When it comes to relationships, one of the hardest things to accomplish is that perfect balance between togetherness and time alone. Sometimes, when you are single, all you want is someone to hold your hand, go with you to movies, and lie in bed with you on rainy days. Yet, once you have that someone, you might start longing for independence, down-time, and the sweet sound of silence.
So, what’s a person to do? How can you maintain your sense of self while in a relationship?
The answer is by setting boundaries. We talked about boundaries in a previous post, but, as a reminder, they are those invisible lines between people that dictate how we treat each other. Boundaries are a wonderful tool to help you get the space and independence you need but sometimes, setting them can feel rude or hurtful. That’s why I’m here to help!
Let’s say that you are in a relationship with a person who falls on the needy side. This person relies on you for everything, including his or her self-esteem. He wants to hang out constantly, he doesn’t have many hobbies or interests outside of you and the relationship, and he doesn’t have many close supportive friendships so he relies on you for all of his emotional support. He doesn’t like doing things alone and always wants to come along with you when you hang out with your friends and family.
You love him and you love spending time with him but you also would love some alone time. How can you tell him that you need more space without hurting his feelings? Consider what will happen if you don’t say anything.
He will keep intruding on your space (unknowingly), and your resentment will grow until one day you might blow up at him and say what you have been thinking in a hurtful way. This is sure to end in him feeling hurt and you feeling guilty and I know neither of you wants that.
The other alternative is that you say nothing but start coming up with excuses for why he can’t come or maybe even lying about your plans to get some alone time. Eventually, he may get the feeling that you are hiding something or intentionally avoiding him. Without knowing the real reason for your evasiveness he’s likely to imagine the worst case scenario and this could lead to serious trust issues in your relationship.
By setting boundaries in a calm and compassionate manner, you are protecting his ego and the future of your relationship. Asserting your needs may seem selfish and hurtful at first but as you saw from these 2 possible outcomes, open communication is essential to maintaining a healthy relationship and lack of communication often leads to more serious issues that are harder to solve.
What to Do If Your Partner is Needy
Now that you are clear on the need to be open and honest about your feelings and need for independence, let’s talk about some compassionate and loving ways to express these feelings. Try saying something like:
“Can I talk to you about something? I love how close we are and I love spending time with you. My friends and family love you too and it’s so fun to have you around when we are all hanging out. And, at the same time, I feel like I also need more time for myself to continue being the happiest and healthiest version of me. I read somewhere (bringing in the experts always helps) that it’s good for each person in a couple to have his or her own interests, alone time with friends, and time to be their individual self vs always being a couple. I think in my case it would help if I had more time to (insert personal need here). This doesn’t mean I don’t love you or that I am trying to pump the brakes on our relationship or anything like that. I’m actually telling you this because I want our relationship to last and I know for me to be happy long term, I need to have a balance of alone time, time with friends, and time with you. You are the most important person in the world to me and this is going to help me bring a better version of myself to our relationship.”
Keep the focus on yourself and what you need and let him know that you are having this conversation with him because you care about him so much, not because you want to push him away. It’s very easy to feel very rejected during a conversation like this so holding your partner’s hand, maintaining eye contact, and speaking in a loving and compassionate tone are all important here.
What to Do If Your Partner Has Trust and Control Issues
Ok so that is how to deal with the need for more space but what if you have a partner with trust issues and you need to set a boundary regarding privacy? If you have given your partner good reason to mistrust you (i.e. you cheated or lied), it’s important to understand your partner’s need for reassurance and transparency and to work with them to formulate a plan that will help your partner feel more comfortable and rebuild trust. This plan might include checking in with your partner regularly when you are not together, accounting for your whereabouts at all times, and even showing your partner your phone and emails for some amount of time until he or she is able to trust you again.
However, let’s say your significant other has trust issues and you have not given them good reason to mistrust you. Maybe her ex cheated on her or she knows you cheated on your ex and out of fear, she did something that violated your boundaries. Then you might proceed as follows:
“I noticed that you went through my phone earlier. It’s not that I have anything to hide, but I do consider my phone to be private. If you would like to see something on my phone, you need to ask me first. That said, what are you worried about and how can I help reassure you?”
This approach sets a clear boundary without being angry or overly emotional but it also ends with a compassionate and collaborative question that shows you care about the relationship. Most trust issues come from a fear that the other person doesn’t value the relationship or their partner and (if not too pathological) can be resolved by reassurance and showing that you do view the relationship and your partner as a priority.
Some people may argue that if someone doesn’t share his or her personal passwords with you, he or she has something to hide. While I acknowledge at times, this is true, there is also a level of independence that many adults like to maintain whether or not they have something to hide. If you feel that you need complete access to every screen that he or she encounters to feel safe in your relationship, that is a great indicator that you are dealing with a bigger problem and should seek help from a therapist.
If you would like to learn more about building trust, setting boundaries, or relationships in general, feel free to contact me. I’d love to help!
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