At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there was way too much time. Many of us spent that time trying to figure out what was going to happen next. Some of us compulsively collected new hobbies to keep us distracted, but a lot of us realized we suddenly had more time to spend with the people we lived with. Yes, this newfound time was scary, but it was also a rare opportunity to connect with our loved ones or housemates. Maybe leisurely chats over morning coffee were a new possibility, or maybe a shared love for reality television emerged.
But here’s the thing: We’re now a few months into the pandemic, and we’re all still, well, together. Even if you’re someone who has returned to work and other activities, a lot of your time probably still involves your home and the people with whom you live. So it’s totally normal if you’re craving more solo time. How do you tell your favorite quarantine partner that you want to watch Love Island alone? Is it terrible to explain to your beloved that, although you’re so happy they enjoy your morning workout (#swolemate), exercise has always been something you do solo?
It can be hard to let people know you need a little bit of space—especially when you genuinely enjoy having them around. Below, you’ll find a few things to keep in mind as you prepare to talk to your partner about getting a little alone time during the pandemic.1. Figure out what alone time looks like for you.
“Fulfilled, happy, and whole people make good partners,” Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D., a psychologist and mindset coach, tells SELF. “And sometimes in order to feel that way, we need some opportunity to be with ourselves emotionally or…physically.” That said, alone time means different things to different people, Horsham-Brathwaite explains. Do you need to leave your house for a little while—preferring to take a long leisurely hike? Or are you happiest when you’re sitting in the same room with your partner without speaking? Maybe alone time just means putting on noise-canceling headphones and having permission to check out for a while? Before you have a conversation about your “need for space,” have an honest conversation with yourself to figure that out so you can articulate it intentionally.2. And be specific in your ask.
Often, in a fit of frustration, we can throw around phrases like, “I just need some space.” But the term “space” can conjure up anything from an afternoon bathtub soak to a full-on breakup. When you approach your partner about needing a little time away, make sure you’re honest and specific about your needs (see tip #1). Doing this will mitigate some of the anxiousness that can come up when you explain that you need a bit of space.3. Reassure your partner that taking solo time doesn’t mean you want emotional distance.
Even if you’re super clear that you only need “a minute” and you’ll come back to snuggle right away, it’s entirely possible that you’re living with someone who doesn’t need (or particularly understand) alone time. That doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t deserve some time to yourself. It does mean that you should approach them with heaps of compassion and refrain from speaking in a way that might make them feel like you think their approach to the relationship is wrong. “Some people recharge with alone time, but some people actually feel like they recharge by being around people,” Vernessa Roberts, Psy.D., a counseling psychologist, tells SELF.4. Start a discussion, not an argument.
If your partner sulks or gets upset, please know that you’re still entitled to some alone time. Try to hold firm in your desire and remember that taking care of your needs is essential to being a good partner. “We don’t have to start an argument to gain space,” Roberts explains, adding that you can keep the conversation focused on you. For instance, instead of saying, “Ugh, your breathing is starting to stress me out,” you can opt for something less harsh and more focused on what you want to gain from having some more space, not how your recent togetherness is diminishing your happiness. For example, “On Tuesdays after work, I’d love to use that time to hang out on my own for an hour.” Horsham-Brathwaite also says that if you are afraid of your partner’s reaction, you should reach out to a professional to get additional support.5. If you’re feeling guilty about needing space, try to understand and reframe those feelings.
It’s tempting to think that your desire for alone time is selfish, but everyone can benefit, TBH. “Just because you don’t have a visceral need for [space] doesn’t mean that it can’t be helpful,” Horsham-Brathwaite explains. This doesn’t mean you should run and tell your partner you’re doing them a favor by being vocal about needing a minute. It simply means that you shouldn’t squander your precious alone time by wondering if you really deserve it (you do). So many things have changed in the past few months, and your need for some time alone may have increased. This isn’t necessarily a red flag indicating that something is wrong with you or your relationship. “Spending time apart is actually the sign of a healthy relationship,” Roberts says.6. Plan to make your reunion special.
Planning and communicating are especially important if your partner has an anxious attachment style, Harshom-Brathwaite says. “To have a partner say ‘I need space’ can intensify their anxiety, so I think one of the ways to balance that is to…add some planning to it,” she says. Horsham-Brathwaite says that you can plan quality time leading up to your “alone time” or make your reunion an event. For instance, she suggests you pack a picnic to reconnect or simply dance together in the living room—something to reaffirm that your couple time is as valued as the time you spend apart. “Space will actually enhance the relationship,” Roberts says.
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