As I dropped off my 13-year-old son, Cody, at the scout meeting, I said, "I'm going to miss you this weekend."
"You're going to have the computer all to yourself. See ya." Cody reached out and mussed my hair, then picked up his bedroll and backpack, and headed off.
I paused to consider his words. He had a point. I'd have the computer—as well as the entire house—to myself this weekend. My husband, Bob, was at his parent's ranch clearing land and feeding cattle. Cody was camping. It was just me and the cats. Suddenly I felt gleeful—then guilty for feeling gleeful. I vacillated for about 15 minutes until eventually glee won.
Is it wrong to enjoy some time alone? Shouldn't I have felt lonely with two days in front of me and no one to feed or pick up after? And what about guilt? My poor husband would be eating cereal for breakfast since neither he nor his dad are great cooks—although he'd have been eating cereal even if he had stayed home; I'm not an early riser on weekends.
Something deep within reassured me it was okay to enjoy this weekend alone, that it was all right for my family members to have different interests, and that I didn't need to feel guilty about that.
Of course I know couples who do everything together. Just the other night my girlfriend Vicki told me about her Saturday.
"Rickey went with me to get my hair cut and then we had lunch at Hyde's," Vicki explained. She and Rickey have been married for nearly 30 years.
"Isn't that kind of weird?" I asked. "Wouldn't he rather be home doing something else? Or maybe getting his own hair cut?"
Vicki just smiled and shrugged. It works for them. Personally I can't imagine my husband at my haircutters. I can only imagine the look on his face if I asked if he'd want to join me there.
But is it really okay to want some time apart from your spouse?
The answer is a resounding yes. When couples dedicate themselves to allowing each other the space and outside interests they need, they have stronger marriages. According to Dr. James Dobson the one factor that's done more damage to families than any other is "fatigue and time pressure, which leaves every member of the family exhausted and harried." One way to avoid that trap of exhaustion is to allow each other some time alone.
Having "me" time enables you to re-energize and reconnect. That's really what we do when we rest and use our space smartly. We re-create the girls and boys we once were. We re-create our love for our family. We re-create a love for life by taking the time to enjoy what God's given us—both together and separately.
So how can you get—or give—some space?
Be honest about what you need. If you're feeling smothered and need some "me" time, say so. You never know, your partner could be feeling the same way. One thing is certain: If you hold in your feelings, they'll come out in an inappropriate way—such as when your spouse offers to accompany you on some errands and you hear yourself scream, "But I just wanted to be alone for an hour!" Be honest if you need some space. Talk about it; tell your spouse what you're craving. Explain your feelings as best and as kindly as you can. Open communication is crucial in any relationship. If your spouse still doesn't "get it," ask him to trust you. He may never feel the same way, but he's sure to appreciate an honestly expressed need.
Reaffirm your spouse. Your partner may not understand your need for alone time. So it's important to reassure him you're still committed to the relationship and you still love him. Help him see you both benefit from a little time apart. After a day alone, for instance, I'll fix Bob's favorite dinner or spend a quiet evening just with him. That shows Bob that time apart actually draws us closer together.
No, the honeymoon isn't over. Although Monica and Chandler appear to do everything together, Friends isn't the real world. The honeymoon isn't over simply because you have separate interests and want to pursue them. Bob and I both enjoy camping, so it's something we try to do once a month. It's our thing. But he doesn't share my enthusiasm for long-distance hiking, so I hike with a girlfriend from work. Our marriage is actually stronger because I can do something I enjoy and he can refrain from doing something he doesn't enjoy. And when I return home, we have something to talk about; we reconnect.
Don't take it personally if your partner says "no thanks." I'm a moviegoer; Bob isn't. Before we married I went to the movies at least once a week. Bob wasn't even sure where the nearest theater was. The first year we were married, I'd scour the movie listings, then present Bob with my top three picks. He'd look at them, try to appear excited, then plead, "Can't we just stay home and watch TV?"
I finally had to accept that he's never going to be the movie lover I am. That's okay. Now I go to a movie when he has an evening meeting scheduled at work, or on a Saturday when there's a must-see football game on TV.
Respect the need for distance. Distance isn't measured merely by what you do and don't do together; it's also measured by what you say and don't say. Some days I can't wait to get home and tell Bob everything that's happened. Other days I just want to go to the tub and soak. That doesn't mean I'm not still committed to my marriage. I just need some time to regroup. If your spouse is having a quiet evening, let him be. Or you can say, "I need to talk to you about something, but it can wait until tomorrow." Your spouse will appreciate your consideration.
Don't compare yourself with others. Every couple is different. So the amount of time and space they need together, or apart, is different. When my friend Kristy told me she and her husband buy groceries together, I wondered what was wrong with me. Then I took Bob to the grocery store.
"This brand is cheaper," he said. "Why don't you buy it instead?"
"I tried that once," I replied. "It tasted like sandpaper."
Bob looked perplexed as he read the label more closely.
"But it says right here on the label it's the same."
We went on like that through the entire store. What was normally a peaceful 30 minute shopping trip took more than an hour and stressed us both out. Now I know why we don't buy groceries together.
I realized just because Kristy and her husband go grocery shopping as a couple doesn't set the standard for me and Bob. Here's the lesson: Don't judge yourself by what your best friend does. Judge by what works for you.
Create marital space. Not everyone has a spouse with an out of town hobby, and not all kids camp out. Don't use that as an excuse. Find ways to give each other space. Take turns spending Saturday afternoon with the kids. You can take them to the park or a movie—anything to give your spouse three hours alone. If you have relatives nearby, take the kids to visit them one weekend a month and give your partner that free time. Make it clear to your spouse that you want the favor returned, then mark it on both your calendars. Sometimes if you want that space, you have to be willing to carve it out of your routine schedule.
I'm facing another weekend alone next Friday, and to tell you the truth I'm excited about it. Bob's going to the ranch with seven of "the guys" from work, and Cody will be off to another campout. As for me? I'm planning at least one movie, a good book by the fire, maybe a short hike on Saturday, some quiet time with God, and some time online without anyone saying, "Is it my turn yet?" Of course by Sunday afternoon I'll be watching for them. A little time alone can go a long way. Now if I could just convince the pets to take off for a couple days.
Vannetta Chapman, a freelance author, lives with her family in Texas.
2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.