How Much Time Should Couples Spend Together?02/08/2024 2024-02-21 1:17
How Much Time Should Couples Spend Together?
Written by Cynthia McKay, JD, MA, LAC, MFT, LISAC, Psychotherapist & Licensed Addiction Counselor
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We all want to feel connected to our partners. We want deep intimacy and a sense of being on the same team. But, if we’re being honest, most of us also crave moments of solitude, a chance to pursue our own passions, or simply space to recharge. This push and pull between closeness and individuality is a natural part of being in a relationship.
The question is, how much togetherness is enough, and when does it start to tip into too much?
Finding the perfect balance of togetherness and “apart time” is crucial for a healthy, thriving relationship – but it looks different for every couple. Let’s explore why there’s no one-size-fits-all answer and how to discover the rhythm that works best for you and your partner.
But first, it’s important to stress something crucial: finding the right mix of togetherness and individuality isn’t a luxury— it’s a necessity for sustainable, healthy relationships.
Left unaddressed, an imbalance can cause a lot of damage in a relationship, including:
- Resentment & Loneliness: When one partner feels constantly neglected or smothered, a cycle of hurt and resentment can kick in, fueling conflict and sabotaging intimacy.
- Loss of Self & Stagnation: Overdependence on a partner can gradually chip away at individuality, limiting growth and eroding a sense of purpose outside the relationship. Ironically “giving everything” to a relationship can actually hurt it.
- Communication Breakdown: Unmet needs can easily fester. I often see this silent frustration lead to passive-aggressive behavior, or worse, a total shutdown of communication.
- Increased Vulnerability: Partners with a poor foundation of respect for individual needs are more susceptible to unhealthy behaviors like possessiveness or manipulating tactics to get what they feel is lacking.
The good news is that all of these issues can be worked on, improved, and even fully resolved. It will take effort though, and in some cases, a professional therapist or counselor will be helpful.
So, How Much Time Should Couples Spend Together?
The Myth of The ‘Perfect’ Amount of Time
If you’ve ever scrolled through relationship advice articles, you’ve probably seen headlines like “The Secret to a Happy Dating Relationship: Spend 5 Hours Together Each Week” or “Couples Who Do This Daily Are Guaranteed Success.”
These clickbait titles perpetuate a misleading idea – that there’s a magic formula for the “perfect” amount of togetherness. The truth is, trying to meet a rigid standard can create unnecessary anxiety and take the focus away from what truly matters in your relationship.
So, why is there no universal answer? Because several factors shape a couple’s needs:
- Relationship Stage: If you just started dating and you’re in the honeymoon phase of a relationship, you might crave near-constant connection. In contrast, a couple married for decades might value a more established rhythm of individual and shared time.
- Individual Personality Types: If you’re an introvert, you may require more solitude and free time to recharge your social energy. Extroverts might thrive on more frequent interaction. Successful couples respect and accommodate these differences.
- Lifestyle and Work Commitments: Hectic work schedules, children, or demanding hobbies leave less wiggle room for togetherness. It’s essential to be realistic about commitments and find creative ways to connect.
- Unique Interests and Hobbies: Fostering passions you don’t share with your partner provides personal fulfillment and keeps things interesting within the relationship. Having both separate interests and things you enjoy together is essential.
- Relationship Structure: Traditional monogamous couples will approach time differently than those engaged in polyamorous or open relationships. Communication and clarity around individual needs and personal preferences is important for every couple, but they can be even more crucial for multi-partner dynamics.
Recognizing the Benefits of Togetherness
While there’s no formula for perfect balance, there’s no denying that spending quality time with your partner is crucial for a thriving relationship. Here’s why:
- Strengthening Connection: Whether sharing a meal, trying new things, or simply relaxing together after a long day, these moments help you solidify your emotional bond. Shared experiences become inside jokes, cherished memories, and the backbone of your unique connection. A sense of trust and intimacy deepens naturally with consistent, intentional shared time.
