I enjoy being with my husband, but I also need "me" time. He doesn't really understand, though. How do I explain that to him without hurting his feelings?
My short answer: welcome to marriage—to the beautiful, hard, life-changing, frustrating, wonderful thing that it is to be in a marriage relationship.
My marriage has shaped and transformed me in a thousand ways. But what I'm finding is that while we do change along the way—we rub off on each other, we compromise, we learn from each other—there is still an essential self that we bring to the marriage, and it doesn't—and shouldn't—change much.
I'd put the need for "me" time in that category. I imagine you needed alone time when you were a little girl, and when you were in high school, and at every point along the way before you were married. That's how God made you. And moving into a committed relationship with your husband doesn't change the way God made you.
It sounds as if your husband needs less alone time than you do, though, and that sometimes he takes that need of yours personally, as though you don't want to be with him, or that you need something he can't give you.
On one hand it's great that he wants to spend time with you. I know couples who are married but seem to live and do everything separately! So it's important to acknowledge your gratitude for his desire to be with you. But it's also important for you to share your need—before you get so "me" time depleted that you explode!
My marriage is the opposite: I'm an extreme extrovert married to an equally extreme introvert, so that means I need a lot more relational time than he does, and he needs a lot more alone time than I do.
What helps us is talking about these differences in terms of our natures—the way God made us, the non-negotiable identities planted in each of us a long time ago. As with almost any marriage issue, conversation and storytelling helps so much. If you can tell stories that allow him to understand how it feels to crave that much needed alone time, that might help. If he can find language for how it feels to need more connection and relational time, that might help.
Some people think that all of our relational needs should be met in the context of marriage, but that's not what I've seen, and not how it works for us. My husband, Aaron, meets some of my relational needs. But I spend a lot of time with girlfriends, with my parents, and with my cooking club. Aaron needs fewer friends and more depth of conversation, while I like to maintain a wide circle of friendship with varying levels of intimacy.
So we talk about our differences and then we don't take these differences between us personally. When I go out with my girlfriends or drive to the city to see my brother or gather up the kids for a play date with my best friends and their kids, instead of feeling hurt that I'm leaving him, Aaron breathes a sigh of relief—alone at last! And when he sneaks away to write in his journal or take a jog alone, I know it isn't because he's tired of me and I'm not fulfilling his needs; I know he's going to get replenished.
We talk about the introvert/extrovert dynamic often so that we're always focused on taking good care of each other and of ourselves. God makes each one of us so different, and some of the challenge—and the beauty—of marriage is figuring out which differences will never change and which must.
Talk about that dynamic often, and look for creative solutions: he goes out with his friends one night a week, giving you the "me" time you're looking for. Or make sure that your "me" time happens just after some great relational time, so that he doesn't feel disconnected.
I'm a be-with person; even if we're just returning emails or folding laundry, I like to be in the same room, chatting occasionally, enjoying a companionable silence. I've come to learn that this is an extrovert thing, and that most introverts can't truly exhale until they're completely alone.
So there are times when Aaron brings his laptop to the table where I'm working for a little companionable silence. And then there are times when I intentionally leave the room so that he can get some of the alone time he needs to recharge.
The important thing is to bring up the discussion often, in a respectful way. You may have to encouragingly remind him that it isn't personal and that when you do have alone time, you'll be able to come back to the relationship rejuvenated and better able to focus on couple time. That's the beauty of marriage, and of compromise.
Shauna Niequist is the author of three books, including Bread & Wine: Finding Community and Life Around the Table.