How to balance time together in a relationship?
August 29, 2012 10:15 AM   Subscribe

What's a normal amount of "together time" in a committed relationship? I've been with my boyfriend for about 6 months, and have known him much longer than that (many years) as friends. We are both in our 40s and both are separated from our spouses.

He was married for his entire adult life, and he feels that our relationship at this point should be one where we are together every night and all weekend. He does not like sleeping alone, and if we are apart for one day on the weekend, he says it makes him too sad. When he says things like that, I react badly-- I feel like he's being clingy and needy. But is he?

I was in an emotionally abusive marriage and a big part of that emotional abuse was feeling "controlled" by my husband. I got out and relished the freedom. Now I am in this new relationship, which is wonderful in most every respect, except we seem quite incompatible on the question of how much time to spend together. I'd be happy seeing him a couple of evenings each week and one day on the weekend. More than that makes me feel smothered.

To keep him happy and because I feel like maybe there's something wrong with me, I've been seeing him a LOT-- every day after work, and quite a bit of time on the weekends. But I miss my alone time and feel like most of my free time away from work is devoted to being with him. He wants a lot more. I don't know how to keep us both happy. Any suggestions or ideas?
posted by DianaV to Human Relations (27 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
What you each want is far more important than what is "normal".
posted by Jahaza at 10:24 AM on August 29, 2012 [34 favorites]

I don't know if there is any one right answer that applies for all couples. There is only the unique answer that the two of you come up with on your own after discussing this issue; and that answer can change over time, as you personally become more comfortable with "together time" and he personally becomes more comfortable with "apart time". And this answer can also change and change again and again and again.

But you doing nothing but sucking it up because you feel like this is what you're "supposed to do" isn't really all that good for you, I'd say. At the very least, tell him that "so, just so you know for the record, this is kind of an issue for me because of my last relationship being so fucked up, but it is something I'm trying to work on moving past." At the very least, he'll know that this is kind of a thing for you, and maybe he won't tell you how he feels "sad" about your not spending a night together -- because now he'll know "oh, wait, this isn't about me, this is about something she's wrestling with and I need to be supportive."

And couples do this all the time. I was your boyfriend, sort of, where once in a while my ex would want alone time -- but he did a really smart thing by letting him know ahead of time that he was just like that, and that it wasn't anything about me, he got into seriously introverted states once in a while. The first time he bagged on spending a night with me I felt alarmed, but then he told me "it's definitely not you" and then every other time it happened I was all "okay, cool, maybe we'll catch up later in the week." The point being, if you tell him what's going on in your own head and why, he at least has the chance of knowing it's not about him, which can stop him from being clingy and making it all a Thing. (Or, if he scoffs at what you say and tries to pressure you still, then it's a sign that he may not listen to your needs about bigger things, which is a red flag.)

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:24 AM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I miss my alone time and feel like most of my free time away from work is devoted to being with him. He wants a lot more. I don't know how to keep us both happy.

You are not responsible for "keeping us both happy." You are responsible for healing and nurturing yourself. Your life, your boundaries, your decisions with your best interest in mind.

To keep him happy and because I feel like maybe there's something wrong with me,

There is NOTHING wrong with you. There is also nothing wrong, necessarily, with him. You have different needs (maybe right now, maybe fundamentally). You each need to take care of your own needs. Your need is for space and time, and there is NOTHING wrong with that.
posted by headnsouth at 10:26 AM on August 29, 2012 [21 favorites]

I don't know if there is any one right answer that applies for all couples.

I don't know if there is any one right answer that applies to anyone, ever. I've had different amounts of together time in every relationship I've been in, and all of them have been more or less fine.

This is all about you and your guy and what works best for both of you together. If you can't come to a comfortable agreement, you may just not be compatible.
posted by phunniemee at 10:27 AM on August 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Some of the responses from this recent AskMe question (posed by someone with the opposite concern) may be helpful: What is a reasonable expectation for couple time?
posted by argonauta at 10:28 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

A successful relationship is one in which both parties get their needs met.

