Many couples struggle with finding the right balance between togetherness and separateness. Have you been there? So completely wrapped up in your partner that you have no outside interests? Every night you download to each other and spend hours hashing out the minutiae of your entire day? It’s comforting to know that this one person will always be there for you and will be your counselor and best friend as well as your partner and lover. But it can also be smothering. I’ve seen it contribute to the erosion of marriages. I’ve experienced it firsthand. So how do you find the balance between “stop it you’re smothering me, I can’t breathe” and “you’re so amazing I want to spend every second with you?”
New romantic relationships generate a specific, wildly exciting type of energy. The newness, by definition, does not last. The goal is to transform that new-love energy into a deep, abiding connection that is fulfilling and exciting even though it is no longer new. The excitement of discovery is replaced with the comfort of stability. This is an over-simplification, of course. You can still discover new things about each other well into a relationship. If you allow space in your togetherness, you and your partner will grow and have even more new and exciting things to share.
By having individual interests, new energy and knowledge is brought into a relationship. Having time apart gives each partner time to reflect, grow, and deepen their love for themselves and their partner(s). Obviously, this can be super challenging in today’s world when so many folks are working 50+ hours a week in one or more jobs. Then come family commitments and chores. It can seem completely natural to want to spend all your free time exclusively with the person you love. I encourage you to find a little space somewhere. Do something alone or with a friend who is your friend, not a couple’s friend. Meditate. Find a hobby. Go for a walk. Take a class. Volunteer. When you come back together, you bring yourself more fully into the union. If you think about it from a social perspective, there’s a phenomenon called group-think which is “the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility.” (definition from Google) A relationship without enough space lends itself to group-think on an intimate scale. Doing things solo, allows you to bring in fresh perspective and ideas.
The idea of having outside interests can seem uncomfortable or even wrong to some. If you feel like you must do everything with your partner, ask yourself why. Are you depending on them for your sense of self-worth? Do you know who you are without them? Do you see it as being pushed away or rejected? The deeper truth is that allowing some space in the relationship is a way to strengthen your committed relationship for the long term.
The truth is that no single person can fulfill all of our emotional needs. Expecting that of a partner puts an undue burden on them. We are each responsible for meeting our own emotional needs. Supporting each other is appropriate, but complete reliance is a recipe for disaster. It’s important to have other people in your life who can give you a different perspective and support you when you need it. Strong bonds with your own friends, and having the space to meet new people, can bring fresh air into your committed relationship serving to strengthen that bond as well.
We aren’t always going to get along with our partner, who we love deeply and are devoted to. It’s vital that we have space to process any conflict that comes up with our significant other. That space allows us to get into a proper frame of mind to work together on a solution. It’s an ebb and flow. It’s a dance.
I think this excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet is a beautiful reflection on interdependence between life partners.
"You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
"Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
"Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow."