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What The Staff Said: On Personal Space


Or, the constantly moving target

by Lucy Bennett, Deputy Editor

What The Staff Said: On Personal Space | A Practical Wedding

Q: I’ve now been married for three (mostly lovely) weeks, and while I thoroughly enjoy writing husband rather than boyfriend, I’ve had more than one “oh shit, I have to put up with this for the rest of my life!” moment in the last few weeks, mostly revolving around what my preschool students refer to as “personal space.” As defined in my classroom, personal space means an arm’s length in all directions. I frequently remind my sweet four year olds that it’s important to give people personal space because if you don’t, they won’t want to be around you. For me, it’s a little more complicated.

I love to hold hands with my husband and to snuggle. The best part of my day is often lying on his chest while we watch Chelsea Lately, and I sleep best when wrapped in his arms. That being said, I NEED MY PERSONAL SPACE… and my husband (still a thrilling word to type) just doesn’t. We have struggled to find what the “right” amount of time to spend together is since we started dating almost five years ago. I am an introvert. I love people but I draw the emotional energy that gets me through a new marriage, family members in bad health, work stress, and life in general from alone time. However, my sweet husband could happily spend EVERY. WAKING. MOMENT. in the presence of other people. For me that’s just not an option.

In the short term this isn’t that big of an issue. It is however, an issue that makes me nervous. When we have babies and jobs and both need to go to bed at 9:30, what will I do?! I don’t want to spend my life emotionally exhausted because my husband doesn’t get my need for “personal space.”

Satisfying the emotional needs of two very different people who happen to be crazy in love isn’t easy, but we will figure it out. I’m simultaneously terrified of sweeping this issue under the rug and thankful that our current life circumstances allow this to be an issue that gets swept under the rug, because it is sure hard to tell your favorite person that they need to get lost so you can…. do nothing… all by yourself.

Stacy

A:I’m a bit lucky that Bryan and I function primarily as introverts, but when it comes to personal space, the two of us certainly had a trial by fire sort of start to our relationship. That’s what happens when you get involved with someone who lives down the hall from you, I guess. But, nine years later, we still don’t have it all figured out, because personal space is one of those issues that evolves over time, changing with a couple’s situation. So we, the staff, decided the best way to answer this question is to give the biggest range we can, starting with our own experiences:

Meg:

Though I appear to be an extrovert, I actually need a lot of quiet time to function well. If I’m around people I like to chat, so I need to NOT be around people regularly to really get the peace and quiet I need. I’m lucky in that I work from home, so by default I get a lot of time physically being alone. That said, while I’m at work I’m managing a team and communicating with people, and not relaxing. So I’ve found that I also need quiet time on my own.

What’s interesting about having a kid is that I both have a need for downtime, and have an intense need to be with my child, who I’m away from during working hours. Balancing that has been tough, not to mention also trying to balance in one-on-one relationship time (which our marriage can’t function without, over the long term). We’re only now starting to work it out, fifteen months into parenting. At the moment, we try to each take the kid for a few hours on the weekend, usually to do something fun. That gives the other person time to do whatever they want—do nothing, work, watch TV, get their nails done (well, that part is just me). It works pretty well, but I notice by about an hour and a half or two hours away, I start really missing the baby.

For us, it’s a constantly moving target. But the bottom line is, for those of us (many of us) who simply can’t function well without alone time, it’s imperative that we carve it out. It’s something you can do with kids too, but it takes more focus and structure. Setting up that structure pre-kids is probably not a bad idea. It’s always the right time to focus on getting your needs met.

Maddie:

If personal space matters, carve it out. Carve it out physically (we searched ENDLESSLY to find a place with enough rooms to give me my own office). Carve it out emotionally, and carve it out when you need it. This means that sometimes I go grocery shopping at 7PM on a Wednesday night just to clear my head. Get comfortable with telling your partner to get lost. Or that you need to get lost. Michael understands that it’s not a personal affront when I need space. If your partner needs more human interaction, then hopefully your absence will encourage him to find it within a social group, or elsewhere that doesn’t mean having you around 24/7. But to avoid going crazy in the long term, get comfortable with the words, “I just need some quiet time.”

My anxiety about personal space has waned since we moved in together. I still need a lot of personal space, but we’ve slipped into a really natural rhythm that allows both of us to get what we need. It sounds simple, but the more you actively work at creating the space you need, the more it will work itself into your regular routine. But you can’t just expect it to be there. You have to make it happen (at least at first). I think there’s an expectation that you should have this figured out immediately after any sort of transition phase. If I’m being honest? I’d say it’s taken Michael and me the better part of our marriage so far to figure it out.

Lucy:

Because Bryan and I exist on much the same rhythm—we unwind by reading, or we work on projects in the evening—we’ve become very adept at the art of being “alone together.” Still, there’s a certain amount of time either of us needs to be alone with our thoughts, and living in a house with a spouse, a roommate, and three animals (and you bet your ass that even they are a drag to be around sometimes) means we don’t get that too easily. For me, I’ve found other places I can go, because working from home gives me all the home field advantage I need. But if everyone’s home and I need to get away, I just say so, and go. Whether it’s taking a walk, a drive, or heading to a coffee shop or library and holing up in a corner, I just go. Because most often, I just want to have uninterrupted think time, and I know plenty of places where strangers aren’t going to jump in and try to chat me up.

Elisabeth:

I wrote about this a while back because K and I enjoy very different activities, and I get so frustrated at the constant assumption in the queer community (in mine, anyway) that all couples do all couple things together, forever now forever more, and if K doesn’t want to come out to dinner with us then that’s a slight on me, our relationship, and present company. It’s not! She likes you, she just wants to re-watch a billion episodes of Ken Burns’ America!

We both intensely crave alone time in the house, and now have specific times when we’re each out of the house so we both get it. I am no good at existing silently and companionably in the same space, even when she says, “I do not want you to tell me about everything on every page of the Garnet Hill catalog.” So now I take guitar lessons on Monday nights so she has the house to herself and I mostly stay home when she goes to church on Sunday mornings. And it wasn’t like we practiced excellent communication to realize that we really needed that separate time, instead we probably got mad about how the other loaded the dishwasher and then figured out what we were really saying.

APW-ers, how do you make sure your needs for personal space are being met within your relationship? How do you tell your spouse to, well, get lost?

Photo by Emily Takes Photos (APW Sponsor)

Lucy Bennett

Lucy is the Deputy Editor of APW and a freelance designer/writer hybrid. When not coming up with weird self-challenges, she can be found marathoning TV shows or playing board games. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, her moderately internet-famous pup, and two cats. She takes herself very seriously.

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  • Meigh McPants

    We’re the same way (I could be with people all the time, Mrs. McPants needs time to go read a Tamora Pierce novel and Not Talk.) We just tried to have a lot of conversations along the line of “I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I need XYZ to feel happy. How can we make that work?” Everyone has some sort of weird communication thing they need to function (I need to give Mrs. McPants decompression time after work, and she needs to say my name and wait until I answer before talking to me if I’m working/reading.) and it just takes time to work out the rules that’ll work for you.

    • Grace

      Ha! “She needs to say my name and wait until I answer before talking to me if I’m working/reading”. I wonder if it’s too late to adopt this policy. I often look up from my ipad and say “oh shit, were you talking to me?!” And he’s all “ugh, you aren’t interested!!”, and I am interested but I block everything out when I read!

      • Meigh McPants

        Yeah, I had to be really explicit with that request. Otherwise I won’t get anything but the second half of the question/statement.

