Togetherness and Separateness In Your Relationship
When we first meet someone we want to be with them all the time. Sometimes we are so crazy about someone that we wear the same clothes and eat the same food. In fact, we do everything together as we form that bond with someone we want to be with forever, then just as we settle into a connection we crave some space. In a long term relationship balancing that space between connection and autonomy or togetherness and independence can be a constant challenge.
You see it is a paradox. We want the connection and intimacy of being with someone as well as our independence. Research tells us that couples who can respect each other’s needs have the greatest relationship satisfaction.
Early in a relationship, your need for separateness is overridden by a great desire to be together, and this is normal. What happens is any differences between us are minimised as we look at each other with rose coloured glasses in a rush of hormones and desire, sure that our partner is perfect for us. However, as the intimacy in the relationship increases, we often notice that the payoff is a decrease in independence and so our desire for separateness increases.
What happens is there is a fear of loss of self. As you blend with your partner, you become, not described as yourself but described as a couple. It can feel suffocating, especially if there is a mismatch of needs in the relationship. For example just as you feel the need to pull away your partner feels the need to have you right there with them. This feeling can be compounded by the couple process of communicating and deciding everything together; it can feel like you are accountable to your partner rather than in partnership. If you are out of sync with your partner, it can even feel suffocating, as if you cannot do anything by yourself, even as if your personal space is violated.
How can you negotiate a level of togetherness and separateness that enables you to have just enough break from each other so you can reconnect with passion? The most important thing you can do is communicate your needs to your partner before your feeling to assert your independence becomes overwhelming. Try to think about when you feel your desire for time out most keenly, as this will give you clues about what you need from your partner. Remember you partner may be in a totally different emotional space to you and be craving closeness. So always communicate your needs with care and respect.
Creating intimacy between you can create the closeness you need even if you are apart. The ability to be yourself in the relationship, the ability to trust that you can share your secrets with your partner, and being each other’s best friend creates a safe zone that allows for couples to have a freedom between them to be separate and together. Unless couples are able to understand each other’s needs for togetherness and separateness they cannot build intimacy with one another.
You need to be clear and consistent about what you need from you partner. This builds a foundation of trust within the relationship. Be clear, if you need time out to see friends or pursue a hobby ask for it. Some partners may experience a partner leaving to do their own thing as abandonment. Partners who give mixed messages such as saying they need separateness and then accusing their partner of never being there for them create a space of confusion. This is why clear communication is so important.
Ideas to help you negotiate your togetherness and separateness with your partner:
- Be aware that togetherness and separateness is based on how you feel and here is no right or wrong answer as to how you are together as a couple. Try not to be critical of your partner and listen to one another.
- Know that your togetherness and separateness creates greater intimacy and connection between you. Intimacy grows in a space of emotional and physical safety where there is mutual respect for each other needs
- Be specific about what you need, don’t assume your partner will know what you want. This minimises confusion and misunderstandings.
- Know that over time your needs will change, and communication will enable you to negotiate your differing needs.
When thinking about togetherness and separateness be careful, you don’t get caught up in what ‘should’ happen. When we get caught up in doing what family, society or our partner expects of us, we are not true to ourselves and ultimately this can lead us to great resentment. Relationships don’t have to fit the traditional model of husband wife two kids and a white picket fence. I have seen couples negotiate living together and separately, living mostly separately and living together to be happy and accommodate both their needs.
Remember time together means different things to different people. For some people time together means an intimate dinner as a couple for others it means time together as a family including children. When communication isn’t clear this is a common misunderstanding.
Check in with your partner regularly, and work out what is right for you.
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