Committed couples expect to receive many things from one another. But believing your marriage can satisfy the full spectrum of your personal needs – from intimacy to friendship to family and career support — can place far too much stress on your relationship.
Happy couples, whether married or not, learn to let their relationships breathe. This means allowing a natural, alternating rhythm between time spent together and time apart.
Committed couples may maintain a home, manage family duties, share finances and sleep together. They may also spend a good share of their leisure time in one another’s company. Closeness that comes from talking, smiling, hugging and making love refreshes the connection between them – the sense that they are two halves of a whole relationship.
Partners also spend time apart from one another, which may include work, friends, exercise, reading and other solo activities. These pursuits strengthen their sense of individuality and help them return to each other feeling refreshed.
Healthy individuals feel a sense of independence and belonging in their closest relationships. Happy couples fit this definition, too. They actively manage the balance between togetherness and alone time, choosing the patterns that work for their relationship and their unique personalities.
TOGETHER AND ALONE: TIPS FOR ACHIEVING A HEALTHFUL EQUILIBRIUM
Marriages and other close relationships can suffer when the balance between togetherness and separation is “off” in either direction. Too much time in one another’s company can be suffocating. Too much distance can weaken the warm emotional bond that makes you a couple.
Here are 6 tips to help you find the right equilibrium. With care and practice, you’ll find that keeping your relationship centered is as simple as breathing.
- KEEP THE OTHER IN YOUR HEART WHEN YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN
When you’re apart, it’s important to sustain an awareness of one another, remembering that you have chosen each other as partners. Becoming overly close to someone else, or doing anything that would hurt your partner if s/he knew about it, will weaken the bond between you.
- KEEP YOUR INDIVIDUALITY ALIVE WHEN YOU’RE TOGETHER
If you love hiking but your partner prefers gardening, there’s no need to hang up your boots forever. Giving up things you love for the sake of being together will mean losing a part of your original self, which isn’t helpful to your relationship.
Expressing your preferences is crucial. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. Say what you want and need and discuss ways for each of you to find a satisfying blend of activities. Listening to your partner’s concerns and preferences is just as important as speaking up on behalf of your own needs.
- ACTIVELY PLAN FOR SOLO AND COUPLES TIME
A helpful rule is to spend at least some time together and some time apart every day, with more of each on the weekends.
Business and travel demands may make it harder to be together. That’s when online chat or a relaxed phone conversation may help. Try not to make this a working session focused on your mutual to-do lists. Letting the conversation come naturally will refresh you both.
Couples with children may have difficulty carving out together time. The rule here is to remember what the airlines always tell us: put your own oxygen mask on first, and then help your kids. Actively giving time to your relationship is the surest way to make sure your children are well cared for over the long term.
- WHEN YOU’RE TOGETHER, RESPECT EACH OTHER’S BOUNDARIES
Be careful to avoid what therapists sometimes refer to as “crossovers” – those actions that violate boundaries between the two of you. Don’t assume you know what the other one wants or thinks. Replace criticism and blame with open questions that help you understand where your partner is coming from. Listen to the answers fully before you respond.
- WHEN THINGS FALL OUT OF BALANCE, MAKE QUICK CORRECTIONS
Pay attention to how you’re feeling. If there’s a sense of distance between you, look for healthy ways to reconnect. Just as deep breathing calms and centers you when you’re anxious, actively seeking one another out will help restore your sense of closeness.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed because you’ve been together 24/7 for too long – say, during travel or a stressful period of problem-solving – think about what would feel good to you, then state your needs simply. Try saying, “I need a little time alone to read (or write in my journal or walk in the woods)”. Since you’ve already agreed that alone time is a good thing for your relationship, your partner will understand.
- HANDLE TRANSITION TIMES WITH CARE
Marriage and family therapists often say that people need to come together to come apart. Hello and goodbye rituals before work, travel and other departures serve this purpose. A hug, a moment of eye contact and warm, genuine words can ease you into your time apart.
Your attitude when you return home matters, too. Take time to prepare yourself mentally to reconnect with your partner. Resist the temptation to launch into exchanges about chores, schedules and other tasks. Pause to observe how the other is doing. Offer love, listening and support.
TOGETHER, YOU CAN CREATE A STRONGER BOND
Janae Munday, LCSW, a skilled marriage counselor in the Phoenix, Arizona area, has years of experience in helping married and committed couples to build their relationships. If you’re worried about the balance of closeness and individuality in your partnership, give Janae a call today.