Time Alone in a relationship

Benefits and challenges

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My wife, Deb, went with our daughter, Emma, to Peru on Friday for three weeks for Deb’s 25th high school reunion. I stayed home with our son, Eric. It’s amazing how quiet the house is. It feels like a different house. I am also struck by how much better I am focusing on my work. But boy do I miss them. Time alone in a relationship can be quite challenging.

Over the years we have always had separations like this because my family is in New York and Deb’s is in Peru. We have both also gone on our own trips separately. I find these times to be so incredibly valuable for me and for our relationship.

Challenges of time alone

When I am able to acknowledge and accept the painful feelings, it becomes so much easier to enjoy and be open to a new and different experience. The painful feelings include missing Deb and Emma, feeling abandoned, alone, jealous and resentful that she is off having a great time while I am here. These feelings aren’t rational. They co-exist with being happy for her that she is there with her family and that my in-laws have time with their daughter and granddaughter and that Deb is having fun with her friends.

If I don’t acknowledge to myself the difficult and sometimes shameful feelings they end up getting in the way of the positive ones. If I react punitively to myself for having the painful feelings I know they just get worse.

Benefits of time alone

Some of the benefits of time alone are that I can get more work done, spend quality time with my son, Eric, call some friends and family, and connect to my creative interests.

Overall, I find these changes in routine are growth opportunities. There is a part of me that always resists them and feels more vulnerable and there is a part of me that feels excited by the newness and the unknown.

It forces me to deal with the fact that Deb and I are very different people with different needs and backgrounds. For example, she is so excited to be at her high school reunion. I wouldn’t go to mine if you paid me.

Those differences can feel threatening and frustrating, but they are also what make for a healthy relationship. I don’t want her to be the same as me. I don’t want her to not have her own experiences and pursue her own dreams. The healthy adult in me doesn’t want that, but when I am triggered, there is a visceral part of me that wants to just withdraw or have a temper tantrum.

It feels good just to be writing this right now because I am acknowledging the different feelings I am having and hoping that in sharing them it will resonate with others and help them to feel less shameful about integrating their different, often conflicting, experiences.

P.S. I wrote this on Monday and now, three days later, I have seen how the act of acknowledging my feelings and writing this post have caused a major shift in my perspective, attitude, and state of mind. I spoke to Deb this morning and felt so happy to see her having such a good time. I know that this is because I acknowledged what I was feeling and didn’t beat myself up over it.

If you haven’t already read the book, Relationship Reboot: Break free from the bad habits in your relationship is available on Amazon Kindle now.

David B. Younger, Ph.D. is the creator of Love After Kids, for couples that have grown apart since having children. He is a clinical psychologist and couples therapist with a web-based private practice and lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, 13-year-old son, 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old toy poodle.

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