Everyone needs me time—even those in healthy, loving, and committed relationships under one roof. And since the COVID-19 pandemic began, couples everywhere have found themselves spending a lot more time than normal cooped up together.
Have no fear if you’ve been craving a little space; that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your relationship. In fact, it could be just what the two of you need. We spoke with relationship experts to understand why alone time is so important for couples, plus how to bring it up to your partner and ways to incorporate more of it.
Why couples still need alone time.
For a relationship to flourish and thrive, both people must be committed not only to each other but to themselves and their own personhood and development.
“It’s important that couples spend time cultivating their own interests, doing things they enjoy on their own, which helps facilitate a healthy sense of self beyond the relationship,” licensed psychotherapist and sex therapist Michael Moran, LCSW, CST, explains. “Otherwise they risk enmeshment, which usually leads to complacency and feeling unfulfilled.”
Enmeshment is when there are no boundaries between two people, which may feel good initially but can lead to resentment over time, according to licensed marriage and family therapist Ian Hoge, LMFT. This can cause partners to act out, break up, or even have an affair, to reestablish their sense of self, he adds. “Healthy separateness is crucial in feeling desire for someone or something else.”
And when we spend time by ourselves, psychotherapist Ken Page, LCSW, says, “we reclaim important pieces of our authentic identity.” When we neglect them, however, “we lose an edge of aliveness that is absolutely essential for a rich life,” he notes. “To give up the journey of self-discovery—at least some of which need to occur during alone time—is to give up one of the richest dimensions of our lives. And our partnership will suffer, as we will.”
How to bring it up to your partner.
Aside from the fact that it’s a bit awkward to tell someone you need some space, it’s especially daunting when it’s a partner you don’t want to hurt. Moran says before bringing anything up, reflect on why you’re needing more alone time.
“Share this with your partner, [ensuring it’s] not about spending less time with them but rather spending more time with yourself [and] how you’ve come to realize why this is important for you at this time,” he says.
It’s also important to get clear on your partner’s needs as well, Hoge says. “Your partner may not need as much separateness as you do,” he notes. So, get clear on what the expectations, needs, and boundaries of both of you are, and then brainstorm ways to meet in middle. “Talk about the unique differences, and brainstorm acceptable ways to navigate both sets of needs,” he adds.
Being able to talk about these differences, make space for them, and encourage each other on your individual paths, according to Page, leads to a more vibrant relationship. And, as Moran adds, “The more they truly love each other, the more they’ll encourage their partner to grow and evolve in their own unique way.”
Arranging for more alone time.
Just because the two of you live together doesn’t mean it’s impossible to prioritize alone time. Whether it’s a solo weekend getaway or a strictly do-not-disturb bath, do the things you like to do (that maybe your partner doesn’t).
“Alone time does not need to take hours or days—although absolutely it can,” Page notes. We can give ourselves short instances throughout the day, such as through meditation or a quick breath that brings you back to yourself, he suggests.
“The key is to commit to first finding small amounts of time to spend solo,” Moran says. “Keep reminding yourself it’s healthy and good and loving to keep one’s self-care on the radar. Carving out time for oneself can also be a great exercise in examining and establishing healthy boundaries with others.”
Additionally, Page offers the notion of shared alone time: Closing your eyes and holding hands with your partner for just a short while before eating, he says for example, allows you to “feel your bond but you also spend the time to connect to yourself.” You can also do this meditating together, walking together in silence, or even working or reading separately but in the same room.
However you choose to do it, everyone needs time to themselves to reconnect to their being and foster their relationship with their self. When we do, we show up better for the people in our lives, and our relationships are always better for it.