Independence and Marriage are Not Opposites

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:

  1. Enjoy the time to yourself without guilt or it defeats the purpose. (Moms of young children, re-read that.)
  2. No secrets. Tell your spouse what you did and with whom. This is critical to maintaining trust.
  3. Don’t take this space idea too far; too much space can weaken your marital connection.
  4. 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.

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8 responses to “Independence and Marriage are Not Opposites

  1. My husband and I are both very independent people. We married later than many Christian couples (I was 25, he was 30) and were therefore pretty well established individuals, used to being on our own. I realised very early in our relationship that because of where we both were in life, I didn’t need to worry that marriage was going to squash all my independence. It’s very much a case of “he does his thing & I do mine”. We even keep very different schedules because of our jobs. But that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy spending time together! After a couple weeks of not seeing each other during the work week and going separate ways during the weekends, I’ll start wondering why I feel sad or stressed. It’s because I need time with my man. Time to check in and bring the focus back to us. Sometimes we really do have to schedule our together time, but it’s well worth it. And because we’re both introverts, sometimes “together” just means being in the same room working on separate projects, with a joke tossed back and forth from time to time. A good balance for together & independence doesn’t look the same for everyone. You have to know yourself and your spouse to find where your sweet spot is, and listen to your heart (and his) to know when it’s time to make an adjustment one way or the other.

  2. Sometimes the amount of “space” a person needs is relatively small, but it’s still important. I work at home most of the time, so I spend a lot of quiet time on my own. I look forward to having my husband come home at the end of the day so we can reconnect with each other and discuss all the important issues that we need to talk about, or just share some chat about how the day went. But like many people who work in busy offices, my husband spends his days with other people who want to discuss important things with him, and he looks forward to getting away from all that when he comes home. He felt overwhelmed when he walked in the door and I immediately wanted to tell him what was on my mind and have him talk to me about it. I felt rejected when he didn’t want to do that. Fortunately, we both realized that all he really needed was 20 quiet minutes in a room by himself, sitting in a comfortable chair and reading the paper, maybe petting the cat, to unwind, recharge, and shift gears. Then he was ready to reconnect with me and I could enjoy a relaxed spouse who was ready to give me his full attention. Quality time is often much more important than quantity time.

  3. I agree these misunderstandings can be quite common. Very glad you came to a working solution that pleases you both! Thanks.
    Lori

  4. Lori,
    I love this and how you’ve shared your own experience being a pilot’s wife. I can’t imagine how challenging it is at times to be apart when you would rather have him close. Tom and I have experienced this the last couple of weeks, and we haven’t enjoyed it much. One commenter on our blog said it’s important that when you’re apart to not constantly tell your spouse on the phone how miserable you are without them. It quickly allows the time on the phone spiral into negative undertones. I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of this. And she was right, there was nothing Tom could do for me except feel really bad. Instead, she said to have a fun story to share about your day to help your spouse connect with what you’re doing. I like that.
    So thanks for confirming what I believe the Lord is already speaking to me. On a good note…Tom is joining me here in Atlanta tomorrow night! Woo Hoo.

    Blessings,
    Debi

  5. That’s so true. When I share reasons why my day is stressful it makes him feel powerless to help at a distance. But if I try to stay positive it helps us both. So glad Tom will be joining you soon! Have fun. All the best,
    Lori

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