Healthy lives for young people
Relationships

Spending time together and apart

It’s a myth that spending every moment together is key to a strong relationship.

As the Enduring Love? research project showed, time apart is actually as important as time together. And as with many things in a relationship, it just calls for good communication and negotiation. 

You do need time away, not large amounts of time, but time to do your own things as well as do things together.

Enduring Love? interviewee

Time together or ‘us-time’

Our 24/7 lives can make it hard to carve out space and time just to be together with your partner. You have probably heard of the concept of ‘date night’ which couples (often those with children) will use to try and stay connected. In fact, this is recommended by relationship experts as a way of checking in with each other without everyday worries intruding and is just as valid for couples without children.

But it doesn’t have to involve going out and spending money. Sharing everyday activities that might be regarded as chores, is another way of grabbing some us-time. Cooking, for example, was one of the most common us-time activities mentioned in the Enduring Love research project, which surveyed over 5000 people about their relationships. 

What you decide to do will depend on you and your partner. You might not like or get the opportunity to cook together so it could just be time spent cuddling up on the sofa watching a movie, or just going for a walk.

Some couples need more us-time, some need less and value being part of a friendship group. The key is to talk to each other and keep talking as your need for us-time can change over time.

Time apart or ‘me-time’

It may seem odd to think about ‘me-time’ as a way to make a relationship stronger. For some people, it may make them nervous that their partner wants to spend time away from them. It could make them wonder if this could this be the first sign of the relationship breaking up?

But the Enduring Love research project showed that most of us do need time to ourselves, whether we are living with a partner or having a relationship while living at home with our families.

You might want to meet up with a close friend, watch a football game with mates or just be by yourself for an evening – and that’s perfectly ok. The key to this, as with so many aspects of lasting relationships, is agreeing with each other on what me-time means for each of you.

In the Enduring Love project, people often spoke of tensions that happened when one partner needed some personal me-time and the other didn’t. It also showed that in general, they preferred both me-time, and us-time to be things that they’ve negotiated between them rather than things they feel forced into by their partner’s preferences.

Negotiating me time means talking – and listening – to each other about what that means for each of you. Make sure you are both happy with what you have agreed. 

It’s good to remember that time apart, or time on your own, can help you become more confident in yourself as a person. It can also help you to express the different sides of yourself, the sides that come out with friends or when you’re doing your own thing.
This, in turn, can make us more appreciative of our partner, more able to be kind and loving towards them.

Being alone is something I love. I find a lot of peace when I am in silence. I am able to rest and to be with my “self”. I try to make sure I get some of it during the week.

 Enduring Love interviewee

Living together apart

Most people live apart at the beginning of their relationship. And with today’s pressure on housing and cost of renting, many people remain living in the family home until their thirties. 

Living together apart (LAT) has received a lot of attention over the past few years. LAT describes partners who live in separate homes, and this phenomenon does appear to be on the increase. There are around four million people in the UK who currently live separately from their partner.

Partners who live apart do so sometimes through choice and sometimes because they were forced to. This might be because of financial reasons, religious or cultural reasons, or because people have gone to separate universities or because of work.

Whatever the reason for LAT, negotiating us-time and me-time is very important. So communication is crucial.

Who else is in your relationship?

Interestingly, when asked who was the most important person in their lives, one in ten of those who took part in the Enduring Love research, said it was themselves. They didn’t think of this as being ‘selfish’. It was more that looking after number one was a vital foundation for their relationships.

You might expect that everyone else said the most important person in their life was their partner. But in fact, the Enduring Love research showed that many people see others in their life as equally – or more – important.

This ‘third element’ was a key finding of the study and was present in most people’s enduring relationships. Think of it as the third leg of a stool – if a stool had just two legs, it would fall over.

For some people this third element is their children. For others it’s their friends or a pet, or shared religious or cultural beliefs.

Who is the most important person in your life? Is it (tick just one):

  • A friend?
  • Your children?
  • Your partner?
  • Your mum or dad?
  • A sister or brother?
  • Another family member?
  • Yourself?
  • Someone/something else (say who/what)

It’s not easy to tick just one, is it? Most of us have several people in our lives who are equally important.

For some people, the third element is something that you share together as a couple, such as children, pets, religion or a hobby. For others, it’s a range of different activities shared with different people.

Friends

Only a small proportion of people in the Enduring Love study said that friends were more important than their partners. The study focused on older couples who had been together for a number of years and chances are that friends play a bigger, more important role in our lives when we’re younger.

Either way, it’s clear that friends are important and can help sustain the relationship between partners.

Friends have different roles in different relationships. Key findings from the study showed that:

  • Friendships can relieve pressure on a partner to satisfy all of each other’s needs
  • Friends may provide support in times of relationship crisis or conflict
  • Friends can help partners to celebrate the good times in their relationship
  • Joint friendships can enable partners to share activities with other individuals or couples
  • Groups of friends can provide a network of shared values and interests

Of course friendships can be challenging and create tensions in a partnership. For example, if a person feels they should meet all of their partner’s needs, they could be resentful and jealous of their partner’s friends. 

If the relationship is going through a tough patch, there is a risk that friends could take sides and make matters worse. And if a person doesn’t like one of their partner’s friends, that can create problems, too.

But friendships are important to everyone. And, as with all relationship advice, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What is vital is to keep talking so that problems can be resolved before they reach a crisis point.

  • ON THIS PAGE

    Other Stuff you might find useful…

    Advice
    Getting a divorce
    Relationships
    Info
    Is arguing with your partner always a bad thing?
    Relationships
    Info
    Things you only know when you start a new relationship
    Relationships
    Advice
    Love: is it really all about putting someone else before you?
    Relationships
    Advice
    Advice for my little brother
    Relationships
    Info
    Kindness
    Relationships
    Info
    Divorce and separation
    Relationships
    Info
    Loneliness
    Relationships
    Advice
    Dealing better with arguments
    Relationships
    Info
    Arguments: What causes them?
    Relationships

    400+ FREE CLINICS & SERVICES ALL OVER THE UK

    Find a Service near you

    100% FREE & CONFIDENTIAL