I need space. Perhaps a continent.
December 11, 2011 9:05 AM   Subscribe

How can I want to be my old married self again?

My husband's job transferred him to [New Place], and mine required that I stay where I was for a couple of months before leaving to rejoin him. We're in our early thirties, we've been married for about 2 1/2 years, and we get along very well. At first, of course, I missed him a great deal. But as the weeks have gone by I have found myself getting horribly attached to having no one around to answer to. I am leaving soon to join him, and I'm getting a little worried about it.

See, I like living alone. I always have. I knew I did. But I didn't remember how much. Not having anyone else to answer to for the condition of your living arrangements is really relaxing, and paradoxically ensures that I keep it cleaner. I can use any room in the apartment at any time, because there's never anyone sleeping there at odd hours. I just really love the freedom that being alone gets me.

This has led to a number of other positive changes. I've lost some extra weight, become more energetic, started seeing my friends more, and started a couple of creative projects I am very excited about. I have, as I always do, just become more competent when on my own. Having no one around to do half of the tasks of daily life means I get it together to do it myself. As someone who sometimes has trouble bothering to drag herself out of bed, I appreciate this boost a lot.

But. I love my husband, I want to move to [New Place] with him. I've moved with him before, and I would have jumped at the chance to move to [New Place] even alone. He is a wonderful person, Great Catch et cetera, and it is in no way a reasonable idea to consider leaving him just because I miss being single. That would be stupid on a whole lot of levels. But I've opened up so much since he left, and become a much more productive and happier person. I'm really afraid that's going to go away.

I already know I am am excessively timid in my relationships, trying to please the other person at the expense of my own desires and needs. I try to fight this tendency, but it is something I have yet to have much success with.

So, ugh, does anyone have any ideas at all about how I can maintain these positive changes in myself through a major move, and, even more, through living with the man I married again? How can I feel good about joining him in [New Place] when all I really want right now is to enjoy being alone?

I have a therapist already, and I don't think more will help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I went through this earlier this year. My husband and I had been married for about nine months, together for three years, and he moved away two and a half months before I could join him. I had to not only finish up at my job but pack our entire apartment and make all the arrangements for moving while he was in training at his new job, finding a place for us to live, buying a car, etc.

I reverted to living the way I did on my own and I was actually - aside from missing him and all the extra work that moving requires - really enjoying myself. I was nervous about living with another person again, even someone I love so much.

Turns out, it was really no big deal. Each visit and my final move was a return to our comfortable relationship - but with a lot of the positive new things carried over. I think we'd kind of gotten into a rut just before we moved, but after I got here we wound up hanging out more with friends (including going to their apartments and hosting things at ours, something we never did before), we are more active physically, we're each more productive in our jobs and we developed some hobbies to do at home instead of sitting on the computer all night. It's like the brief time of living apart and then the move really kickstarted our lives, and it stuck (for at least the last six months since I joined him).

To sum up, I don't have a lot of advice per se - just from someone who's been there recently that things fell into place in a way that I really couldn't have predicted. I think you'll do fine.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 9:23 AM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

You could move in with your husband and hate it. You also could move back with him and remember how much you love to be with him, even more then you love your alone time. Really, there is no way to tell.

What I would recommend is to wait and see how you feel after a few months of living with your husband again, and if you find that you are very unhappy and longing for your freedom, post to the green again.

Right now you are asking us to speculate on a speculation. Not exactly an avenue to accurate or helpful answers.

Just know that either way, Mefi will be here for you ;)
posted by Shouraku at 9:35 AM on December 11, 2011

My husband (to-be) is gone all the time for his job. Most recently he was gone for 9 weeks. This happens about four times a year -- essentially we live together six months out of a year. Every time, this happens. I miss him terribly, then start to get comfortable in doing things my way, etc. But every reunion (and there have been about 20 so far) is wonderful, feels comfortable, and is a surprise in how good it feels to be together.

Things that seem to work:
--make sure you aren't expecting to spend all your time together. Very common pitfall after being gone.
--keep up with your stuff. Exercise, go out, have fun.
--remember that the way you do things will change (he'll leave dirty dishes everywhere, for example). Consider the alternative: clean dishes, but alone.
--realize that he'll have been living alone, too. It takes some time, there may be fights (why won't you bring the laundry up from the basement!), but essentially nothing is different.
posted by mrfuga0 at 9:41 AM on December 11, 2011

I totally get what you're talking about in your question. I like hanging out with my husband - that's why I married him. We can spend days hanging out and watching movies and playing board games and getting nothing accomplished. We both need a bit of independent time to keep moving forward on our goals.

I've lost some extra weight, become more energetic, started seeing my friends more, and started a couple of creative projects I am very excited about.

Establish a way to continue these behaviors. How much time do you spend away from your partner when you live together? It sounds like you need that time. Establish evenings when you are not hanging out with the husband. Schedule it. Alone time doesn't just happen. You need to make it happen.

