Healthy solitude is beneficial for our well-being. But it can be challenging to set aside time to be alone when we’re in a relationship—especially one with kids.
Time apart can give couples a chance to recharge, to devote time and attention to their own needs separate from the demands of others, and to appreciate their partner. However, if we’re on the receiving end and our partner is getting more time alone than we like or need ourselves, this can lead to resentment.
In every relationship, there are four separate units we need to identify and nurture: the couple unit, the family unit (including kids and other extended family members), and each partner as an individual unit. When any of these areas are not given adequate time, attention or nurturance, the other units suffer.
Relationships, where both couples are aligned with their respective ‘alone time’ needs, are easy to manage. However, if there’s some element of actual or perceived unfairness in the amount or quality of alone time one partner needs or takes, this can lead to resentment. If this occurs, there are a couple of options to reinstate equality: the person taking more time away can be requested to stop, or the person taking less time away can find ways to understand their partner’s reasons and needs, while exploring why this bothers them and working to fill up their own solo time. Generally – and assuming there aren’t trust or other significant issues at play – the latter is a more solution-focused approach.
But, this doesn’t mean it will be easy – so, what can we do to manage associated negative emotions?
Managing negative emotions
First, it is never wrong to feel what we feel. Rather than just expressing those negative emotions (or stewing about them), it’s important to invite those emotions in as a way to enhance our self-reflection about our own relationship needs. Once we do that, we can mobilize those emotions and use them to arrive at a solution-focused outcome.
Second, keep in mind that communication is always key. Before you initiate a conversation with your partner about your thoughts and feelings, consider where the resentment is coming from. Is the resentment stemming from jealousy because you want more alone time? Or, is it about wanting to spend more of that alone time with your partner? Consider asking these questions:
- Do you want time away by yourself? With friends or family?
- Do you wish you had vacations with your partner only, without your children (if you have them)?
- What is it about the time away that you value most? Is it time away from regular routine and responsibilities? Perhaps an opportunity for you to recharge? Bonding time with friends or your partner?
Once you have clarified what you feel resentful about missing, set aside uninterrupted time to have an open, authentic conversation with your partner about how you are feeling. Approach the conversation from a place of curious inquiry – try to (neutrally and non-judgmentally) understand what your partners needs are and why the value their alone time so much. Then, brainstorm solutions together that can help both of you have your respective needs met, while minimizing either of you feeling resentful about the others’ needs.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder
Taking time for ourselves is good self-care. But how much time we need is an individual preference. Have an honest conversation with yourself and your partner about alone time. After all, when our needs are being met, our relationships are happier, healthier, and last longer.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published as part of a Globe and Mail “Ask the Psychologist” column authored by Dr. Samra, and has been edited and updated.
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