        • Jen

          I have that same problem at work! If I’m focused on something and a customer just comes up and starts talking to me I’m like…what was the question?!

    • Rachael

      I have definitely adopted the “say his name and wait until a response before talking to him” routine when my husband is watching tv or on his computer. Usually though it takes me saying his name 3 or so times with loooooong pauses in between before I get a response, which drives me a little nuts :)

      • Kayjayoh

        I should do that. I blurt, and *then* realize he’s doing something else.

    • Kayjayoh

      [Yay! Tamora Pierce novels!]

      • Kestrel

        Ugh. For a while when I was about 13-ish those are the only things I read!

      • Elisabeth S.

        I only read these a few years ago when K reverently presented her dog-eared copies from age 13 to me. THEY ARE SO GOOD!!

        • Kayjayoh

          I read the first Alanna book as a tween or teen and LOVED it. But I didn’t know there were any others until college. Then I went on a happy, happy reading spree.

  • emilyg25

    I have a greater need for alone time than my husband and I start to go a little crazy without it. Pretty early in our relationship, he recognized this and said, “It would be a lot easier if you just let me know when you need to be alone, rather than trying to put up with being together all the time, until you snap.” So it was easier because he gave me permission to carve out my time. He can see the difference it makes in my mood and the quality of the time we do spend together.

    I take classes on my own and occasionally socialize with friends on my own. Sometimes, if I really need some extended quality solo time, I’ll ask him if he’ll go visit his friends out of town. I literally say, “I love you, but you need to get out of the house. Kisses! Now go!” This is perfect because it gives him time to recharge with people he loves while I recharge by myself and then we miss each other so much that it’s wonderful to be together again!

    Honor yourself by asking for the time you need. Let your husband know that it’s not about him, it’s about you. If you’re anything like me, he’ll be able to see the impact that alone time makes and won’t feel too hurt or anything.

  • Lollygagger9

    When we moved in together we agreed up front that we get nights off. I go out with a girlfriend, he does whatever. He goes climbing, I warch TV or bake or read. We are both introverts, but he tends to be more social, so we also agreed early on that either of us can (usually) bow out if a social situation gets overwhelming or tiring. And we have each agreed that if one tells the other they need alone time, the other gives it. My husband has gone to a cafe to read for a hour just because I needed a few minutes to just be. I have a good friend who is super social but her husband is not, so they often hang out apart at night and that works for them. I think the key is working out what is best for you both, without worrying what others will think (not that you are doing that). I know my mother thought it odd that my husband and I have nights off, but whatever. It works for us!

    • http://www.thehousealwayswinsblog.com/ Rachel Wilkerson

      We do something similar…we alternate which nights we each have to cook & take the dogs out, which means that on your “off” nights, you get to do whatever you want right after work. You can work late, work out, go to happy hour, go watch TV alone, etc and not be expected to socialize or be present until dinner time. It’s been great for the balance of chores, but it’s also great because it means basically that EVERY night we get alone time after work…because actually, cooking and being with the dogs is an alone activity too, and if you put on a podcast or take the dogs on a long walk or whatever, you can create really pleasant personal space around those chores.

      • Jess

        We do off nights too!! It helped so much.

      • Lizzie C.

        We kind of do “nights off,” except they’re just when I have after-work commitments and my husband stays home. The result is that during our “nights on,” I still feel like I haven’t gotten alone time because “nights off” (orchestra rehearsal, band practice, networking events) are more like work. And it makes me feel guilty to ask for another night to myself when the result is that we spend more nights separately than together. So far my only solution has been quitting some after-work commitments, since they wear me out anyway, to spend more time with my husband. If I were less of a people-pleaser I’d quit stuff AND replace those commitments with personal time away from the husband. Maybe one day I’ll get the lady-balls to do it.

  • Grace

    The best advice is definitely to just explain what you need. Lucky for me, we’re both introverts so it so far hasn’t been to hard for us to communicate our needs. Saying this, my partner is home a lot while I’m out studying. When I get home after a long day at the hospital, as pleased as I am to see him, I need quiet time. I’m drained from a day of human interaction and all I want to do is curl up with my ipad and read APW. He is so excited to see me he jumps up and starts asking me all about my day. Which is SO sweet, but I had to explain that he needs to give me a quiet hour and that I’ll tell him all about it at dinner. He gets it now and says hello and how am I then leaves me alone. Win! I have no idea how having kids will work, but I hope I can encourage them to enjoy their alone time like we enjoy ours.

  • http://breckwinokur.com/ Breck

    When we first moved in together, we lived in a tiiiny (<400 sq. foot) studio apartment, so genuine alone time wasn't really available. Over the course of the year and change that we were there, we got very good at what Lucy describes: being "alone together." Since neither of us needs too much time to ourselves to recharge anyways (maybe a couple hours a week?), we still employ the "alone together" approach even though we now have more space. We'll sit on the couch and each play on our respective devices or I'll read and he'll play CoD with the volume low. We (and all our friends who visited our miniature living quarters) thought we were a little insane because we just… don't really stop talking to each other? I do feel that over time this (like so much else) will probably change, so I'm definitely bookmarking this post for kind ways to say, "Leave me alone."

    • Ali

      Fist-bump of solidarity for sharing a tiny studio apartment! We’re going on two years, so we’re also very good at being “alone together.” And fortunately we don’t seem to tire of each other’s company. I definitely need more alone time and time with friends than he does, but he goes to work earlier and comes home later than I do, so I use that as “me time,” be it baking or going out to drinks or zoning out with spider solitaire and youtube.

      • http://breckwinokur.com/ Breck

        Woot! We’ve now had a 1 bedroom for about a year, but we still follow each other from room to room because it feels kind of weird not to be physically together when we’re at home.

        • jashshea

          HA – when we moved from his 1 bedroom (the bedroom was a loft, so…not really a 2nd room) into our house, we did the same thing. We’d end up with me sitting on his office ottoman on my laptop while he sat at his desk chair (*maybe 3 feet away from each other*) because we kept losing each other in the vastness of the space. We’re better now :)

  • Katriel

    Oh man – the sleeping with one arm around someone! I CANNOT! My husband would happily be a sleep cuddler, but I absolutely can’t be touching someone and fall asleep. Poor guy has to stay all the way on his own side of the bed.

    • http://breckwinokur.com/ Breck

      Hahaha, I’m the same way. Like, “OK, thanks for the snuggle, now let me roll over and don’t touch me until tomorrow morning, please. Love you!”

      • Grace

        I have been known to specify a time when it’s ok to touch me. Haha. Before 8am on a Sunday is CRAZY.

    • macrain

      People who sleep snuggled up together are like unicorns to me. I just don’t get how that works!

      • Lauren from NH

        Tee hee. This makes me chuckle. The fella and I are big snugglers. Every night we rotate through the three same positions to fall asleep, don’t ask my why, it just happens. The funny part is my 5’8 well-muscled manly man likes best to be the little spoon, while I, at only 5’2 be the big spoon, go figure!

        • Sarah

          My husband likes being the little spoon too!

    • http://www.etsy.com/shop/DIYIDo Laura

      OMG, this is me exactly! My husband and I cuddle for about 30 seconds when we first go to bed, then I make him retreat back to his side of the bed. Sometimes he comes back to my side in the middle of the night, and I’m all “listen, I love you, and I love being close to you, but get away from me so I can go back to sleep.”

      For a long time I had a hard time sleeping just sharing a bed with someone else (even with no contact), happily that part’s not a problem anymore.