- Communication and Growth: When you truly feel close to your partner, talking about both the trivial and the serious becomes much easier. Togetherness creates a safe space for open communication, improving problem-solving and enabling you to support each other during challenges. It opens the door to growth – as individuals and as a couple.
Understanding the Importance of ‘Apart Time’
While quality time together is essential, carving out moments for just yourself might seem counterintuitive at first. However, respecting and encouraging “apart time” is incredibly healthy for both you and your relationship. Here’s why:
- Maintaining Individuality: Even in the closest relationships, maintaining a sense of self is vital. Spending time apart lets you cultivate your individual interests, passions, and hobbies that may fall outside of what you share with your partner. It prevents codependency and keeps you growing as a person. This research study showed that when we cultivate our own social connections, outside of our relationship, it actually improves our partner’s connection to us.
- Recharge and Refresh: Everyone needs a little time to decompress and refill their mental and emotional reserves. ‘Apart time’ is an opportunity to indulge in relaxation activities, self-care routines, or whatever recharges your batteries. This leads to a happier, less stressed you, which positively impacts your relationship.
- Build Excitement and Appreciation: A little bit of distance actually cultivates a greater appreciation for your connection. You might find yourselves missing each other and looking forward to sharing stories and reuniting. Spending time cultivating your own interests is a great way to spark fresh conversations and prevents your relationship from falling into a monotonous routine. Not surprisingly, novelty makes for more satisfaction in our relationships.
Signs of an Unhealthy Balance
Finding the sweet spot between closeness and individuality can take some fine-tuning. It’s helpful to know the signs that the balance may be tipping to one extreme or the other. Here are some red flags to watch out for:
- Excessive Togetherness: If you or your partner feel smothered by the constant need to be together, this suggests an unhealthy level of codependency. Anxiety when separated, even for short periods, and feelings of possessiveness indicate that personal boundaries need to be established.
- Excessive Time Apart: A consistent lack of interest in spending time together or prioritizing independent activities most of the time might signal emotional distance or disconnection within the relationship. If making shared time seems burdensome or like an obligation, it’s time to address what might be driving this.
- Ignoring Individual Needs and Boundaries: Not respecting your partner’s (or your own) need for downtime and personal space leads to resentment and disharmony. Putting constant pressure on your partner to spend time together or guilt-tripping them for seeking moments alone signals a lack of respect for autonomy.
How to Find Your Balance and Improve Your Emotional Intimacy
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for happy couples, and what works for you and your partner today might need adjustments down the line. The key is open communication, flexibility, and a willingness to compromise.
- The Power of Open Communication: Start by creating a safe space for a non-judgmental chat about how you’re both feeling about the amount of time you spend together and apart. Actively listen, be respectful of different perspectives, and try to pinpoint individual needs.
- Flexibility and Compromise: Don’t be afraid to experiment! Perhaps it’s blocking out focused date nights with flexible “alone time” days within the same week. Maybe it’s a couple of weeknights for personal activities followed by prioritizing quality time on the weekends. Be open to finding solutions that respect both of your needs as well as your busy schedules.
- Scheduling Quality Time: It may sound unromantic at first, but amidst busy schedules, it’s helpful to proactively set aside intentional time for each other. Put it on the calendar like any other commitment. Ensure this is “unplugged” time where you focus on conversation, a shared activity, or simply enjoy each other’s presence.
And if you’re having any trouble getting started communicating with your partner, here’s some ideas for opening the discussion:
- Understanding Current Needs: “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being ‘smothered’ and 10 being ‘disconnected’, how would you rate how much time we spend together now?” “Think of your ideal week—realistically, how many date nights or focused together time feel good to you?” “What does quality ‘alone time’ look like for you? What do you usually like to do during that time?”
- Compromise and Adjusting: “Since our schedules often conflict, how about we block off our ‘together time’ first then plan other things around that?” “Would a regular check-in about how we’re feeling about our together/apart balance be helpful?” “Is there something small we can tweak this week to see if it helps us both feel more fulfilled?”
- Timing is Key: Don’t try to have this discussion when either of you is stressed or tired. Choose a relaxed time when you’re both receptive and able to focus.
