss each other.

"When we're together, the things that are irritating tend to loom large, but when we're apart we begin to miss the good things we've been taking for granted," Tessina explains.

Me time versus we time
Craving alone time doesn't mean there's something wrong with your relationship, or that you no longer care about your partner. We're all born with a need to connect and be part of the group, as well as a need to be an individual, whether we're in a relationship or not.

"When we're together for too long, the boundaries of self tend to get fuzzy, and we need to be alone to get back to who we are," Tessina says, adding that women are more socially oriented and tend to focus on the people around them, often forgetting their own needs. But eventually the need for alone time will surface, and when that happens, just go with it.

"Whatever amount of closeness or distance is comfortable for you, even if it's different from your partner's preference, is OK," Tessina explains. "There is no right or wrong amount of personal space."

Page 1 of 2 -- Learn how to make personal space a respectful part of your relationship with tips on page 2
Space-making strategies
The easiest way to get the alone time you need is to create some solo space for yourself.

Spend some time in a local café, park or library; take a weekly class (such as photography, cooking or pottery); go by yourself to a movie that your partner doesn't want to see; or have agreements at home that when the door is closed to the bedroom, no one enters except in an emergency.

Tessina has designated Thursdays as her day to do whatever she wants to do, sans significant other. "I go to the gym for a swim, and then out to lunch by myself," she says. "I have turned down many lunch invitations to have my alone time."

Dealing with space-based tension
Problems can pop up when couples don't recognize that needing space is normal, and that it's OK to have different personal space requirements.

"If one of you thinks there's a rule about how close a couple should be, or how much privacy one should have, that's when struggles can arise," Tessina says. When space-based tension comes up in your relationship, understanding, communication and compromise are key to alleviating the problem, she explains.

Here are three simple ways to meet your partner's needs:


• If your partner needs more alone time than you do, go out for dinner with friends – or join a club or hit the gym – one or two nights a week, while your partner stays home.

• If your partner wants to discuss your relationship a lot, and you prefer not to, agree to a 30-minute discussion about your relationship once a week, which honours your partner's need for discussion and creates a limit you can manage.

• If you like to have lots of friends and family around and your partner is uncomfortable with groups, negotiate to spend some time alone with your family, or choose to have your family over on occasions when your partner isn't home.

It's often surprising for couples to realize that the intimacy that comes with a relationship can be a problem, Tessina says. But accepting that you and your partner may have different needs for personal space is the most important step in overcoming this hurdle – and the best way to do that is through communication and understanding.

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The case for space: Why it's OK to crave alone time in relationships

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