    • NicoleT

      Less the cuddling, more the snoring for me. I’ll elbow him until he rolls over to sleep on his side and then we’ll just have feet or leg cuddling. If his arms are around me, that means he’s snoring in my ear. I need my sleep!

      • ART

        hah! I have been working on the 2am “baby, why don’t you roll onto your side?” move – works pretty well. also: i love leg/feet cuddling! still counts!

      • JDrives

        Feet cuddling FTW! It’s generally the only kind of sleep-touching I can handle.

    • Laura

      I would happily cuddle all night long except for the snoring. But I think that’s a whole different conversation! :-)

      • Sarah

        This is me, too! *sigh*

      • Lindsey d.

        Ugh, agree… I have both a snoring fiance and a snoring cat… Too Much!

      • Katriel

        Yes. I have always been a light sleeper who can’t be touched, but a husband who snores and has restless leg syndrome just about put me over the edge. We actually did sleep in two twin beds for a while so that I could actually sleep. Then we splurged and bought a hella expensive memory foam mattress which is the bomb!

        • Laura

          Hm… I am now hoping for a “sleeping challenges” post/open thread. I imagine this is one of the biggest issues in all relationships.

    • Aubry

      Ha! yes. It works out for us cause he really likes to cuddle to fall asleep, but falls asleep in about 5 seconds (curse you). so I just wait till he falls asleep/I’v got my cuddle time in, then nudge him to roll over and proceed to fall asleep on my own terms (or just lay there for hours depending on the insomnia level… but that’s not the point!)

      • Karen

        Nothing would make me happier than never having to share a bed with anyone else. Nothing makes my fiancé happier than cuddling. He’s gotten a bit better about it, but I think now it’s on me to be more vocal about saying “go away, I’m trying to sleep now.” And yes, he does fall asleep in 5 seconds.

        • Karen

          I’m tellin’ ya… my people are the ones who invented the idea of two twin beds.

    • Sarah

      I must sleep alone. He must sleep on a pile of pillows. After cuddle time, I tell him I am exiling him to the mountains!

      • Katriel

        Oh, I sleep alone WITH the pillows. My husband has even named the largest one Harold.

    • karyn_arden

      My husband recently told me that he can’t fall asleep or he sleeps really restlessly when I put my arm against his stomach. And he said it only really started to happen when I started using a CPAP machine (to help with my sleep apnea). He said it’s probably because it’s a vulnerable place to be touched (dating back to early humans, etc. because he’s a nerdy goof); I know it doesn’t bother me, but since it bugs him, I have to find a different way to touch him while we fall asleep.

      I’m glad he let me know, though; if it’s disturbing his sleep, I’d rather stop now than bother him endlessly.

  • ML

    In my marriage, I’m the one who likes to be together ALL THE TIME. But I figured out early on that this would not work for my partner. He would get so grumpy, yet when he had more space, voila, happy! That positive reinforcement was enough for me to get the picture and force myself to adapt to it. Five years into being together, I’ve picked up hobbies and volunteer work that require me to leave the house so he can have a few hours alone on the weekend. Plus it’s a win-win because I return feeling happier because I’ve been productive. Another thing that helps us is that his work schedule allows him to be home about 1.5 hours before me.

    This isn’t advice, just a summary of what works for us. It’s a tough balance to strike!

  • http://cafeaubride.blogspot.com/ Catherine

    I loved reading about K and her partner’s differences…it reminded me of my own relationship with my new soon to be wife :)

    And also, to the question asker, or anyone who resonated, have you read the book The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aaron? It’s a very in depth look at the psychology of us highly sensitive/ introverted folk. I wish my parents had had that as a handbook when raising me. It’s definitely staying on my shelf forever.

    • macrain

      I haven’t heard of that, sounds so interesting!
      My sister told me she recommended that my mom read “Quiet” by Susan Cain, and I wanted to cry with relief just at the idea that she brought it up. We introverts can be so misunderstood.

      • MC

        I read “Quiet” last summer and it changed my life. Or at least SUPER validated a lot of the things I’ve struggled with in the home, workplace, etc. that I’d always felt ashamed about. Definitely recommend it to anyone that is an introvert or knows one (so, uh, everyone).

      • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny/Adventures Along the Way

        I bought Quiet when I was stuck in an airport trying to get home in January and started reading it. I haven’t finished it yet, but I really like it so far. And I would say I am an extrovert with some introverted needs…

    • Karen

      K and her partner’s differences tend to stress me out :-)

  • macrain

    It’s funny that I’ve never given this much thought, given that I’m a total introvert and would die without alone time.
    My fiance (also an introvert) works so much I rarely crave time away from him. When he’s home I pretty much want to be around him. What’s hard is that he prefers to be alone while he is working, even at home. We have a one bedroom apartment so I’m sort of banished from the bedroom while he works. I would much prefer we are in the same room together even if we aren’t interacting, and sometimes he’ll be flex with me on that (now that I’m thinking about it, when it gets close enough to bedtime I usually just barge on in and make myself comfortable in bed whether he is finished working or not).
    This post has really inspired me to think about what I truly need in terms of personal space and to ask him what he needs. Sometimes I fall into this trap of thinking that if he’s home and up for hanging out, I just HAVE to because sometimes our time together is scarce. Sometimes it’s really ok to want to curl up with my book instead of my fiance.

  • Sarah E

    My partner and I have really different space/socialization needs. I’m still figuring out how to best take care of myself that way (honestly, I think my partner has a better grasp on what I need sometimes). Anyway, he really needs decompression time at the end of his work day, which means an hour or so spent gaming. It definitely took me a while to grasp that and busy myself elsewhere instead of glorying in “Yay! Us time! I love you!” as soon as got home. I need to be out of the house, and still around people on a regular basis. Often the best way I get this (and if the weather is nice, some outdoor movement, too) is to just head to a coffee shop on a regular basis, whether that’s to work or just read and relax. I had a great summer full of weekends spent on a cafe patio on a busy street with an iced coffee, my journal, and a book. We trade cooking duties pretty regularly, but when I’m feeling particularly together-time itchy during his leave-me-alone-please time, I start dinner or wash dishes, or another physical task that keeps me busy until he’s ready to join me. It can particularly challenging in our small apartment, where there’s limited physical space to be “alone together.”

    The hardest part is for me to honor my own needs. While I like to be out and about all the time, he’s generally a homebody. He’s happy to hang with friends, but on a week night or when he just wants to chill, he prefers to be home. I do my best to still go out without him when I can, but I love sharing activities with him (and with other people in general), plus he’s my social safety net. I don’t feel as out of place in a new situation when I have a teammate! So it’s hard for me sometimes to honor that I need to Just. Go. when he decides he’d rather stay home, because I want to be with him, too.

    • Lisa

      This is the same issue my fiancé and I are kind of facing right now, except reversed. He’s currently unemployed and spends his days at home. I’m working 9-5, and when I get home, I usually want an hour or so to recharge and be alone. However, since he has been alone all day, he’s ready for human interaction.

      We’re still trying to figure out how to each get our needs met. Right now, it’s turned into me getting home and sitting on the couch with a book or the TV for a bit while he makes dinner until I’m ready to join him. We do being “alone together” well, but due to the time imbalance at home, we’re still trying to figure out how and when to be alone apart.

