July 2016 Issue #54
Today's Topic: Be the "guardian" of each other's solitude
Summer is here! Have you and your loved ones sorted out what kind of vacation will help you recharge your batteries?
Whatever combination of play and rest you settle on, I hope you’ll make space for taking the time to yourself that you need. A bit of well-timed solitude can go a long way towards restoring your soul.
In a relationship, the ability to make space for each other’s solitude is a huge gift to one another. Read on for some tips on how to do so gracefully.
All the best of summer!
Something to think about
Solitude is creativity's best friend, and solitude is refreshment for our souls.
--- Naomi Judd
Honouring an important need
One of the most precious gifts we can give our partner is to honour and respect his or her need for solitude – for time alone.
I remember reflecting on this some years ago, when a good friend of mine married and moved in with his long-time girlfriend. They’d been dating for several years however had never lived together. After a few months in a small apartment he confided that the biggest adjustment in being married was how challenging it now was to find “time to myself”.
He wasn’t complaining about being married -- it was simply that he now had to be much more conscious and intentional about getting the “time on his own” that had happened so easily when they were living apart. I guess he and his partner worked out the balance of together time with solitude, for they went on to have a long and happy marriage. However, had his partner failed to appreciate his need for time alone, it might not have worked out so well.
When your needs don’t match
In my 20’s I discovered how critical this issue was for me when dating a man who was extremely extroverted. He’d grown up in a big family and seemed to thrive on being surrounded continually by people. Being more introverted, I enjoyed socializing to a point -- and then it became exhausting for me. We had difficulty balancing our respective needs and rhythms and it became a source of friction. I felt a constant pressure to relate and be “on”. He was often annoyed that I didn’t want to be with him all the time -- and didn’t understand my need for time on my own.
Perhaps we were an “energy mismatch” and perhaps we lacked the maturity to make space for each other’s differences. However I realized then that I needed a partner who would support and honour my need for time alone.
Becoming each other’s “guardians”
When I met my husband, we discovered that we both appreciated the other’s need for solitude. It was so important to us that we wanted it reflected in our wedding ceremony. So we included these meaningful passages by the poet Rilke:
“…once the realization is accepted that, even between the closest human beings, infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them…”
“It is a question in marriage…not of creating a quick community of spirit by tearing down and destroying all boundaries, but rather a good marriage is that in which each appoints the other guardian of his or her solitude…”
We are all different
Perhaps having sufficient solitude is less of an issue for more extroverted personalities than my husband and I. However regardless of where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, you may not have a partner who is exactly like you. So being the “guardians” of each others’ solitude may require some flexibility.
Here are 5 tips for including solitude as a natural and healthy part of your relationship:
1. Don’t take it personally.
Your partner’s need to be alone is not about you -- nor is it a rejection of you. Being alone may be the best way for your partner to recharge and refresh their energy. If YOU have a greater need for solitude than your partner, you needn’t apologize. Rest assured that this time alone will ultimately enable you to return to your partner with energy to give.
2. Realize that your desire for solitude may differ based on your daily activities.
If one partner works alone at a computer all day and the other partner is in a highly interactive, people-oriented workplace, their needs at the end of the day may differ greatly. One partner may want to talk and relate, while the other may need time and space to decompress. It will take a little creativity to strategize how and when you will connect as a couple, given those differences. Perhaps one of you will need some “transition time” before being ready to relate – and the other will need to know how and when their “together time” will happen in the evening. Remember that both of your needs are valid and need to be addressed.
3. Don’t take “alone time” to punish your partner.
You can threaten your partner’s good will if you play the “solitude card” as a way of getting back at your partner or being passive aggressive when you're angry. If you can, deal with your anger directly. If having some alone time will help reduce your reactivity and provide an opportunity to sort through your feelings, then let your partner know that’s your intent. Reassure them that you aren’t punishing them – and that you’ll return to work things out when you are clearer and calmer.
4. Be careful about using “alone time” to avoid.
If you have unresolved issues with your partner and you tend to avoid conflict, then watch out for the temptation to retreat into solitude. Nothing is solved through avoidance. Those issues will continue to fester and eventually cause harm to your relationship.
5. Request “together time” when you need it.
If you keep your relationship tanks topped up, then you’ll be able to be generous when your partner needs to be alone. Don’t wait until you’re running on empty! Asking for what you need – be it solitude or connection – is part of being responsible for yourself and for the quality of your relationship.
It is yours to give
Everyone needs space from time to time. You can show your respect for your partner’s personhood and freedom by being the “guardian” of their solitude. They, in turn, can give it back. You will both be enriched by it.
Invitation to action
When heading off on vacation, take a few minutes to check in with your partner and share your expectations for the holiday: What do each of you need and want from this holiday? What is the balance of activities, time alone and time together that would make it a great vacation for each of you? Strategize how you can make that happen. A little planning can go a long way in preventing upsets and ensuring a good time for all.
As you know, I like to share videos which have had an impact on me. My latest TedxTalk recommendation is Rethinking The Bucket List by Kathleen Taylor. She's a Mental Health Counsellor with years of experience in caring for those who are dying. When asked why she loves a job that many would find difficult, she replies "People at the end of their lives are incapable of bullshit." Love that quote! Taylor shares what she's learned through being with people at the end of their lives -- and issues a powerful invitation to not wait until we're dying to live the unique and authentic life that is ours alone to live. I hope her message inspires you too!
Shirley Vollett BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 25 years of combined experience in counselling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work and their relationships. Her Conscious Dating Program helps single and divorced individuals improve their relationship skills, avoid past mistakes and make healthy dating and relationship choices. Contact Shirley for a complimentary intro phone session. If you are experiencing a challenge or are eager to make some changes, explore how coaching works and how she can help. Visit her website.