You’re married. You have a “life partner.” An official, certified, on-file-with-the-government teammate to navigate the world with. An eternal partner in crime; a permanent adventure buddy. One of the joys of marriage is the incredible sense of security of just about always having someone else - whether it be for support, for affection, engagement, or companionship. “In good times and bad.” In its essence, marriage is assurance that you will (just about) never be alone.
But you SHOULD be alone. At least sometimes!
Because let’s face it, there are things we can do when we are alone that we just simply CANNOT do when someone else is present, no matter how close or intimate we are with them.
There is a commonly held belief, particularly among newly-married couples, that once you’re married it is assumed that you will do everything together. Eat all meals together, take all vacations as a couple, weekends are “together time.” The assumption is that couples who love each other will want to spend as much time as they can with one another. Time spent together is a sign of a healthy marriage.
I’m here to tell you…that’s bullshit.
OK, kind of bullshit. Is enjoying each other’s company a good thing in a marriage? Yes, of course. But the number of times couples “should” spend together varies by relationship, and I would even go so far as to say alone time is essential.
Here’s the thing…
We’re all unique, and that includes the way we feel and express love and caring. Some of us are going to feel more loved and cared for when we spend lots of physical time with our boo, and others don’t need as much time spent together to still feel adored and secure. Ideally, both partners will have a similar need for “together time” and those needs are communicated to each other openly and honestly. When this need isn’t similar between partners, someone will inevitably feel neglected and/or somebody will feel stifled. No bueno.
However, I’m going to assert that having at least some level of independence is CRUCIAL for a satisfying and fulfilling long-term relationship. Spending time with no one but ourselves allows us to be our most authentic selves. It gives us the opportunity to truly decompress and focus inward- reflect, ponder, assess, etc., without the influence of another human’s ideas, perceptions and opinions.
Independence can also increase the quality of a relationship. Having your own time, hobbies and interests makes you a more dynamic individual, which in turn makes you a more interesting relationship partner! Spending time on your own gives you an opportunity to share new thoughts, ideas, and experiences with your partner because they weren’t present! You are able to bring more to the table during shared experiences when you have time on your own.
If I’m being honest here, spending time away from a partner (or any other human, for that matter, be it a parent, friend, coworker…) can eliminate any pressure, as minuscule as it may feel sometimes, to perform. Not having to consider ANYONE else for a period of time, even if it’s as simple as being able to take up the whole damn bed, binge watch the Kardashians or eat whatever the eff YOU’RE craving for dinner, can feel incredibly indulgent.
Sometimes indulgent feels selfish but I’d challenge you to consider it as a form of self-care.
The permission to be indulgent and not have to consider someone else’s desires can be incredibly recharging, and allow you to come back into the relationship more energized and present. I often recommend that folks in relationships prioritize and schedule alone time, for everyone. The same way they prioritize and schedule “together time” like date nights. Use that time to do something completely selfish without the guilt, maybe something YOU enjoy that your partner doesn’t.
And I get it, sometimes independence can feel really hard! Especially when you might be experiencing the quote-unquote “honeymoon phase” or marriage, and you feel like you want to spend every waking second with your beloved, and miss them SO SO much when they’re not around.
I promise, having your own shit is worth it. Work through it!
Make time for alone time
This might look like each of you having the space to enjoy a hobby or activity of your own. Maybe you enjoy painting and your partner enjoys biking and you’ve agreed to participate in those activities separately, and you both spend time each month or week doing those things. Or perhaps it’s separated more by people? I’ve seen the dynamic where each partner has work colleagues that they spend time with occasionally, but don’t typically involve their spouse during those interactions. I’ve also seen partners that take an annual “friends vacation” with their buddies from college, no spouses allowed! And sometimes what works is literally having every Tuesday night for independent time. Whether that’s catching up with friends, reading a book, or catching up on Game of Thrones.
What’s most important is that alone time and independence are seen by both partners as an asset to the relationship, a helpful tactic to make the marriage more fulfilling and sustainable. Whatever you set up for independent time should be a framework that feels good for both of you. And sometimes, trial and error can be helpful! Your first attempt to prioritize independent time might not feel as satisfying as you thought it would, so you have to try something different. As long as you’re both communicating honestly, you can wiggle your plan around until you find something that does work for the relationship.
Together! (But also sometimes apart.)
Colby Marie Z is a sex & relationship coach, educator, speaker and blogger based out of Providence, RI. She is a doctoral candidate in human sexuality, an avid (slash obnoxious) football fan, and has been proudly talking about sexual pleasure, confidence, and satisfaction for 10+ years. You can find out more about Colby at sexloveandallthefeels.com, or connect with her on Twitter or Instagram.