      • Kathleen

        The 6 months or so that my husband was unemployed were SO HARD for this reason. I was used to leaving a little later than him in the morning, and getting home a little earlier in the evening, so I always had at least a bit of time to myself each day, without even realizing it. It took me a while to realize why I was so annoyed all the time, and never wanted to go anywhere or see anyone or be touched, at exactly the same moment that he was lonely and craving interaction because he was going stir crazy at home. It’s a lot easier now that he’s employed again! (Also, financially.)

  • Cara

    This makes me realize how lucky I am that I get home an average of 2 hours earlier than my husband every day, when I can bake cookies, clean, watch tv, run errands, or do whatever I need to do to recharge a little. It really is important for me to be alone sometimes, just to decompress. I also find in social situations I feel an intense need to just BE HOME after awhile, but when I get home I’m like “what now?”, so I totally get what Elisabeth is saying about being home. My husband doesn’t really get this way, though. And truth be told, he is the one person whose company I don’t really get sick of, I don’t need to escape for alone time from him (though, my 2 hours each week night might help a great deal with that!).

    • Superfantastic

      We’re in the same situation. I’d go completely crazy without any alone at home time, but since I get home well before my husband does, this hasn’t been a problem for me since we moved in together. It was probably a year into living together though that he explained to me kind of tensely that sometimes he needs time alone in the evening. I was all, “Well OF COURSE you do.” which was clearly a huge relief to him. Apparently he’d been keeping that in for quite a while, thinking I’d be offended if he said it. Really, I think I could count on one hand the number of times he went into another room just for the purpose of being alone, so I guess the important thing for him was that I understood that it might happen and was fine with it.

      While of course I get all of the advantages of having an open kitchen, we didn’t have a choice in ours (base housing) and I have to say having the kitchen more separated can be kind of nice sometimes. Whenever one of us is cooking, the other gets alone time. I’m a seriously pokey cook, so this gives both of us probably at least an hour most nights that I make dinner.

      Now that we’re both in grad school, we do a lot of alone together in the same room studying. I’m not always the best at knowing when it’s not ok to just up and start talking to him, so I think sometimes he wears his headphones when he’s not even listening to anything so I know he can’t talk then.

  • MC

    When Fiance & I moved in together a year ago this was definitely an issue (and still is). We were living in a small one-bedroom place, “sharing” his car (which really meant that he had a car and I had a bus pass) and I very quickly learned that this arrangement was not beneficial to me/us. I’m a big reader and I was getting VERY annoyed when he would try to chat with me when I was reading about this and that – which made me realize there was a bigger issue to be addressed. After some good communicating and some, um, ungraceful arguing, we decided to prioritize getting a second car and finding a two-bedroom place to live, and we were able to do both within a year. Those two things have helped a lot in us being able to be a little more independent when we need to be. I need more alone time than he does, but we both have gotten comfortable telling each other when we need it, because like someone else mentions, it helps to head off any tension that could result from not enough alone time. So just to echo what the staff is saying: bring it up early, set routines, and figure out how to prioritize it in the long term.

  • Laura

    I attribute the fact that we haven’t officially moved in together or started moving in together yet partially on our mutual introversion. Honestly, part of me says “maybe I should keep my apartment.” Right now in the pre-married state we have lots of time to be alone as we have different work schedules (night shift vs day shift) and in addition he owns his own business, and I work at a job that sometimes requires odd or flexible hours. We will definitely be looking into a place with enough rooms that we can each have our own room (in addition to the bedroom) at least starting out. We’ve both been single and independent long enough that I think we’re both sort of navigating how we’re going to maintain our independence together. It’s nice that we are so similar in that way, but also… difficult. Great post and looking forward to reading the comments! I vote for more Q&A in this format with multiple staff answers.

    • lady brett

      my honey used to work nights on a rotating schedule. when we started talking about her getting a new (day/office) job, we realized we had never spent more than 48 hours together (in two years dating and one year living together). honestly, we were a little terrified of how changing that would affect us (it was mostly awesome, turns out).

  • april

    The only thing I have to add to the excellent advice people have already given is – if feasible – consider a living arrangement that will allow you to have a space of your own. I’m a classic introvert and really need to be able to remove myself from the company of other people and recharge every once in a while. It doesn’t have to be a full room – when I was at summer camp, I used to string a hammock up a couple of paces away from our cabin, so I could go and read when I wanted to be alone. Having a personal retreat can really help, though, because it sets a really clear boundary between shared space and personal space.

  • kara

    I’m sorry that this comment doesn’t really relate to the post, but I’m so happy my state is finally coming around to reality!!

    “A federal judge has struck down Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage, ruling
    Wednesday it has no “rational relation to a legitimate government
    purpose.”

    Another deeply red state is starting to see the light–at least when it comes to this ban.

    • MisterEHolmes

      I hesitate to celebrate too early: the state isn’t on board, just one sensible judge (so far). The state is already appealing. :(

      • kara

        I know :(….here’s hoping we’ll get to celebrate one day!

  • Gina

    I would say what works for us is each having our own “thing” we do when we need alone time. I’m really extroverted and he’s really introverted, but luckily we both like our alone time. When he heads to the backyard with a beer in hand, I know he’s going to be sitting back there watching the chickens (no joke) for like an hour. That’s his alone time. I take the dogs hiking at least an hour and a half each day, and that’s my alone time.

    It could just as easily be crawling into bed with a book or cooking cupcakes in the kitchen. But having a space and activity that is just ours puts the other person on notice that we’re taking our space.

  • Victwa

    This one is definitely much, much harder with the kiddos. I agree that one could encourage children past a certain age to embrace their solitary pursuits with gusto (and yay! the 20 month old is starting to really enjoy coloring on her own! delightful!) but there’s a good chunk of time where you can’t just send them off on their own (because, you know, light sockets). And it’s exhausting, even for a dyed-in-the-wool extrovert like myself. My husband is an introvert and it’s even harder for him. I mean, meh. Figuring out how to get 5 human beings (plus a dog)’s needs met on a daily basis is a grand challenge. What we have really tried to embrace is how to get everyone at least SOME of what they need. One of my favorite quotes anywhere is “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” This is what we try to cling to, because yes, I would love to make sure that my husband and I have really quality time to connect every night before going to bed, and that each child has one-on-one time with a parent feeling fully appreciated and listened to, and that I get the right amount of running time for me, etc. And sometimes, it looks like me cooking dinner and talking to the 8 year old while he does his homework and the 20 month old runs around with crayons. How do we (or anyone else) do it? Imperfectly. Always imperfectly.

    • Lindsay Rae

      “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.”

      Just wrote that one down on a post-it and stuck it on my computer. It sounds like you’ve figured it out. Thanks!! xo

      • Victwa

        Well, or we’re committed to continuing to try to figure it out. Because just when you think it’s figured out– things change! And yes– that quote is really good for just about EVERYTHING. I love it.

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    We are both introverts, so it’s a bit easier, but we still make a conscious effort. We get out for exercise individually. I told him that this year I want to spend at least 15 minutes a day in silent meditation and he respects that.

    Now that we’re parents I talk to him honestly about how at the end of the day I just really want to be able to use both of my arms and not have to carry on a constant monologue so she knows where I’m at. So he takes her and gives me time to just sit on the couch and eat craisins. And I know that he also needs some time in the evening for just him after work.

    It’s a never ending conversation as life changes. But just because our solution for now won’t work in a few months/weeks/days doesn’t mean we’ve failed at it. It just means it’s life.