The biggest challenge in any relationship is figuring out how to do that.

This is what relationships are about, determining how to find a compromise that works for both of you.

You have to tell him what you need. You have to listen to what he needs. And together, you have to agree on something that works. Set aside x nights per week to be "you" nights. Set aside others to be "us" nights. Agree on it. That way if someone has an issue, you have something to point to and say, "Remember, we agreed on this?"

If it's too painful to keep that agreement, then you probably need to find a better match.
posted by missjenny at 10:30 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's definitely nothing wrong with you - every weeknight AND all weekend would be a bit much for me after 6 months, and I'm the clingier one in my relationship. It's hard to tell how much of this you've explained to him, but it's totally reasonable for you to feel the way you do after your past experiences. Maybe try to find compromises like you'll sleep over all weekend but be able to go do your own thing during part or all of the day?

On preview, missjenny just said all the other stuff I was about to say, only more concisely.
posted by brilliantine at 10:32 AM on August 29, 2012

Needy he may be to be with you all the time and needy you may be to be independent. Both are fine, but until and unless you can find a balance that both are you are okay with, you're going to be incompatible.
posted by inturnaround at 10:32 AM on August 29, 2012

From my experience its pretty important that people be in the same page about this. I am the kind of person who requires my own personal time, as well as significant other time, friend time, and family time. Alot of times significant others can easily understand family time, can tolerate friend time, but just have no understanding of what personal alone time is.

You may need to establish some boundaries around that, and beat into his head that your not wanting to spend every waking minute together =/= not loving him, which is probably how he'll initially react (or as any of my ex's have reacted.) But I dont know if this is a thing you can reach a good compromise on or if its always a game-killer, for me it always ends up being a game-killer.
posted by el_yucateco at 10:49 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

This balancing of time together can be different from day to day for one couple! There are couples who are happily married and maintain separate homes in different states! There are other perfectly happy couples who work together from home and eat every meal together and never leave each others sight.

There are also a lot of miserable couples (or couples in which one partner is happy and the other is miserable) with varying amounts of alone time.

But I will say, one person feeling required to make/keep the other happy while subsuming their own needs is not normal or healthy. This is a perfectly reasonable topic for therapy, individual or couples, if you aren't comfortable discussing it in depth with your partner. It sounds to me like it goes beyond "how much time?" to "how much of my own needs are important when faced with conflicting desires from the other person?" And that is really important to figure out sooner rather than later, although that balance can also shift for various reasons (illness, career changes, childbirth, etc...)
posted by bilabial at 10:56 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

"normal" is short for "normal for you." The things that make us happy are the normal-for-us that we seek out, and that's okay. If you're both making each other happy except for this thing, then you should both consider what your specific needs in this area are, and then agree to try splitting the difference.

The main thing to remember is that, for stuff like this, neither of you is wrong, because it's about what is right and normal for each of you individually. Some families (where one is a touring band member, say, or an actor) spend weeks or months apart at a time; some families are always by each other's side, going everywhere and doing everything together. Nobody is being unreasonable.

And, as noted, each of your needs in this regard may change over time, especially if you're splitting the difference (he might realize some alone time is actually nice, and you might find yourself missing him more in the apart times than you used to.) Be open to those changes, and also open to those changes not occurring.
posted by davejay at 11:03 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

People are allowed to want what they want. You want a lot of alone time. This is absolutely fine and OK and "normal" and great. He wants a lot of together time. This is absolutely fine and OK and "normal" and great.

So. The question is, how do you find a solution that works for both of you? Right now, your answer is to find a solution that works better for him but doesn't work for you, which is not the right answer (but it is understandable that this feels like the right solution given that your previous relationship was with someone controlling).

