One of the things I explain to my clients and audiences during conferences is that there are three entities in any relationship: you, me and us. Each of those entities needs nurturing to grow.
If everything is always about you, it can’t be healthy. If everything needs to be about her, it’s not going to go well. If the “us” takes over and both of you lose your own identity, that can be problematic as well. It’s important to make sure there’s effort going to each of those entities.
A much-underrated part of relationships is alone time. Some people need lots of it, and some people don’t need that much of it, but everyone needs it. Even people who don’t think they need alone time definitely need some as they may not even realize how it’s affecting them or the relationship.
Here are seven tips for getting space that will help you breathe.
1. Be Upfront ASAP
Not communicating properly is one of the most unintentionally damaging things that can happen in a relationship. If your partner does something that annoys you, like taking a dizzying amount of selfies, it can start to grate on you every time you see her do it. Even something that was once cute and something you loved about her at the beginning of a relationship can become something that is a source of irritation.
If she is a super cuddler, you may have loved it at the beginning of a relationship as almost everyone enjoys physical touch. But eventually, you may feel like you have no personal space. If you don’t say anything and just pull away, she’ll be confused. If you hold it in, it may burst out as a yell.
When you’re starting to feel something, let your partner know ASAP. If you know from the beginning that you need a lot of time to yourself to recharge or enjoy life, let them know that. None of us are mind readers.
If you’re feeling smothered, and you need to go out or stay in on your own, communicate that. It’s much easier for everyone to hear thoughts when they’re not colored by frustration and annoyance.
2. Explain Why You Need Time Alone
One of the most frustrating sentences people can hear as a child is “Because I said so!” The reason it pisses us off is that it’s not telling us the “why” of the situation. If you just tell me to do something and don’t give me any reasoning behind it, not only do I get naturally defensive, but I’ll never understand why it’s important to you.
Learning to communicate properly is a hallmark of a good relationship. If you just say you need space and you’re going out, it’s not going to be taken well. Knowing something and being able to communicate it well are two different skill sets.
According to LifeHack.org, one way to better explain your ideas and get others to understand them is to use the SEE-I method. It stands for State It, Elaborate It, Exemplify It, and Illustrate It.
For this example, it would go something like this:
- State It: Clearly and succinctly state the concept or idea in a single sentence or two. “I need a little more space and alone time.”
- Elaborate It: Explain it further in your own words. “For me, I’m somewhat introverted, so I need time alone to recharge my batteries.”
- Exemplify It: Provide concrete examples and counterexamples of the concept. “Remember after we went to the state fair and afterward I disappeared into the basement to do some quiet reading? And then we had a great dinner afterward? That’s what I need.”
- Illustrate It: Provide a picture, diagram, metaphor, or an analogy of the concept. “You know how when you get home from work, you need to vent and bitch about your day for a little bit to decompress? That’s what alone time is for me.”
Another way of talking about alone time is to describe how it’s going to be beneficial for everyone and not just for you. “When I don’t get enough space and alone time, I get anxious and agitated. Then I start snipping and complaining. I want our time together to be free of that negative energy. So me taking a night off and seeing my friends allows me to come back to our relationship happy and ready to tackle our next hurdle.”
3. “Happy Wife, Happy Life” Isn’t Necessarily True
Many men know this phrase, and if you haven’t heard it yet, you will. It’s said many times partly in jest. For example, the girlfriend gets a new, expensive handbag. The boyfriend looks at his disbelieving/disapproving guy friends. He raises his beer, shrugs, and says “Happy wife, happy life!”
This phrase has done a disservice to a generation of men. I get what the root of the phrase means: If your partner isn’t happy, then you will not be happy either. But what it’s actually teaching is that your happiness is DEPENDENT on her happiness. If there’s something that you desire that will upset her, you’re taught not to do it. This is putting too much pressure and energy on the “her” and not the “us.”