  • KC

    I’ve phrased it in terms of nutritional balance; each person needs some protein and some carbohydrate and some fiber, etc. and what each person needs is slightly different, but right now *I* am getting a lot of (alone time/people time) at work and need some (alone time/interaction time) at home. It really helped get the message across that it wasn’t him, it was alone-ness (and to some degree also helped him see that he was getting his solo time at other points in the day and hence wasn’t needing it when I was needing it).

    Also, you can help them find activities for them to Go Do Without You so they can get the people-time they need while you get the alone-time you need. :-)

    (but yes, definitely an issue early on in our marriage when I never had time alone in our apartment, due to the way schedules lined up. I apparently need time alone. Not much time alone, but I need it a *lot*.)

  • Caroline

    We really don’t succeed at this at all. Our new apartment was supposed to help (and I adore it) but the upgrade from studio to 1 bedroom with a darkly lot bedroom with no room for much besides a bed, shelves and a little walk space hasn’t helped much. I thought we could each have our own space, but I find the bedroom too dark for much but going to bed and I thus feel bad asking him to go to the bedroom either. So, no alone time at home (he gets some when I’m at school and he’s home but I don’t). Maybe when we make the bedroom nice with good lights and a bed frame…

    But really, I can’t WAIT until I can have a room of my own. I so so so want a room of my own. To leave out my watercolors, and daven (pray) in more quietly, and just someplace sunny and mine to retreat with a book. I miss having a space of my own (bigger and more relaxing than my desk) more than time of my own, really. But getting a space of my own (just my desk) helped so much.

  • http://readingandthensome.blogspot.com/ Martha Smith

    I am just not a personal space person. I have 3 siblings, and my grandmother lived with us growing up so being alone isn’t a concept I’m familiar with. Unlike some people who had no personal space as a kid and now craves it, I just don’t seem to need it too much. I appreciate a good errand run by my self (especially to Ulta or some other place my husband doesn’t like to go). When we first moved to the Midwest I didn’t have any friends so I grew very adept at shopping alone – like, girl shopping. And now, four years later with plenty of friends, I still love it occasionally.

    I will say, that much like Lucy, my husband and I are good at being alone together. We are happy as clams to sit together on the couch while I read and he plays video games or also writes/reads for his PhD program.

  • Anon for this

    Hi Elisabeth – sorry this is a tangent, but I know you’ve written about this before so I was wondering – one of my best friends is serious with a guy who almost never comes to events/dinners/parties/bananagrams marathons with us, her friends. It’s hard not to find this offensive, especially because my own boyfriend, who is highly introverted, has made a big effort to get to know my friends (who are just about the warmest, most welcoming bunch you can find) because he knows it’s important to me. My question is – how do I know if this is a sign of an unhealthy relationship, or just how it is with him? I brought it up to her casually before and she just shrugged and said, he’s lame, sorry. And related question, if this is just how he is and we have to get used to it – how should I do that?! It’s hard not to be hurt that he doesn’t make time for her friends.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      I’m not the Elisabeth you were looking for, but I know with my husband, it’s a balance between keeping up appearances and not dragging everyone down. He wants to be supportive of my friends and friendships, but he is very awkward socially and social interactions really drain him. There are lots of reasons for this – his personality, his immigrant past, his abusive parents, his depression, his mental disability.

      If I “make him” go out with a group, there’s a good chance I’ll spend a lot of the time trying to help him, and his mono-syllable answers and awkwardness will bring everyone down. So I balance every invitation between the side-eyes of making excuses for his absence and the side-eyes of him attending and being a bummer. It’s not a matter of “making time”; it’s a matter of drawing on huge reserves of mental energy – for both of us.

      One thing that helps my husband is smaller groups and something to DO. He won’t go to church coffee hour, but he’ll help clean my church. Also, my friends and family don’t know anything about my husband’s struggles, because of his fear of stigma. There could be all sorts of reasons for this boyfriend’s behavior that have nothing to do you with you or your friend, and your friend may not be able to tell you.

    • Anon

      My husband is not very sociable either. The thing I had to realize is that what I want is for him to come be the charming bf/husband that all my girlfriends will like. But my real options are either (a) bring him and he will come and be quiet and awkward, and I’ll be anxious the whole time, prodding him with my eyes to ask more questions, etc. or (b) leave him at home and have a great time! He will come to occasional birthday parties and of course, weddings, and that’s a fine compromise for us.

      Not everyone is into games and parties. Try not to take this as a reflection of the quality of their relationship. Take time to ask your friend more about his background, what makes him tick, what they like to do as a couple, etc. This should give you better clues about whether there are red flags in the relationship, or just a mismatch of friend/partner personalities.

    • Elisabeth S.

      I hear that. This stuff is tricky. I have two thoughts: 1, does he pass the Brunch Test? That is, does he appear to support her, make her happy, not stand in the way of her pursuits, and can you have a pleasant if not outstanding brunch him? In that case, you graciously take your time to come around to the idea that we never can really see the inner workings of a relationship, and he does something for her that you guys can’t see, and will have to trust that she’s choosing him for a reason. 2, I had a lightbulb moment early on in my relationship that the things I want in my friends — bananagram marathons/peeing our pants from shrieking with laughter/intense-loud-in your face external processing is NOT what I am drawn to in a partner; in fact I want the complete opposite. So, like the other Elisabeth said, we’ve found ways that feel comfortable for K to show her support with my friends. She won’t be out on the dance floor getting low EVER, but she won’t even hesitate to show up at 8am to assemble cabinets or move heavy boxes. Maybe, like K, he’s better 1:1. Once I came home and she and a friend of mine were doing pull-ups. I didn’t even know said friend LIKED/could DO pull-ups.

      • Caroline

        Yes! My partner is definitely more of a 1:1 person, or even a small groups person. So while he is very uncomfortable at Saturday afternoon game marathons, he usually enjoys small dinners with my friends (or even large dinners with friends often). Not everyone likes the big group hangout. But if we invite one couple or one friend over for dinner, he often shines. He can also do parties on our turf (ie, when we host) but generally hates parties at other people’s houses. So maybe there are other ways anon for this’s friend’s partner likes the presence of others and she can get to know that partner.

    • Caroline

      My partner doesn’t like to hang out with my friends very much, because he’s shy and introverted and doesn’t have a ton in common with us. (Well, he and I have lots in common, but the major connection I have with most of my friends is being Jewish and super into it. He’s not jewish and not that into Judaism). One thing I’ve noticed is that he’ll come to game night, he’ll do dinner at people’s houses, he’ll do small get-togethers (usually over dinner) with a few of the friends who he does get along with. And some of the time (50%?) he’ll enjoy himself, and the rest of the time, he’ll be really uncomfortable, and that makes it no fun for me. So we’ve gotten to a place where I invite him, and he comes if he wants, and if not, I go.

      My friends are very warm and welcoming, but my partner finds it exhausting to chitchat with people he doesn’t have a lot in common with, especially in large groups. That’s just how he is, and we found we have more fun if I go to game-afternoon alone most of the time. We have other friends where he does enjoy hanging out (my best friend has definitely become OUR friend, not just mine), and he has friends who I find exhausting, but hang out with occaisionally. It’s not even that I don’t like them, I just find them exhausting. I think it’s a good healthy thing sometimes to have seperate friends.

      I think unless your friend’s partner is preventing HER from hanging out with you, it is not a sign of an unhealthy relationship. He’s just shy.

