Tuesday, August 14, 2012

This Relationship Corner: Alone Time

There's an old adage that familiarity breeds contempt. Too much time around a person can turn them from someone you love sharing your life with to someone whose very presence irritates the snot out of you. (And that's even less fun during allergy season.) While many couples struggle with trying to get any time together, because of kids, work, or other responsibilities, other couples have the opposite problem: too much time around each other.

My wife and I have both of these problems, and it's always due to work. Some times of the year our work schedules mean that I'm gone in the morning and afternoon, and she's gone until late in the evening. Other times, however, I'm always home when she's home. She likes it at first because we have more time together. After a few weeks, however, her attitude shifts.

"I love you," she tells me. "Now get out."

What my wife needs, what many of us need, is time by herself. She's not nearly as productive when I'm around, and whether it's writing in her blog, doing chores she's been avoiding, or leveling up in the latest video game she's playing, she needs to be by herself when she does it. I never take this personally because I'm the same way.

I suspect this is far more true for introverts than extroverts. My wife and I are both introverts, and that means that there are times we need time away from people. It's not about being anti-social, it's just that the best way an introvert can rest, recuperate, and recharge is quality time alone. It isn't anything personal, it's just what we all need, like sleep.

Sometimes you want to just kick back on the couch and watch whatever drivel MTV is airing these days. Maybe you want to watch sports and yell at the players for blowing it yet again. You might want to curl up with a good book, or a terrible book that's a guilty pleasure. Perhaps you haven't killed enough space aliens in whatever Halo iteration they're up to now. Whatever you want to do, you need time alone to do it. So does the other person.

This is even more important when you have kids. Suddenly alone time is even more scarce, and more precious. Just because you are a parent doesn't mean you won't need some time to yourself once in a while. If you really want to make your partner's day, give them an afternoon by themselves free of the kids for a few hours. (And get some chores done for them while you're at it.) That might be a more precious gift than you realize. And if you are the one who needs some time alone, you have every right to ask for it. You just need a few hours to yourself to unwind so you can return to your family in better spirits.

We often need the little things in life. When we're single, we take it for granted that we have time to pursue our hobbies and passions. But in a relationship, with or without children, our time is more heavily invested and those pursuits often get put on the back-burner. We don't really mind that short term, we're part of this shiny new couple.

After a while, though, we might grow to resent the fact that we had to give up some of our hobbies for our partners and/or our kids, and that's not something we need bubbling up and destroying an otherwise healthy relationship. This doesn't mean we want to go back to being single (I certainly don't) but it does mean that in order to be a healthy and productive (not to mention non-resentful) member of this relationship, we need some time to ourselves.

Sometimes, though, it's not about relaxation. We need that time alone to get stuff done. Perhaps school or work is piling up and they can't get anything done with the other person around. Something around the house just needs doing and it can't be put off any longer. While sometimes two heads are better than one, other tasks are single-player, and they just won't be done without a little time alone.

A healthy couple needs to understand this balance, especially when it first starts. While time together is precious, they can't ignore the rest of their lives either. Blow off school too much and you don't pass the class. Blow off work and you might not be gainfully employed anymore. Put off cleaning the bathroom for another week and the neighbors call the CDC.

If you're with someone who has a lot on their plate at the moment, one of the best things you can do is give them space to get their work done. It doesn't mean that you can never see each other, usually, but it will require a little patience and maturity on your part. Instead of spending the entire day together, your time might be a well deserved break. After all, giving the other person alone time doesn't mean you stay away forever.

It's also acceptable for you to want some time alone. You also have stuff to do, and you realize that you aren't getting it done if your significant other is always around. There should be no shame in asking for a little time away for you to get everything finished. After all, by getting this stuff done, it means you'll be able to focus fully on them when you see them, and that's good for everyone.

When you make your request, though, make sure you're clear that this is just a temporary arrangement. When you say "I need some space," it might sound like you're about to break up with them. Try not to say "We should take a break," either, but that might be because I've been watching a lot of Friends lately.

I mentioned before about testing relationships, and time apart is one of the many important tests. First, you need to know if you two are capable of spending time apart. Do you fall apart without them always around? If so, that's a bad sign. Just as it's not healthy if their world crumbles because you need to spend an evening by yourself. Consider either of those as a red flag.

If you are thinking about long-term, you need to understand that there will be times you are alone. If you fall apart because you are away from each other for a day, what happens when your job sends you across the country for a week? Or a month? That's not when you want to find out that you can't bear to be apart.

Time by yourself will also give you time to think about your relationship. If you miss your significant other, that's good. You should miss them. If you don't miss them at all, and find you enjoy being alone more than when they're around, then you might have to re-evaluate your relationship. Time apart is what lets you know whether you want to remain together.

There are many reasons you want some time apart. This doesn't mean forever, it can just be an afternoon. Be willing to give your partner some space, and don't be shy about asking for some yourself. It will do you and your relationship a world of good.

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1 comment:

  1. "Honey, I know time together is important, but I need some time alone on Burton's blog."