That said, even just coming to realize the value of personal space in a relationship stands to strengthen a couple's bond. And according to Shadeen Francis, LMFT, CST, a marriage and family therapist and board-certified sex therapist with Lovehoney (which recently conducted research on the state of love during the pandemic), that's exactly what happened for many quarantining-together couples. "For so many people, time with the self has become so precious because it was so compromised," Francis says. "Folks who have been sheltered in place for an extended period of time with other people, including their partners, probably feel oversaturated."
Francis adds that this type of realization can be beneficial because it's the first step that can lead to increased autonomy—which is key to a healthy relationship. "For a lot of us, we feel duty and responsibility to be available all the time [when in a relationship]," Francis says. "Remembering that we need that solo time for our wellness—and giving our partners permission to do the same—is so important. In the same way you protect time to spend with your partner, protect the time you want to spend doing the things you want to do."
The caveat? The need for such personal space in a relationship needs to be communicated to one's partner, or else it can turn into resentment that festers. If you're not sure how to start that conversation or actually build time to implement that personal space into your schedule, keep reading for five expert tips for prioritizing "me time"—whether you live with your partner, or just need some good, old-fashioned alone time.
"Me time" makes the "we time" stronger—here are 5 ways to prioritize personal space in a relationship
1. Carve out the time to do the things that make you happiest
First things first, check in with yourself. Do you have hobbies you used to enjoy that have gotten pushed to the back burner? Has that passion project you said you were going to finish in quarantine fallen off? If so, prioritize doing those things solo, and block your personal calendar accordingly.
"As you plan out your date nights with your partner, also put time aside for the things that you want to do," says Francis. "If you want to spend, say, an hour reading on Tuesdays, protect that and let your partner know that… The time we spend apart from our relationship can actually add a lot of richness to our time together."
2. Own how you feel and express it to your partner
"Taking ownership of your feelings and your needs is a key piece," says Jenni Skyler, PhD, a marriage and family therapist and sexologist. "Speak to your own inner landscape, so the other person doesn't feel criticized or like they've done something wrong."
Dr. Skyler recommends avoiding the use of "you" statements like, "Don't you take this personally," because well, they might. Instead, be direct about how you're feeling, and qualify it. For example: "I love you, and I'm noticing I need some space to recharge alone," or, "I love you, I just really want to go sit on the beach and read my book."
With these statements, "you're taking ownership of your needs and meeting them for yourself," Dr. Skyler adds.
3. Know that "me time" doesn't necessarily have to mean time alone
Your "me time" can involve friends and family, too—it's simply your time that you've carved out to spend however you choose to do so. Whether that's coffee with a close friend or a weekend trip to visit your sibling who lives in another city, you're entitled to spend time with other people if doing so recharges your batteries.
"People assume 'me time' is time spent by themselves, but it's time spent prioritizing your needs and not focusing on the needs of your relationship." —Shadeen Francis, LMFT
"People assume 'me time' is time spent by themselves, but it's time spent prioritizing your needs and not focusing on the needs of your relationship," says Francis. "Maybe that's spending time with other people, as a means to serve your social needs. Your partner can't be your entire social experience."
4. Keep in mind that your partner may want some personal space, too
If you're feeling like you need some personal space in a relationship, know that your partner may feel similarly. With that in mind, when you have the conversation about needing alone time, ask them how they're feeling, too.
"It helps to start by acknowledging that they're also a person who probably values some quality time on their own," Francis says. "So ask them, 'Are there things that you you used to do by yourself that you miss doing?'" Then, talk about ways to incorporate time away from each other back into your schedules deliberately so that when you come back together, you can both bring new energy to the relationship.
5. Be wary of using "me time" as a defense mechanism
While wanting some alone time is completely normal and healthy, Dr. Skyler warns that wanting quite a bit of alone time, and for the "wrong" reasons can be a red flag. "There's a difference between wanting 'me time' for solitude and self-connection and 'me time' that is withdrawing to protect yourself from intimacy that feels scary," she says. "Using 'me time' too much can be defense mechanism, so ask yourself, 'Am I overusing 'me time?', 'Is it because I'm scared of connection?'" If so, it may be a signal to reconsider the purpose of the relationship in your life.
Dr. Skyler reiterates we should want to be with the people we love. When we find ourselves withdrawing or seeking space more often than we seek togetherness, it can be a sign something bigger needs to be addressed.
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