A few years ago I met a couple married more than 50 years and asked them the secret to their happy union. “He goes his way, and I go mine,” was their response. They were not saying that all their time was spent apart, but rather that they each have their “own time” and aren’t dependent on continual togetherness for their happiness. It’s not the only time I’ve heard a variation of that response. “We each have our own interests,” is another common answer.
Some couples, particularly newlyweds, might question that advice and think they do want to spend all their time together; isn’t that why they got married? Other couples spend their workdays, weekends, and even their vacations apart. Who is right? Multiple marriage expert advice from which I have read says it can strengthen the relationship to have individual interests and activities. Each person needs to be able to stand on his or her own two feet and not be dependent on another for their happiness. However, leading separate lives or being dishonest about how your time apart is spent can be a recipe for divorce.
When one partner feels smothered or simply needs time apart, he or she might be afraid to say so. This New York Times article titled “Needs Space in a Relationship? Just Don’t Say It That Way” sheds light on the topic with some solid advice. As you might guess with the article topic, columnist Elizabeth Bernstein says the phrase “I need space” sends confusing signals. Instead, she recommends saying something like, “I need the afternoon to myself.” What if your spouse is upset but this revelation? Explain how this time helps you recharge or makes you feel at peace. If your spouse is worried or jealous about small amounts of time apart, then you may have serious trust issues that need attention.
I remember when my children were very young I especially craved alone time. Even an hour at the mall or soaking in my own tub for 30 minutes alone were divine gifts that allowed me to relax and think straight again. My husband was smart enough to know, even when I didn’t ask for it, that I needed a break to recharge. Other people regularly have Girls’ Night Out or guys’ fishing trips based on the same idea. The important point is not to make these things more important than family demands, and not to take it to the extreme that they are impeding on your family or couple time.
Many of my friends are pilot’s wives (as am I) and suggest that the space apart during trips doesn’t strain their relationships as many people believe. “Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” they say. And having a break from the routine can be refreshing. We learn to have a network of friends and activities apart from our husbands that makes us independent. Do things that interest you, and you become more interesting to be with, more attractive to your mate. And when your spouse can join you, great! Celebrate your time together as well.
In fact, I would hasten to add that more couples probably need to be concerned about adding in fun time as a couple into their calendar first. But don’t be afraid to schedule time with friends (doing things your spouse approves of) or time alone to help you feel grounded and give yourself time to think. Isn’t it easier to feel in love and happy when you’ve given yourself what you need, instead of building up resentment because you never have time to yourself?
Other tips from WSJ’s Bernstein:
- Enjoy the time to yourself without guilt or it defeats the purpose. (Moms of young children, re-read that.)
- No secrets. Tell your spouse what you did and with whom. This is critical to maintaining trust.
- Don’t take this space idea too far; too much space can weaken your marital connection.
- Schedule time together and as a family so that your partner feels they are a priority to you.
How do you strike a balance with togetherness and time apart? Do you find time apart strengthens or weakens your marriage bond?
Lori Lowe is the founder of Marriage Gems and author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.
Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.