We’re all responsible for our own happiness. Yeah, it’s great when our partners also make us happy, but it’s not their duty. You also need to focus on what makes you happy. If alone time is something that’s important to you, then it’s something you need to discuss — regardless of whether it’s something she wants. Yes, even if it upsets her. A relationship is a partnership of equals and each of us should feel empowered to talk about or ask for what we need
According to the GoodMenProject, “Personal experience cautions us from telling the truth. Honesty can result in upsetting others. We may fear having a relationship end, lose a job, or way of life. So we avoid telling the truth to minimize conflict and evade potential negative consequences. In a ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life’ relationship, men suffer in silence, and women believe everything is OK as long as they’re getting what they want.”
Speak up and get what you need in your relationship.
4. Participate in an Activity Just for You
Sometimes we feel we need to get out and get some space. Or, if you’re living together, you may feel you need to disappear into your man cave for hours at a time. While having this space is good, sometimes we don’t actually know what to do to fill it. So we fill it with video games (me), getting drunk with our boys (also me), or playing some sports (definitely not me.)
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of these in moderation, it may not leave us feeling refreshed or fulfilled. Instead, pick up a new hobby or explore one that you have put aside.
It’s much easier for a partner to hear that you need space when there’s something you’re actively involved with. If you just say you need space and she knows you’re just home smoking weed and playing Apex (again, not a wrong activity, per se), it’s not going to make her feel understanding toward you.
Maybe you like working with cars. Maybe you like bird watching. Maybe you used to draw. Working on something not only can give you a breather, but the ability to work toward something and complete it is great for confidence, self-esteem, and general well-being. I like working with wood and building things. Here’s one of my projects that’s not too hard if you want to try it.
5. Understand the Love Languages
In 1995, Gary Chapman wrote the book “The 5 Love Languages.” It’s a great book, and I use it a lot in my coaching.
Basically, it says that there are five ways in which we show love and affection toward each other:
- Words of Affirmation: using words to build up the other person. “Thanks for taking out the garbage” instead of “It’s about time you took the garbage out. The flies were going to carry it out for you.”
- Gifts: A gift says “He was thinking about me. Look what he got for me.”
- Acts of Service: doing something for your spouse that you know they would like. Cooking a meal, washing dishes, and vacuuming floors are all acts of service.
- Quality Time: by which I mean giving your spouse your undivided attention. Taking a walk together or sitting on the couch (with the TV off) just talking and listening.
- Physical Touch: holding hands, hugging, kissing, sexual intercourse are all expressions of love.
Each person has his or her own way of caring for a partner, but if two people speak different love languages, they may not realize that the other person is trying to do something nice for them and get annoyed instead.
If your love language is acts of service, you may do lots of thing around the home to tidy up and make her life easier. However, if her love language is quality time, she may want to be around you all of the time. For her, love is being around you. If you unsmoothly tell her you need more space, she may hear it as you not loving her.
If you know her love language, it can help you understand why she wants to spend so much time with you and why she gets upset if you try and push her away. So, like the first example, explain to her that it doesn’t mean you don’t care about her but that you have different love languages.
6. Balance is Key
Life is a balance of all the things we have to do, need to do, and want to do. Some people may enjoy reading a chapter or two of a book before going to bed. Others could read for eight hours solid.
Same with friendships. Some people like to see their friends every day or every week. Others feel fine with checking in every couple of weeks or months.
None of it is wrong; we all just balance things differently. You may have a significant other who doesn’t have a lot of hobbies or a large friend group. So her choice of fun is to always do something with you or next to you. If you have a lot of activities that you participate in, she may not understand your desire to be without her.
You need to explain to her that while you love being with her, you also love biking, video games, doing a happy hour with your boys, and some good quality nap time. Let her know that being around her is wonderful, but it’s one of the many wonderful things you enjoy doing.
We All Need Me Time Sometimes
As much as I love my wife and daughter, I am someone who needs me time. Sometimes that will even be in the same house. I just need to go somewhere, process the day in my mind, and think about upcoming projects, conversations, and business plans. Or sometimes it’s just to NOT use my mind and let me zone out while playing MarioKart. Then I can come back feeling refreshed and be an even better partner.
If someone is making you feel guilty or wrong for needing space, you may need to figure out if you see the relationship differently. You may want to see her twice a week; she may think that every day is right and proper. Neither is wrong, but it’s best to get all this sorted toward the beginning of any relationship.