I have, as I always do, just become more competent when on my own. Having no one around to do half of the tasks of daily life means I get it together to do it myself.

Lots of us thrive when we have autonomy. Think about how you can create things which you are sole responsible for achieving.
posted by 26.2 at 9:43 AM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

You might try to get help fighting the instinct to be timid in relationships. No wonder you feel crowded if your tendency is to back yourself into a corner! Therapy could really help you figure out how to be comfortable fully being yourself in a relationship.

You might also try taking turns traveling alone, even just a couple of days to visit a friend whom you don't see enough. That gives whoever is traveling the freedom of adventure and whoever stays behind the house to themselves.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:44 AM on December 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'm going through exactly the same thing right now on a smaller scale, and have several times before. And what strikes me about your post is that, aside from limitations of actual physical space, there's nothing in there that you can't do while living with your husband as well, if you're careful and shepherd your time well. And I'm sure he probably has things he likes about being alone in the new city, too!

So my first piece of advice, such as it is, would be to sit him down and talk with him in an open, gentle way about what you did while he was gone and vice versa, how much both of you enjoyed it, and how much you would like to have each other's support to help you keep up these positive changes while you transition back into living together. Then maybe you can help each other do these things, "Hey, honey, you know, we haven't seen mutual friend X recently, why don't we make plans with them for later this week?", or, "I've been at my desk all day, let's go to the gym or take a night walk or go for a hike this weekend." Even request such as, "I would really like to concentrate heavily on my painting this weekend, do you think you could arrange to go out with Bob on Saturday and leave me to my easel?" can be accommodated if both partners are flexible. It also sounds like you don't have children, which I would imagine makes the whole thing exponentially easier. Sometimes, especially in winter, it can be way too easy to just snug up with your man and watch TV all day. It helps to have the other person remind you to be accountable-- "I know you want to finish that scarf, why don't I do the dishes so you can work on it tonight?"

tl;dr version: be mindful and create small goals for aspects of living alone that you want to preserve when you move back in, then ask your husband what his are, and help each other achieve them.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:44 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just want to mention to give yourself permission to think about about living apart, but staying married (if financially possible). It's not traditional and I know it can feel strange/scary/impossible, but it's a solution if the right elements are in place.

I have a friend and her husband who do this. They own a house together, but she has an apartment in our city that's just hers, and she stays there most of the week, then returns to the house on weekends. Like I said, this can be financially tenuous, but there are ways to figure it out, if you want. It's something I've thought about doing myself. There's no reason you have to give up that fun, independent, motivated person you become when you're alone. You can have the comfortable, married partnership and the independence - it just takes some work and out-of-the-norm thinking. Just give yourself a permission to *think* about it. You don't have to do it, or make any steps in that direction - just think about the feasibility.
posted by Laura Macbeth at 9:45 AM on December 11, 2011 [8 favorites]

Also, Salamandrous is exactly right about taking a weekend or so every once in a while to travel alone. That's a great suggestion.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:45 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can relate to this a bit. I adored living alone. Every now and then I get to feeling crowded and I do recognize that I've dropped some of my healthier habits. So I am not perfect about this. But I would say that you should feel entirely okay about asking for personal time in your home when you need it. It could even be on a schedule - Saturday afternoons are 'yours,' for instance, and he goes out to do stuff. My SO takes part in theatre and volunteer stuff and that actually creates a nice routine for me where there are some evenings I can go home looking forward to the quiet and space to get into a project or just do whatever. Maybe both of you need a little more time solo than you're getting when you live together, and that's totally normal.
posted by Miko at 9:56 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is a really common issue among military families when deployments end. The soldier is used to things a certain way, the spouse is used to things a certain way, they both think they're used to things the way they used to be... Check your local bookstore or library for books on life after deployment (I don't know which ones are the best, but Amazon has a bunch of different ones if you search for "life after deployment").
posted by Etrigan at 10:50 AM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is having your own separate bedroom/study/sunroom etc. a possibility?

If you can create your own little hideaway and recharge in there frequently it may help.

Not sure if you are an introvert, but if you are the consensus is that critical alone time is as necessary as air and water for your health.
posted by devymetal at 11:03 AM on December 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd say just wait and see if there are any real problems after you readjust. (Otherwise you're probably mis-guessing what the problems will be.) This sounds like you're enjoying yourself and learning some nice things for yourself.

I guess I'm echoing peanut_mcgillicuty's post from the start.
posted by spbmp at 11:05 AM on December 11, 2011

Is there any reason why you feel you have to be timid around your husband? By that, I mean do you have any reason to think he would react negatively to whatever changes in your activities and behaviour you think you need to make for you to be happy? From what you've described, it doesn't sound like anything you want to do would adversely affect him, except perhaps you might not be spending quite so much time around. Is "... pleasing the other person at the expense of my own desires" an indication that he somehow expects you to be around when and where he is? If so then that is something you need to discuss with him - I would like to think he'd be all for you being more content.

" ... I've opened up so much since he left, and become a much more productive and happier person. I'm really afraid that's going to go away."

