While I am a wholehearted supporter of spending time together and I have seen the benefits of this in my own relationship, spending time apart is equally valuable and necessary. It seems to me that when people are feeling insecure in their relationships the first thing they want to do is “spend time together.” But the most effective thing one could do is “spend time apart.” Why? When I am feeling insecure it is easy to look to Aaron to make me feel better. I am needy and want someone else to reassure me that I am loved and okay. Sometimes your friend, spouse or partner will provide this temporary fix and sometimes they make it worse. When I look to Aaron (or anyone else for that matter) I only reinforce the illusion that someone else has the power to make me feel whole and accepted.
The Illusion of the Other
One of the trickiest aspects of any relationship is the belief that we feel certain emotions because of the other person. Being in love for example is not a result of the other person causing you to feel a particular way, but rather, you have allowed yourself to feel new and exciting emotions, or you are more open to experiencing them. You are the master of your own experiences. Notice how you allow yourself certain feelings and sensations based on whomever you are near or interacting with, or restrict yourself from certain feelings and sensations based on whomever you are with.
Sometimes, my kids will complain to me that their brother or sister has made them sad. I will tell them, “no one can MAKE you sad. You are simply experiencing sadness.” We like the idea that we can control others’ emotional states but it is the ultimate relationship illusion. When I feel love for Aaron, that is an internal experience. I am in a state of being called “love.” Sometimes Aaron and I share this moment where we both are in a state of love at the same time. Those are definitely special moments but I don’t need Aaron to be in a state of love, for me to be in a state of love. Letting go of the illusion of the power of the other can radically change the way you relate to others.
Togetherness and Perceptions
Being together and spending time together can be fraught with many dangers. Including, expectations and obligations; becoming so comfortable that you stop seeing the other person for who they are, seeking love from the other person, (see above paragraph) and simply getting on each others’ nerves. These are all normal challenges of spending time together. Our perception of our friend or partner gradually shifts when we spend a lot of time together. We begin imposing more judgements on them (good or bad), we start expecting (or hope) for certain behaviors, and we can stop listening altogether. We think we know the person well enough to ignore the real flesh-and-blood human and we spend more and more time with the image of our friend or partner that lives in our head. But that perceptual person is quite limited and altogether predictable and we soon tire of them. Instead of really engaging and getting to know each other in new ways, being curious about each other or staying connected to the present moment, we feel stuck with the perception and become bored and disconnected.
Individuality and Identity
Spending time apart is a wonderful opportunity to bring freshness and joy back into the relationship. Maintaining your individuality is important in any relationship because it is only from your individual self that you have the capacity to share. Spending quality time apart helps keeps each individual intact. You also have experiences when you are apart that you can now share with your friend/partner. When you spend time apart you build the relationship you have with yourself so that there is more of you available for the relationships you have with others. When you spend time apart you get to know yourself in a new way. You may discover just how needy you are, or how much you enjoy silence. You may give yourself permission to eat different foods, see different things and explore new ideas more readily when you are alone or separated. This time apart helps you develop an identity based on yourself and not on the other person or their perception of you.
Aaron spends a fair amount of time on the road for his work. I find that I look forward to his absence because it gives such life to our relationship. I get grounded again with me as my own person, I rediscover privacy and quiet time again and having the king-sized bed all to myself for a time, is wonderful pleasure.
Time that is normally reserved for the other person is suddenly available for you to use however you please. You have the opportunity to get reacquainted with parts of yourself that are not readily accessed when you are together. You may say, “I can’t spend time apart. My husband works at home and we do everything together.” My response is this: Take yourself on vacation. Or spend an evening out of the house alone. Sleep in a different room for a few nights. Spend a weekend with a relative. Anything you can think of to spend some time apart. No phone calls, no contact or anything, just be with you for a change.
One year, I took myself on a three day vacation all alone. I ate in restaurants alone, I slept alone, I left my cell phone turned off, I didn’t watch TV or do anything distracting. I spent three whole days with myself and it was scary and really exciting too. I felt like I healed the part of me that was always longing for someone to love me and be my constant friend and companion. I found me. I found out that I am the most qualified person to be those things for me. I am always there for me. This may seem simple but it was quite transformational.
You are a Whole Person
Spending time apart allows you and the other person to see themselves as whole. Believing that we need our “other half” to feel complete, is a fallacy that is supported by too many romance movies and novels that show relationships as fractured and incomplete without “the other.” The more you can develop yourself as a whole and complete person, the more you will have to bring to the relationship. This also gives your friend or partner time to do the same. When you do have the chance to be reunited and spend time together there is a freshness to your interactions and a curiosity about each other that is rejuvenating to both of you. Spending time apart allows your perceptions about your friend/partner to change. The phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder” hints at this truth. I have had profound shifts in my perceptions by spending time apart and enjoying that time apart to its fullest. Missing Aaron while he is away, or while I am away, is only an indicator that I am seeking him out to make me feel whole. When I confront this truth, I have so much more to give to Aaron when we are reunited because instead of wanting to take from him, (to make the feeling of missing him go away) I am full and ready to give.
Kahlil Gibran’s Writings
This poem by Kahlil Gibran illustrates perfectly the dance of relationship. This does not only apply to marriage, as is suggested by his title, but to any and all relationships.
This is one of my favorite poems by Gibran.
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each others’ cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each others’ keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each others’ shadow.