At first, dating someone is all about making sure you can spend as much time together as possible. Are you free to come over at 11 p.m.? For sure. Interested in seeing some really boring movie? Definitely! Want to go to a party with a bunch of strangers? With you, duh.
Eventually, that thirst goes away, and the only thing sweeter than getting to hang out together is getting to spend time all by yourself. You can think your partner is amazing and not want to spend every waking and sleeping minute together, because there is such a thing as "too much" togetherness, says Jessica Borelli, PhD, associate professor of psychology and social behaviour at the University of California, Irvine.
"One of the most beautiful things about relationships is that they can help us grow and develop in ways we wouldn't without that connection," Dr. Borelli says. But, when you and your partner share the majority of your experiences (e.g. you work together, live together, exercise together, and/or socialise together), then you might not have those unique personal experiences that help you grow, she says. Deciding to spend time doing your own thing — whether that's for a day, a weekend, or maybe a whole week — can enrich your relationship, and make you appreciate your partner more, she says.
Specifically, there's a practice called "relational savouring," which involves "reflecting on prior moments of close connection with a relationship partner," Dr. Borelli says. Relational savouring can take many forms, and you probably already do it without realising. Basically, it means you think about all of the ways your partner has helped you in the past, or remember a specific time when you felt appreciated or connected to your partner, she says. For example, you might realise that your partner was there for you during a particularly stressful day, which means that you can count on them to be there in the future, Dr. Borelli says.
Finding a happy medium is important, but challenging, and what constitutes a happy balance differs from couple to couple and across cultures.
JESSICA BORELLI, PHD
These positive thoughts "underscore feelings of security in the relationship," she says. Long-distance couples might be more likely to do this simply because they're not together all the time, so they spend more time thinking about the relationship than they do actually being with their partner, Dr. Borelli says. (Of course, this doesn't mean that you spend all of your time apart thinking about your partner — it's just one way that your relationship can benefit from individual alone time.)
But, then again, sometimes being alone with your thoughts can be a bad thing. "In the absence of the physical presence of our partners, we are left with the contents of our own minds, and the ways in which we mentally represent our partners and our relationships to ourselves," Dr. Borelli says. This sounds a little dark, but it just means that, while you and your partner are apart, you might get inside your own head and run away with negative thoughts, she says. You're only human, so it can be natural to get caught up thinking about your fears of infidelity, abandonment, and jealousy, she says.
Fortunately, there is a way to have separation, and still feel secure about your relationship. "Finding a happy medium is important, but challenging, and what constitutes a happy balance differs from couple to couple and across cultures," she says. If you happen to like alone time, but aren't sure how it fits into your relationship, Dr. Borelli suggests being clear about what you need. Every now and then, you should decide that you're going to spend some block of time away from your partner and do something by yourself.
To make sure this happens, plan when you're going to get some space, for how long, and how you're going to keep in touch while you are apart (if it's for an extended period of time). Go hang out with your other friends, take an exercise class, or just shop for a few hours. This is probably something you do already, but it's worth it to communicate with your partner, so they don't think you just ran off on them or ghosted. While you don't need to tell your partner what you're doing at all times, having some sense of communication or connection keeps the "relationship demons" away, Dr. Borelli says.
All in all, your relationship security shouldn't be contingent on the amount of time you spend together, Dr. Borelli says. Your partner most likely won't be offended or take it personally if you tell them you'd like to spend time alone — because that means they'll get their turn.