There doesn't seem to be any reason why you shouldn't continue with this course of action - it sounds really positive. Plan for some alone-time as others have said; throw yourself into your creative hobbies if you need a more concrete justification for being "elsewhere", either physically or mentally. Just because you're married doesn't mean you're joined at the hip; it isn't unreasonable to want to strike out a bit or change the way you approach things.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 11:41 AM on December 11, 2011

The problem is not your living arrangement or your marriage; the problem is this:

I already know I am am excessively timid in my relationships, trying to please the other person at the expense of my own desires and needs. I try to fight this tendency, but it is something I have yet to have much success with.

You really need to deal with this. In therapy in New Place. Because it's no wonder you're happier on your own; this is a very limiting way to live and not healthy.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:36 PM on December 11, 2011 [11 favorites]

It sounds like you can't be yourself in relationships, which is exhausting you and undermining your happiness. If you think of the problem as "I just need alone time sometimes," you won't see how your interactions with your husband make that necessary.

The advantage you have now is that you can see the person who you want to be. What I would do is move back in with your husband, try to continue to be that person and notice the strong negative emotions that come up for you that get in the way of that. Probably some combination of fear, anxiety and shame. You may have some deep-seated beliefs that you might not even know about, that if you don't sacrifice you own needs, you will never be loved. Your excessive timidity is a way to manage these negative feelings, but at the expense of your own happiness. You can work on that by getting to know that part of yourself and understanding how those beliefs and feelings affect your life, and realizing that they're not always reasonable or true. I would raise this with your therapist, or maybe find a new therapist who is better able to deal with issues like that.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:13 PM on December 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

How to "deal with" timidity in your relationships: You go to a therapist a few times, by yourself. You don't need someone who specializes in assertiveness skills. They're really communication skils, ways to show you're listening, and also ways to get your message across when someone is resisting or not understanding. It's not just for arguments, though it does work when there's a disagreement. It's really a method of giving weight to the other person's desires, and also to your own. It's greatly helped my husband and me in our 25-year marriage.

When you read a list of "listening skills," you usually find them surrounded by a tone of cheerfulness, as if the writer is saying, "It's easy! All you need to to is..." It's not easy at first, and it doesn't feel natural. But when you start to have success in small ways, it gives you motivation to get used to it and use it in higher-stakes situations.
posted by wryly at 3:08 PM on December 11, 2011

One thing you may not realize is that you are having this experience while still tethered to your spouse. That is very different than being single.

I had to move 400 miles away from my partner while she sold the house. It took two years, and each of us learned quite a bit about ourselves during the separation. We'd both been responsible for big chunks of the others needs. Suddenly, we could each do all those things that we used to quail at.

We'd been together 10 years before that break, and wow- we sure did shed some old crappy stuff when we were only getting a weekend every month together. It was like we'd been stuck in our late 20's in certain ways and just ceded control to the other over things we each felt incompetent at.

When she did move here, it was awesome. We had improved, gained confidence, shed fears and learned what our late 30's selves were really like.

You two should be talking about what you are learning.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 4:25 PM on December 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

I am in a wonderful relationship that I wouldn't trade for anything. One reason for that is my partner understands that I need a lot of time alone. She doesn't take it personally, she knows I'm just re-charging. I try not to be all "You are driving me crazy, go away!" More like, "Hey, why don't you take the dog to the beach for the day and I will make you yummy dinner when you get home?"
posted by kamikazegopher at 4:30 PM on December 11, 2011

I often wish it were more common for couples to have separated living spaces or dwellings; it would take care of so many living together stresses (housework for one, different food tastes, different decor tastes, lack of distraction) and would make the times you were together more special.

It would also be a lot more complicated, especially with kids involved. But not un-doable.

I guess my only response is: show your husband what you wrote (or tell him). Ask him what he enjoyed about being alone during your separation. Try to find ways to make those things part of your life together. Maybe develop a code for when you're feeling crowded; "Hey, I'm feeling in a rut...I need to go hang out w/ my friends." or become vigilant about each others' free time; "Honey, you haven't been out on your own all month, are you doing ok?"
posted by emjaybee at 5:48 PM on December 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I once heard a story on NPR about married couples who choose to live next door to one another rather than in the same house and it works for some people. Maybe you could even get a duplex.
posted by bananafish at 10:22 PM on December 11, 2011

hey - I am one of those people that bananafish mentions. My boyfriend and I have (after 10 years together) bought a house and moved in together - but, we got a duplex, and each have our own apartments. We are both people who love having our own space and schedules, but living apart we missed each other a lot. Living as neighbours is so amazing! We are totally loving it. It is more expensive than sharing a living space, but since it is the same house, it's still cheaper than totally separate places. I think a lot of people would benifit from an arrangement like ours, but people think it's weird or unromantic, and often dissmiss the idea.

If being neighbors isn't possible for you, see if you can get a place that allows you to have your own room to retreat to if you need some space.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 2:14 PM on December 12, 2011

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