You get to be happy, too. Your preferences are just as important as his preferences. My guess is that you're going to need to remind yourself of this a lot as you work through the aftereffects of your difficult marriage.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:09 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Talk about it with him. Maybe a schedule where you mutually decide what days you'll spend together and what days you'll spend apart will allow you both to enjoy the time you have together without you having the anxiety about never getting your space. And, he'll know when you're coming by next so he doesn't have to wonder about when he'll get to see you next. Schedules aren't super romantic, but they are wonderfully practical.
posted by skittlekicks at 11:23 AM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

That is like my high school biology teacher asking, "What's the difference between a duck?" There is no general correct answer. It is whatever you think/want/need/agree to.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:26 AM on August 29, 2012

I feel like he's being clingy and needy. But is he?

Fuck yes. I mean everyone is absolutely correct that needing a lot of space or needing a lot of togetherness is absolutely fine and that both are perfectly normal. But I'm unclear how one would deny that someone who wants to spend every single night and every single weekend together after six months and who is distressed by sleeping alone is indeed clingy. It's not that it is abnormal, it's that it has to be acknowledge that on a continuum of normal with "Ragingly Independent" on one end and "Weepingly Clingy" on the other, your other half sits way more toward Weepingly Clingy.

It's OK to say that the two of you together need to find a middle ground that works for both of you. If he won't make your happiness a priority or tries to turn this into a demonstration of how that means you don't love him, mark with a red flag and move on.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:52 AM on August 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

People are variables, not constants, just like the world they occupy.
posted by FauxScot at 12:23 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm with DarlingBri. He IS clingy.

if we are apart for one day on the weekend, he says it makes him too sad

That is on the far end of the spectrum. Again, i'm not going to say he is right or wrong as there is no right or wrong in general. He might be wrong for you if he can't be reasonable about this.

Being sad, sensitive, clingy, hurt are a form manipulation and control it comes with a implied request that the other person change their behavior so that the manipulator can just stop being so sad/hurt etc.

whatever you choose; Don't let yourself fall into that cycle.
posted by French Fry at 12:28 PM on August 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

I forgot to add the reason I mention this is because in your previous question you describe a husband who is controlling in the "volcano" method. (Angry and moody, with the tipping point being him actually laying hands on you in public) Be careful you didn't leave the volcano just to walk into a swamp. The opposite of a thing is not necessarily an improvement.
posted by French Fry at 12:42 PM on August 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would tell him that under no circumstances will you allow yourself to be manipulated. He can take it or leave it. If he leaves it, be ready to walk.
posted by Doohickie at 12:44 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

there are lovers out there who will respect and value and feel lucky-as-all hell to be with someone who knows their own boundaries and stands by them -- as opposed to trying to break them down the way it sounds like this guy is.

fwiw, if i see someone more than once a week, i start panicking and feeling smothered. but the person that i *am* seeing once a week, and have been for months? totally cool with it, super supportive, total babe. they find it hot that i know what i need & how to take care of myself. and their respect of my boundaries makes me swoon over them all the more.

it sounds like you know what you need, and that's a perfect start. lots of good luck!
posted by crawfo at 1:03 PM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I feel like individual therapy might help you with feeling like something is wrong with you and like you need to subsume your needs to his needs. There is nothing wrong with you, but you seem to be suffering from a bit of a hangover from your abusive relationship.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:19 PM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure whether the "too sad" comment literally means he said, "Whenever we spend a day apart on the weekend, I AM TOO SAD," or whether it means she said, "I feel like what works for me is spending one weekend day together and one day apart," and he said, "That would bum me out." Those are very different things, you know? Lots of people wouldn't sleep alone if they had a choice; I'm not sure that's a pathology, emotionally speaking. I also don't think, let me stress, that there's anything wrong with not wanting more than a day or two a week together. Totally fine! But different.

I don't think what he's suggesting is ridiculous; what he's suggesting is that he wants to functionally live together, just at a combination of your two places. I agree that six months seems very early to me, but wanting a live-in-like arrangement is not in and of itself clingy and manipulative; it's just (to me) soon. After all, "spending every night and all weekend together" is what couples who live together do, excepting their particular other plans -- that's their default, is that they're together. I think that's basically what he wants. I don't think you're looking for that any time soon, and I think that may make you a bad match, because he basically is looking toward living together and you're not. But I'm always hesitant to go directly to "clingy manipulator" when that may actually wind up making the OP feel worse. My diagnosis is more "bad fit."
posted by Linda_Holmes at 2:03 PM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

This made me think of a friend of mine who after a divorce absolutely could not spend time alone. It wound up putting a lot of pressure on me and our mutual friends, that we slowly pulled away from her. It was a basic incompatibility in friendship - she really resented that we weren't available/interested in hanging out as much as she was. Anyway, when I admitted to myself that she was smothering me was when I could finally breathe again.