- Stay Positive: Phrase things positively, for example: “I’d love more focused time together on the weekends,” tends to be better received than something like “You haven’t been spending enough time on weekends.”
- Respect Each Other: Validate each other’s needs and feelings, even if your perspectives are different. The goal is to find a solution you both feel good about.
When to Seek Professional Guidance like Couples Counseling
While open communication and flexibility are crucial, sometimes finding that healthy balance feels overwhelming. If you and your partner find yourselves in any of these situations, finding a therapist near you specializing in couples counseling can be immensely helpful.
Reasons to Seek Counseling:
- Constant arguments about how much time should be spent together or apart
- Feelings of resentment, guilt, or pressure surrounding these discussions
- Significant differences in needs (e.g., an extreme introvert paired with an extreme extrovert)
- If an unhealthy dependence is developing, or when “alone time” starts to erode trust
- A general feeling that your efforts to understand each other and adjust aren’t progressing
Benefits of Therapy
- A therapist provides a neutral space to facilitate communication and helps pinpoint the root of disagreements.
- You’ll learn healthy communication and conflict resolution skills to address differences without negativity.
- Couples therapy helps navigate individual differences, teaching you how to meet each other’s needs with understanding and compromise.
- A therapist can offer personalized strategies to find what works best for your unique dynamic.
Remember, seeking support isn’t a sign of weakness. Rather, it demonstrates a commitment to strengthening your relationship and prioritizing both connection and individuality.
Finding the perfect balance between togetherness and “me time” is a journey, not a destination. Remember that communication is the most powerful tool you have. Start the conversation with your partner about what “ideal” looks like for each of you. Be honest, kind, and willing to experiment and evolve.
The right amount of togetherness and individuality might vary from day to day or throughout life, but a willingness to keep the conversation going will ensure you create a dynamic that strengthens your bond. With open minds and compassionate hearts, you’ll cultivate a love that embraces your unique needs and a relationship that feels fulfilling for the long haul.
What if my partner and I have very different needs for time together vs. apart?
This is common! Openly discuss your individual needs and be willing to find creative solutions. Perhaps your idea of the perfect Friday night is a cozy date night in, while your partner might thrive on a night out with friends. Try alternating those scenarios, making an effort to genuinely support each other’s chosen ways to recharge.
How do we tell the difference between a healthy need for “me time” and signs of emotional distance?
Look for a willingness to remain connected even when separate. Healthy “me time” might look like indulging in a solo hobby or seeing friends while still checking in with your partner and looking forward to reconnecting. Emotional distance would involve a pattern of withdrawal, lack of interest in spending time together, and decreased communication overall.
We’re both so busy! How do we find time for quality connection?
Get creative! “Quality” doesn’t have to mean hours on end. Focus on being fully present for even brief periods, such as cooking dinner together without distractions, sharing a short walk during lunch breaks, or setting aside 20 minutes to talk, tech-free, before bed.
Is it normal for our ‘perfect balance’ to change over time?
Absolutely! New jobs, having children, and even changes in interests or health can naturally alter your desired rhythm. Keep an open dialogue with your partner about your needs, making adjustments with understanding and flexibility.
How Much Time Should Couples Spend Together When Dating?
The dating phase is often about establishing connection and compatibility. It’s natural to want to spend a good amount of time together. Remember to respect each other’s schedules and be careful not to neglect other parts of life like friendships and independent hobbies.
How Much Time Should Married Couples Spend Together?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, even for married couples! Factors like work schedules, children, and individual personalities all influence the right balance. Focus on prioritizing quality time, where you’re connecting deeply and fostering your bond, over counting hours.
How Much Time Apart Is Healthy In A Relationship?
The right amount of time apart varies but, generally, everyone needs some for personal growth and mental well-being. Discuss with your partner what amount of alone time feels comfortable, respecting each other’s needs.
How Much Alone Time Is Normal In Couples?
“Normal” depends entirely on your unique dynamic! Introverts might need more solo time than extroverts. Open communication is key. It’s perfectly fine to adjust based on how you’re both feeling and how demanding your schedules are.