      In terms of not being hurt, you have to realize that him not hanging out with your friend group is not at all about you. Realize it doesn’t mean that you and your friends aren’t lovely people, or your friend doesn’t like you, but he probably just finds social interaction exhausting and would prefer not to do it. Or, he may realize that his attending and being grumpy about it would make his partner/your friend not enjoy the gathering because she is too worried about him being uncomfortable around people, and has kindly told her that she should enjoy her friends and have a blast without worrying about him, and he’ll be just fine doing his thing and getting personal space. Maybe re-framing it as not about you, and not about being a poor partner, but perhaps being a very considerate partner (even if it is different than the social norms of your group) might help you get over it.

    • Kathleen

      “It’s hard not to find this offensive, especially because my own
      boyfriend, who is highly introverted, has made a big effort to get to
      know my friends . . . because he knows it’s important to me.”

      It could very well be that your friend’s boyfriend would do the same, if it was important to HER that he get to know her friends. That’s not necessarily something that everyone values. Maybe she prefers being able to spend some time apart from him, and so hasn’t asked him to make an effort to come along to things that aren’t his style. Or maybe he’s an introvert with very few opportunities for alone time, so it’s important to both of them that he gets a chance to recharge alone when she goes out.

  • Beth R

    I could have written this letter and it probably would have come around the same time period (3 weeks after the wedding). Around this time, we had just gotten back from our honeymoon (to Alaska, on a cruise ship) and I felt totally overwhelmed by my new husband’s presence and found myself being extra snippy and annoyed. I was super worried about feeling this way so soon into the “honeymoon period” and then I realized that it was because I had essentially had zero time to myself for an entire month. With work, parents arriving early, the wedding itself, more work, and then a honeymoon on a cruise ship, I had literally been surrounded by people nonstop 24/7 for 4 weeks. Luckily, a week or so later my husband went on a couple of business trips and I felt totally refreshed once he got home.

    My husband is also an introvert (not as much as me, though), but he works from home and is ready for social interaction by the time I get home at night. I, on the other hand, take (often very crowded) public transportation to work and am in an open plan office where I have people around me at all times, so by the time I get home, I just want to be alone. At least for a few minutes. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago (4 yrs into our relationship and 8 months into marriage) that we actually talked about this, because I snapped at him when he tried to give me a hug. I felt terrible that I had offended him and that it had to become a “thing,” but talking it through helped him realize that I was feeling physically overwhelmed/uncomfortable when he would (enthusiastically and lovingly) hug me before I’d even had a chance to take off my coat. Now he knows that I may just need a few minutes to get settled into home-mode and be in my own space before we properly greet each other. He now lets me initiate that contact or else asks me if I’m ready for a hug. It helps to feel like I have a choice and control over my physical space.

    This is actually one of my largest worries about having kids – will I ever have my own space? It is going to be a challenge.

    I know how hard these conversations are, but it is important to try to understand each others needs in this way. Don’t sweep this under the rug! I feel like this is one of those things that can build and build and then explode if you’re not careful. For those of us who need it, time alone is critical to having a successful relationship.

  • Dom

    We have very clear guidelines. While we are both introverts and great at being alone together, I need more physical reassurance than he does (hugs, kisses, just general cuddling). So we set boundaries that we need to follow so I feel close to him and yet he still has his own physical space. An example? Kisses are at least 3 seconds long, and cuddling has to be done in a way that does not restrict his movements, which means leaning against his side. Generally, we say hello after coming home from work, kiss, sit down, he takes out the laptop and I take out the iPad and glue myself to his side for an hour, where we generally don’t talk.

    Of course, we also have hobbies – he plays music and I go out for dinner once a week with a friend.

  • snowmentality

    So my now-husband and I have been living together for almost 10 years now, and it’s really only within the last few years that we’ve really learned to handle this.

    What helped us was learning to say explicitly when we wanted/needed to spend some alone time. My husband will come home and say “I think I’m going to hide in my office and listen to music and draw on the computer for a while. I just need some time to decompress from work.” From previous conversations, I understand that his job can be draining, because it is a fast-paced job involving working with lots and lots of different people in a crowded, loud environment. As an introvert myself, I get why he would need some quiet time to regain his energy. So I’m able not to take it personally — to understand that he’s not avoiding or rejecting my company; he just needs time to chill.

    And I can say “Nah, you go ahead to that work party on Friday night; I kind of just feel like hanging out here” and he’ll understand that I’m not rejecting having fun with him and his friends; it’s just that parties take a lot of energy for me that I may not have after a long week.

    But the key is saying it out loud. For many years, I would try to talk to him when he was in “listen to music and draw on the computer” mode, and he would try to politely brush me off. I was left feeling hurt, ignored, and rejected, while he was left feeling annoyed and pestered. Now, when he says out loud that he’s going to hide in his office for a while, I know that he’ll come out in an hour or two and chat with me. In the meantime, I enjoy doing stuff on my own, like watching a TV show he isn’t into or reading a book.

    • Caroline

      Yeah, we need to get to that point. We’re just starting to use “Hey, can I talk to you, or would a few minutes be better?” when the other person is in a book/computer game/music etc. It would be good to get to the point where we are verbally communicating about needing alone time. But part of our problem is that it is usually offset. Frequently lately, when he wants alone time, I really really need some actual talking to someone time and vice versa. So… it’s a work in progress.

  • Annie

    Um, just pausing the relevant conversation to ask this question: Can “What the staff said” be a regular feature? Because I love it. You’ve each shared enough of your back story that I can grok the different approaches with more context than most things I read on the internet. Very cool glimpse into #apwbehindthescenes.

    • Lauren from NH

      Yes please!

    • Meg Keene

      I think it’s going to be! This was our try out.

      • Jules

        It’s like Ask Team Practical…only better! I didn’t know there was a better, but I love the different perspectives.

  • Rachael

    My husband and I work on these issues constantly and I think it will always be a point of maintenance for us. We have very different space and physical affection requirements that have been a challenge to balance. He’s super gregarious and wants to be with people all of the time. He often gets home from work hours before I do, so he’s ready to latch on to me the second I walk in the door. I get home and there he is, along with the dog, both of whom are demanding my immediate attention and I just can’t sometimes… We’ve worked on this by vocalizing our needs, but it’s a work in progress. He’s come to the realization that he essentially needs to go out and do something with friends or run errands if I do work at home on the weekends because he knows he can’t leave me alone (even though there is a home office / guest bedroom for me to hole up in). He’s also gotten better about going out with his friend without me. Some of it was that he felt bad leaving me home alone, when really I wanted nothing more than to be left home alone! It can be so difficult to understand the other person’s needs when they are so different than your own, it takes a lot of work.

    What wasn’t discussed in this piece, but what goes hand-in-hand with personal space for me is physical affection. My husband is light years more physically affectionate than I am. He wants to be literally touching me at all times. I usually need my “personal space” even when we’re hanging out. Physical affection is an absolute must, but my threshold is much much lower than his. We’ve had to work on this A LOT. It has taken a lot of compromise from both of us – I have to hug him more, he has to tell me when he feels like he doesn’t get enough hugs, and he has had to learn to accept that we will never be equally affectionate. Accepting that we have different needs has been a big step for us.

  • Kayjayoh

    We are pretty good at finding our own activities and doing things without the other one. As such, we do get our share of along time when the other one is out of the house.

  • Sara P

    This is still sometimes a challenge for us – we’re both introverts, but I think I get a lot more alone time than he does, mostly because he’s gone for work so much sometimes (boo). He usually needs some time when he gets home from work, and I usually don’t, which can be hard. I think I stock up on alone time better than he does. I don’t necessarily need time every day, and I find that when he’s been gone for work I have a lot “in reserve”. This is also because I don’t have very many friends up here, which I’m also working on. He requires a lot more energy to be social than I do, as well, which requires some balancing.