Double check to see that you can breathe. Good luck.

PS. I see my boyfriend 3 nights a week, and it is bliss! He wants more, but respects my need for downtime. Time apart to process our time together is equally valuable.
posted by BlueMartini7 at 4:10 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm leaning towards the dreaded DTMFA. Okay, I don't think he's a MF, but this is one of those big issues that you have to be compatible on, and you're not. He's telling you that he requires a girlfriend to be there almost all the time or he's miserable, and he can't take one day apart. (And yeah, speaking as a clinger myself, he's clingy.) You, on the other hand, are getting miserable and resentful of him because you're not getting any personal space. Which eventually leads to the clinger getting dumped when you hit your limit on how much utter togetherness you can take and you run away screaming.

I've been dumped for being too clingy before, and the guy was right to do so. He did give me a big ol' speech about how he Needed Some Space, and I agreed to it and we tried to do that for months...then I'd be quietly miserable at home while he was out with all of our friends except for me because he had to get space from me alone. I tried to suck it up as best I could because logically I understood the need, and god knows I was fine when he was out of town and I had to amuse myself, but I was probably pretty obviously miserable being told I was so smothery he had to get the hell away from me.

I know everyone else says, blah blah compromise. You could try--come up with a solution that doesn't make either of you 100% happy and see how long you can stand it. His bare minimum for a relationship is every single possible day. Yours is three days a week. Sure, you could compromise and agree to seeing him one weekend day and four weeknights, but he's going to still be miserable on the two days off (unless he starts working on his clinginess like I did) and you may still feel like it's too much for the extra two. It seems to me that in the long run, this difference may just not be something you can bridge. He'll be sad/resentful and you'll be frustrated/need your space/resentful. He's used to having a wife around 24-7 and doesn't want to lose that, and you don't want a husband around 24-7. Right now, it doesn't sound to me like your needs are compatible unless he can learn to cling less or you get through your "I need space" phase (if it's a phase, I'm not sure). But unless one or both of you can make a mental adjustment in the other's direction, I just don't see this working out for you long term right now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:49 PM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would not be cool with someone who wanted that much of my time, and could not handle alone time.
posted by ead at 9:07 PM on August 30, 2012

Thanks, all of you, for the very insightful comments and thoughts.

I talked with him in detail about what I need from a relationship and how my needs are clearly different from his needs in this area of "together time." He is really, really solid in his position-- he wants me around all the time. I told him that I see being together all the time as something that living-together couples do, and we don't live together.

He told me that when we are apart, he is unhappy. He told me he was the same way with his wife. He said that for my sake, he can do it-- be apart and follow my schedule-- but it will make him sad.

I told him it makes me feel smothered to have someone depending on me for his happiness, and he told me that's just how he is.

He told me that he feels a sick feeling in his stomach when he knows we're going to be apart, like if I have to go out of town for work for a few days. He feels the same way if he has to go somewhere without me. He has a big upcoming high school reunion coming up, out of town, which should be a lot of fun for him, but his main feeling is dread-- dread of being apart from me. I think (but did not say) that it's immature for him to feel that way. I did tell him that I wish he could be happy whether or not we are physically with each other.

He told me he wants to do better to see that my needs are met, too, but I just don't know how this can work out in the short term.
posted by DianaV at 8:35 AM on September 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

No words of wisdom here, just a bit of applause that you had a talk with him; and sympathy, as it looks like this is still a challenge for the two of you. Keep up the lines of communication, hang in there, and if it doesn't work out, at least you really and sincerely tried.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:30 AM on September 4, 2012

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