The beginning of a relationship is more often than not a whirlwind of romance and endless hours spent together. Most people in the early stages of a relationship find that their every waking thought is about their partner and planning ways in which they can spend their time together, getting to know one another, courting one another and impressing one another. At some stage or another the novelty of this new person in your life wears off (to some degree at least) and life tends to take over. Many people think that a healthy relationship sees partners spending as much time as they can together and, if this isn’t happening, then it must mean that there is something wrong in the relationship.
Each couple, however, differs in the way in which they function together. There is no real ‘standard’ that couples need to adhere to when it comes to spending time together. Some partnerships will spend their every waking moment together – they do the same sports, they enjoy the same hobbies and the will frequent the same places together with the same group of friends. If this is what makes them happy then it is perfect. Others, however, may find this sort of arrangement suffocating. Some may enjoy spending a bit of alone time with themselves, doing a solo sport or enjoying a solo hobby. Perhaps they enjoy spending some time away from their partner with some good mates, doing gender specific things. Again, if this arrangement works then all is fine. There are even couples out there, perfectly healthy happy couples, who spend precious little time together other than their “down time” from all their other activities. And they are happy. There isn’t a right or wrong way to view this. Each couple needs to decide for themselves what feels right in terms of time spent together.
Problems can arise, however, when one partner has different needs and expectations from the other. Needing more time alone or having very separate interests can leave the other person feeling rejected and unwanted, especially if they have higher needs for time together and shared interests. Communication early in the relationship and as the relationship evolves is critical. Ensuring that you are able to openly discuss your needs for closeness and time apart assists you in meeting each other’s needs and reaching compromises where necessary. If your partner needs alone time then forcing them to spend time with you will only make them feel suffocated and create the need to run. Likewise, spending too much time apart may make your partner feel undesirable too you. Compromising around alone time and time spent together is probably the best way to reach a “happy medium”.
Delaney is a senior registered psychologist working with people of all backgrounds and with a special interest in LGBTI+ people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and Indigenous people.