    Keep talking about it! I sometimes assume he wants to be alone on the weekend, when he really doesn’t, and asking is always better than wondering.

  • anon today

    This is a big problem for us. He does a lot of work from home (PhD student) while I get to leave work at work (yay), which means our spare room has turned into his office. I hate not having a space of my own. Our place is so small that we have a main room, our bedroom, and the tiny spare room–and you can hear each other in all three. I basically have nowhere to go to be totally 100% alone. It is driving me nuts! Boston is so expensive that I don’t know if we’ll be able to afford a bigger place until he’s done with school. With the terrible winter weather dragging on forever, I can’t really escape outside either!

    Winter needs to end, he needs to get a job, Boston real estate needs to become less expensive. At this point, none of those seem realistic.

    • Meg

      Seconding that this Boston winter needs to end!!

    • Shawna R. Nixon

      My fiance and I live in a small cottage (living room, bedroom, tiny bathroom & tiny kitchen). Noise-cancelling headphones help. Having our own spaces in separate rooms, with our own desks, also helps (his is in the living room & mine is in the bedroom). Also, we try to talk to each other about when we need space, which is a work in progress.

  • Anna Lindsey

    I love this. My husband (extrovert) and I (introvert) are definitely still figuring this out. Our relationship began long-distance, and when we were finally in the same city, he was at my apartment constantly. I finally had to tell him, probably in a less tactful way than I should have, that just because we were in the same city did NOT mean that he could be with me constantly.

    This has been something we have to pay particular attention to, and while it’s getting better, we still have a long way to go. Thankfully, we now have more physical space, so it’s easier for me to get some quiet time upstairs while he hangs out downstairs. I try to be self-aware enough to point out when I need space, but just as often, he notices my one-word responses and general avoidance tactics and kindly asks if I’d like a little space.

    We’ve just found out he’ll be spending the next six months in Russia, so we’re back to long-distance. I’m curious to see how it plays out this time, as a married couple, with a significant time difference and limited visits due to extreme distance and cost.

  • Briana

    I love this topic! My husband and I set out on a month-long roadtrip together across the country not long after we first met. His car was a Volvo wagon, so we also slept in the back…basically, we occasionally were a couple feet from each other when one of us needed to go the bathroom, but otherwise we were arms-distance from each other for several weeks. As two extreme introverts (and um, just as two humans in general), it was sort of intense, and we fought a lot, and we figured we might be really horrible for each other.

    Fast forward 6 years later, and we’ve gone on several more road trips, have traveled 4 other continents together, we’re married, and now we run a small business together out of our home (oh, and we had a baby last November!).

    We don’t really have any secrets to the whole personal space thing, as I think we made it through the other side by brute force. Looking back, though, there are a few things that helped us survive: 1) Take MENTAL space when physical personal space isn’t an option. “I love you so much, and we’re stuck in this car together for 4 hours, but right now I need to not talk to you so I can go inside my own head while counting cornfields out the window.” 2) Like Maddie said, CARVE OUT that space if you need. It’s waaay easier to automatically take a short walk around the neighborhood every evening to get some distance compared to exploding all over your partner because you just don’t want to look at his face anymore.

  • Liz

    I actually think that extroverts and introverts can make great matches, because the extrovert can just go out more often with their friends and then the introvert gets more alone time. This has definitely been something I’ve had to work on in my relationship after we moved in together. Exercise is actually great for building in alone time– either you can go out for a walk or you get the alone time when your partner goes to the gym. Another benefit!

  • JDrives

    D has always been good about giving me space when I need “me” time. He’s also seen me when I *haven’t* had enough alone time, and now he totally gets it and encourages it when I start getting mopey or snappy. I just have to use my words and let him know what I need and it seems to work. I know that makes me lucky and I love to make it up to him later with extra snuggles :)

  • Kestrel

    My fiance (an extrovert/ambivert masquerading as an introvert – not all computer nerds are introverts!) and I (extreme introvert) really had issues with this when we first lived together. We were also living with another roommate in a two bedroom apartment, so I felt like I had absolutely nowhere to go to just be alone. In addition to that, we were even working at the same company in the same department (although not actually working together) and commuted together. Waaaaaay too much time together for me.

    Despite the fact that I usually LOVE sleeping in, I was getting up early on Sundays and Saturdays just to have some alone time. It was frankly horrid.

    The next time we lived together (we’ve been long distance off and on) was much better. We had two bedrooms so that if I wanted, I could go in either the office or bedroom and just be by myself and we also had different schedules which meant that when I was home, sometimes he wasn’t and vice versa. This meant I actually had time alone and it was wonderous.

    We’ll be moving back in together in a few months, and our requirements for the apartment include 2 bedrooms. Additionally, I don’t have to go to all the social things he wants to and we also need to have some separate activities. Additionally, we’re going to stagger our work schedule if possible partly so the dog isn’t home alone as much, but also so that I have some alone-time when I get home from work which is very, very beneficial to me.

  • K.

    Right now, I’m sitting at the dining room table drinking a glass of wine reading APW, my fiance is sitting in a chair with his headphones while programming and our dog is sitting as far from me as possible on the couch. So I’d say that we’re most assuredly a family of introverts, but even then there are things to work through and consider. For instance, my fiance is better at small talk than I am. And you must realize that “better than I am” is a very low bar; I absolutely SUCK at small talk and people think I’m this really intense weirdo when they first meet me. But I’m more likely to want to spend hours/days with close friends than he would ever want to. So he has to help me out in new social situations and I have to be cognizant that he might want to go home earlier from a dinner at my best friend’s place than I might like (though, of course, I might stay later).

    However, the only time this is reversed is when it comes to his family and friends from his hometown. Because we only go back twice a year or so, for about a week at a time, those days are JAM-PACKED, from about 9am-2am every single day. Filled with a constant stream of people, some I know pretty well, but most I’ve only spent time with a handful-to-a-dozen times. Of course, he loves it because he gets to spend time with people he doesn’t usually get to see and I definitely don’t begrudge that at all. But I end up burning out about 3 days in. And his family – while wonderful – aren’t really the types to be okay with me taking an afternoon for myself, even if they would say they are. We’re hoping that over time our visits will become more frequent, but right now it’s just something I have to suck up and do (since, in reality, it IS only twice a year) even though it fries all of my introverted transmitters each time.

    So even though my fiance and I are good at figuring out our personal space when it’s just us, the inclusion of our close friends and family members does impact it more than you think about on a day to day basis.

