Space in Relationships: The benefits of quality time apart from your partner, and how to get it
Whether you’re in a long distance relationship or one that is geographically close, research and couples’ therapists emphasize that a healthy amount of space fosters novelty and intimacy in long-term relationships. Not only does alone time allow you to nurture other relationships with friends and family, but it makes long-term relationships more exciting.
We turned to Dr. Holly Richmond, Somatic Psychologist and Certified Sex Therapist, and Dr. Jessica O’Reilly, Host of @SexWithDrJess Podcast & Relationship Expert, to find out why we all need space, and how to actually ask for it.
The benefits of being apart
Mystery and novelty re-enter your relationship, as you grow both together and separately. “Fire needs air,” Dr. Richmond reminds us. Routines like doing the dishes or doing laundry, easily become comfortable and boring. Your time together doesn’t have to become the same old patterns. “Create novelty for yourself,” she says. Go take a different class, explore a new neighborhood, anything that would be a break in routine, which fosters a sense of newness in both life and in the relationship.
Autonomy and independence.
This is equally important for each partner! Staying independent and ‘doing your own thing’ without feeling guilty keeps you from feeling suffocated in a relationship, while maintaining your own identity, and prioritizing your friends and family. This, like many of these benefits, goes for both long-distance relationships and geographically close relationships.
You’re able to miss each other.
You need that sense of ‘otherness,’- seeing your partner as their own person, living their own life, maintaining the same identity that you originally fell in love with. Besides, we always want what we can’t have, right?
When you’re missing your partner, you’ll find yourself idealizing them, reminiscing upon good times with them, and getting excited to see them again; this reminds you of and re-ignites the spark you felt when you started dating each other. Not only will your mind miss them but your body will too; when loving human touch is not readily available, we appreciate it more, so intimacy feels more special when it occurs.
A recent article of ours pointed to the famed relationship therapist, Esther Perel’s, research which claims that “while love and intimacy are enhanced by familiarity and repetition, eroticism is energized by distance and separateness.”
You have much more to talk about.
After being away from each other for awhile, it will feel like you have so much to catch up on! You’ll be excited to fill your partner in on all your adventures.
Time together becomes valued and special
“You’re the center of their universe when you’re together,” says Dr. Richmond, “so you miss the attention when they’re gone.” You’re not necessarily your partner’s priority while they’re FaceTiming their friends or running errands, or working. “You’re more likely to prioritize sex if it’s not always available (since you’re apart), says Dr. Jess, and in turn, you’re also more likely to prioritize your partner in the time that you do have.
You remind yourself that you are whole on your own
“Marriage often romanticizes the notion of ‘two becoming one, or finding your better half,” Dr. Jess observes, but these attitudes “can wreak havoc on individual growth and relationship satisfaction.” Remind yourself that you are whole by taking time to yourself- there’s no need for your “better half,” but rather someone who loves you and complements you in a way that pushes you to be your best self.
How to tell if your relationship needs breathing room
Like many topics in love and relationships, there is no universal answer. However, there can be some warning signs that often mean some space would be a good idea.
If you’re neglecting self-care practices
This might include meditation, journaling, reading, exercising, learning a new skill, or anything else that helps you to feel connected to your own mind or body.
If your friends and family are speaking up about not seeing you
Or they’re suggesting that you’ve become isolated.
If you’re skipping out on chances to test your comfort zone.
“When you become reliant on your partner, you may fall into the habit of relying on them as a safety net (e.g. you only go to parties if they accompany you) and this can force you into a ‘fixed’ mindset instead of one of growth. And relationships are happier when you create opportunities for growth!” says Dr. Jess.
How to get the space you need
The phrase “I need space” can be as daunting as “I want to take a break,” but it doesn’t have to divide your relationship into before and after. Whether you share an apartment with your S.O or just started dating, here are some easy tips from our two experts:
Instead of simply saying “I wish we texted more,” try something like, “When you’re flying to different cities for work, I worry if you’re safe, but a text when you land would ease those worries.” Or, even easier, instead of asking for space, just sign up for a class or team–something that will force you to be apart–and let your partner know that you’ve signed up for something you wanted to do for yourself.
Come from a place of curiosity
This is one of Dr. Holly’s mantras. Ask your partner what will make them happy, instead of being on the defensive. If your partner says “I wish we texted more,” you can use that as a chance to understand how they feel, instead of jumping to conclusions, such as “they’re being an over-jealous partner.” Try asking what exactly makes them worried or anxious when they don’t hear from you.
Keep the focus on yourself
“I need some extra time alone so I can get back into painting” fares much more easily than “I need some time away from you.” Take responsibility, instead of blaming your partner for not prioritizing the things you love.
Tack on extra time to something that you already do separately
This might be the easiest advice Dr. Jess has to follow. Whether you enjoy walking through the park alone or a spin class on Saturdays, add another hour or two to those activities- “Expand these opportunities into more quality time apart,” by meeting a friend for coffee after class, for example.
Communicate with your partner to work on finding a balance between connectivity and individuality.
Work together to figure out what works for you. There’s no formula for how many hours or weeks you should spend apart, or how much you should be texting or calling while apart. Focus on what you love while you’re on your own, so you can give your partner the attention they deserve when you’re together.