To be whole, it's important for each of us to feel autonomous even as we want to feel attached to our partner. That's the big paradox in relationships. Couples who do everything together can end up feeling imprisoned by having to rely on just one person for fulfillment.
Relationships are meant to be fun, loving and mutually satisfying. If yours is veering toward "co-dependent" or "possessive," it's time to step back and make a little space, for yourself and your mate. Everyone needs the space to grow and to be themselves. Expanding your horizons and having some separate time to pursue individual interests can help you flourish as a couple. Knowing how much space you need and talking it through will alleviate resentment and help you decide what is appropriate and workable for your situation.
There is no objective right balance that will work for everyone. But the key is to be honest with yourself and to be self aware and self appreciating, says Andrew Shaul, a psychologist in private practice in Toronto.
You don't have to have the same view, but it's how you cope with your differing views of how much space you need that is important, says Shaul. And this will work best if you both focus on openness, trust and sharing, he says. If you can each accept that you may not agree, trust each other's motivations and find an acceptable compromise, then you will be in a good place, he explains.
Do you need leisure time with your friends, quiet time to relax, working space to concentrate on career goals, emotional space to evaluate the relationship or financial space to assure your security?
Jealousy may be preventing your partner from giving you the space you need. Your individual friends will be missing each of you, so a good starting point is to designate a "girls" and "boys" night when each of you can spend time with your friends — without your partner. For you, this might be a night with your gal pals, sipping wine and catching up over mani/pedis. For him it could be a guys night out at a ball game. Make it easy on both of you and start with same-sex pals. Opposite-sex friends could be a thornier issue. Decide on guidelines together. (Do the nights need to coincide?) Then, get out there and enjoy your get-togethers with your individual groups of friends. Remember that it's important for each of you to keep the strong connections with friends you've counted on for years.
It's important to discuss how you're feeling with your partner. If it's a unilateral decision, it won't work, says Shaul. "Don't just decide you're not going to church anymore, for example," he says. Explain that you feel differently about going to church, how you've tried it and you prefer not to go and that it is something different for you than for him, suggests Shaul.
Remember that this may be painful and upsetting to your partner, says Shaul. "Be empathetic and understanding," he says, as your words and action will have a deep impact on them.
You're starting to break out of your old routine as a couple and showing more trust. Take it in small steps — going to a networking event where you mingle separately, a dinner party where you may not be seated together, going on vacation but doing a few different activities, some together, some alone. Ideally, you're still soul-mates who are learning to grow both together and alone, but side by side.
It's key to remember that you each fell in love with the other person for them, says Shaul. With that comes with understanding that we all have to be ourselves, rather than denying each other the chance to be ourselves. "You can only wear a mask for so long, you can't pull that off forever," he says. While there may be growing pains, if you work at it, in the end, if you work together, you'll both feel liberated to be yourselves.
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