  • http://laceandrosedesigns.blogspot.co.uk/ Claire Booth

    I am a huge extrovert and my OH is a introvert so often our needs clash! Until recently I had been mainly at home and found the lack of interaction with people painful this resulted in G being pounced on the second he got home, something he found hard as he needed some time to be alone having spent a busy day as a Doctor with lots of people. I am now working again full time and I usually get home first so I get the chance to have a little alone time before he gets home, but one big thing I have learnt to do is to give him a good chunk of time when he gets home to be alone. Usually he does the washing up and listens to music we then swap places and he gets to sit in front of the TV and read the paper while I cook dinner. At the weekend I also respect the fact he wants to be alone and let him relax while I do the shopping for the week. Both of these things help us stay happy together and I know that if I am getting too much for him he will tell me “to get lost” and leave him alone for a bit. Being able to say no to each other when you can’t meet the other persons needs because you need to sort your own out first is central to how we work as a couple and it means that although it might be a no right at that moment in time it isn’t a rejection of the other person.
    As an extrovert being aware of G’s introvert needs and the way he processes helps me be a good partner to him, I know that springing things on him doesn’t work, I know that if we need to have a “serious talk” I need to warn him ahead of time so he can go away and process internally what we need to talk about unlike my external process. I also know that sometimes he will have to say no to social events especially involving lots of people because he just doesn’t have the energy or mental capacity to deal with them at that time.
    I am sure we could do better at understanding each other’s needs and as we move forward and get married things will change but I think as long as we are trying to respect each other and share explicitly (i.e. say it out loud, unspoken expectations can never be met!) what we need in our relationship we will hopefully continue for another 5+ years to come.
    Cx

  • Guest

    We’re in the middle of all of this right now. He just moved here, and we live in a very rural area, so there’s no social circle for him to join and no convenient “I’m going to go to…” places around. Hell, grocery shopping is 45 mins round-trip at 50 mph plus the shopping itself, so I’m sure w/ kids one day that will be an escape for one of us. I’m a gregarious introvert and will chat and be “on” in a social situation, so I reallllly had to explain to my guy why I’m exhausted spending a week w/ his family and no we’re not hosting anyone the week of our wedding b/c I need a quiet space to come home to and decompress each night. It has nothing to do w/ whether or not I like your sister or my friend. I know enough to not talk too much when he gets in the door, but we haven’t figured out a rhythm of when we actually ask about each others’ days, so sometimes it gets lost. But we leave the house in the morning an hour apart, and we each get a quiet hour to wake up with, which is really nice.

  • Sarah T

    As two introverts, we’re fine with spending queue time together or apart. The most difficult experience I had recently was when I felt he needed space to clear his head (he was processing some bad news from his family earlier in the week), but he didn’t realise that and also didn’t get what I was trying to say. So I was telling him that I thought walking to the coffee shop would be good for him, and he heard me telling him to get out of the house. So… That was fun. Still not sure how to work that one out in the heat of the moment.

    • Sarah T

      Quiet time, not queue time! Stupid phone.

  • TeaforTwo

    One thing that i have found helps with asking for space is if both partners have a clear idea of when you WILL spend time together and connect.

    My husband I are into pretty different stuff, and both need lots of downtime, and so we spend most of our evenings either apart (I’m way more social, and more likely to go out for a drink with friends) or reading/computing in different rooms. BUT. Even though we rarely hang out between dinner and bedtime, we do sit down and eat dinner together every single night. We don’t have the TV on or bring our phones to the table – we sit across from each other, make eye contact, talk about our days and eat slowly. And then I don’t mind if he wants to play video games for four hours and not talk for the rest of the night, and he doesn’t mind if I come home from work IN A MOOD and need to clang around the kitchen without him underfoot for an hour or so, because no matter what, we’re going to have that time together while we’re eating.

    • Heather

      I love this idea.

  • Amanda L

    I’m in the opposite relationship. I am the ‘I could spend every waking moment with you’ half of the relationship, and my husband is the introvert. I know him well enough now, after 5.5 years to know that we will BOTH be happier if he gets his necessary alone time. He doesn’t always love asking for it, but I do not mind giving him that space, because I know it makes our relationship stronger by allowing us to both be ourselves within the framework of our marriage.

    All that said, you have to ask for what you need. You can’t control your husband’s reaction to that request, but you can keep the communication lines open about what constitutes ‘space’ – is it just you two being in different rooms? Is it having the house to yourself for a few hours? Is it being in the same room but just not speaking? Only you know what you need, and how often you need it. :)

  • http://colormegreenanew.blogspot.com/ Julia (Color Me Green)

    We have different sleep schedules and worked out long ago to have our alone time while the other is sleeping. He basically has two hours alone in the morning and me late at night. We also have active social calenders, so I just veg out at home on nights that he has band practice or friend drinks after work and vice versa. Hence, it’s never really been an issue like it was in my last relationship, and I think it’s because my ex set the tone that he wanted us to be together as much as possible, and my current relationship is much more realistic about maintaining our own selves.

  • Granola

    A couple things to add:

    – Finding a nice way to say this is key. My husband will do the passive-aggressive meh reaction to a party invite. So I know he doesn’t want to go and wants me to let him off the hook, instead of saying “I’d really rather relax at home with the XBOX, it’s been a long week”. Which is honest and doesn’t leave space for me to take it personally as a rejection of me and my friends.

    – Figuring out what you yourself want can be heard. I have realized that in many cases, I really don’t like being touched, especially in public when I’m not expecting it. My husband will put his hand on my shoulder in a store when I’m waiting in line for instance (like when he’s come back from grabbing something) and I immediately sort of shudder and react. Which I’m sure is hurtful to him and then I get upset and embarrassed. So once I realized, hey, don’t surprise me like that because I get really startled and feel threatened, it was easier to communicate that.

    – Both of us get really cranky if we get into a severe imbalance of who gets alone time in the apartment. Totally reasonable, IMO

  • Anon

    Another really well timed article from awp, as I just had a personal space break down! I was thinking of waiting to the happy hour to post! buck heck! it links, slightly at a tangent to this…

    This week, our company held a two day conference, away from home, for 1200 people. We were transported to a seaside town, shared hotel rooms and basically, to me anyway, sacrificed all personal space for the duration. The days were filled with stylish PowerPoint presentations, loud music accompanying each one, tea and coffee breaks, lunch, and then a dinner at a local restaurant for smaller groups. The conference rounded off with a huge gala dinner for all 1200 people.

    Except, I didn’t make it to the dinner. After about 30 hours, including a terrible night’s sleep, I just, broke a little bit. In the last PowerPoint of the day, I started to feel sick, my head started pounding, I wanted to burst into tears. I held on to the end, and rushed back to my hotel room, was sick, and passed out. After waking, I bolted from the venue and escaped home.

    There were probably a few factors involved here, I get bad headaches, I was over stimulated, but primarily I was exhausted at having no alone time for that period, though I appreciate it’s not a long time to be enforced to be ‘on’. It’s made me feel guilty, weak, and vulnerable, and I’m very I just can’t keep up with those other 1200 people that stayed for the duration.

    So, here’s my request, which is for validation, and also reassurance that I’m not on my own her.

    Have you ever had any embarrassing professional break down moments? How do you deal with a company enforced removal of personal space? How far are you prepared to go to sacrifice personal space for your job, and how long can you go without it before the situation

    • Anonny

      Uh, yes. We have an away-from-home event where we’re working from 5 AM – 7 PM one day and 5 AM – midnight on the second day. With shared hotel rooms. And a lot of manual labor.

      On the second day, I had been going nonstop for 15+ hours and hadn’t eaten anything or sat down in 8ish hours. I walked into the staff room to get a bite to eat for dinner and all the food was gone. I cried. In front of everyone. It was so embarrassing…but it happens.

      Congratulations – it’s not just you! The upside is now they’re changing the staffing model for the event so people don’t have to work those crazy shifts. As for other solutions, I got a lot of feedback from my peers and supervisors that I had been pushing too hard and I should have just taken a quick break earlier in the day so I wasn’t so close to my breaking point. (i.e. take care of yourself, even if it means skirting some responsibilities/sessions.)

  • Charlene

    As introverts, my husband and I both understand the need for “Me Time”, but not everyone around us does. I highly recommend the book The Introvert Advantage for both introverts and extroverts that live with introverts.