Sitting front row at a comedy show, my boyfriend and I became the target of one comedian’s crowd work. He went through his routine couple questions, including if we were planning on moving in together anytime soon. We shook our heads no so fast that the comedian was shocked. “You’ve been together three years, why not?” Logistics aside (my boyfriend works in Atlanta, and I’m in New York City) we’re young, and no where near ready to give up our beloved “me time.” And as an introvert, the idea of waking up every day to another person in my space sounds equal parts glorious and awful.
But, I know countless couples make it work, introverts included. So for when I’m ready, what’s the secret to making it work?
The key is communicating your expectations and boundaries before move-in day, says Joyce Marter, a licensed psychotherapist and founder of counseling center Urban Balance. If having alone time in your home is a must, tell your partner that.
“Sometimes this can be touchy, because sometimes people might feel a little rejected, and not understand your need for alone time,” Marter says. “Provide some reassurance and let them know that you love them, and you care about them, and of course, you enjoy your time with them. But just part of who you are, is that you need this time and space to reboot, so that you can be present and positive in your relationship.”
And if you know you need a space that allows for separation, you’ll want a big enough place. “I once lived in a convertible apartment with my partner, which was basically like a big studio,” Marter says. “We had to move three months later, because we had no separation. Someone had to go to the bathroom to have space.”
A survey of more than 900 people, conducted by lighting company Sofary, asked participants about the factors that play into happy live-in relationships. The survey found that couples need about 1,800 square feet to maintain blissful cohabitation. In parts of the world where real estate costs a premium, you’ll have to get creative. In NYC, for example, there are four-bedroom apartments with less than 1,000 square feet, so room to spread out is unattainable for many people.
Aimee Daramus, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist who works at Urban Balance suggests finding ways to be psychologically alone, even if you’re around other people. Maybe that means seeking respite in a nearby bar or coffee shop. Or, it could be sitting in the same room with your partner, not speaking and both doing your own thing. Dr. Daramus says to just make sure you tell them that’s what you’re doing.
You might need to say: “‘Look, there are going to be times when I have to recharge and time alone is what recharges me’,” explains Dr. Daramus. Reassure your partner that you’re not angry, they did nothing wrong, and that this is just what you need for yourself. “Even if you have to be in the same small space,” she says, “they know this is don’t-talk-to-me-unless-it’s-really-really-important time.”
It’s critical to have these conversations upfront, stresses Dr. Daramus, and not to wait until you’re stressed and worn out.
“That’s when any of us would be tempted to say just like, ‘Leave me alone, don’t talk to me. I can’t deal with this now’,” she says. “And then it turns into exactly the big dramatic conversation that you didn’t want.”
You can also schedule alone time, adds Marter. You can tell your partner that when you get home from work you need 30 minutes to yourself just to unpack your day. Or you can plan to have time when they leave the house and you have the space to yourself (and vice versa). Marter and her husband are both self-employed, which means they spend a lot of time at home together. But, every Monday night her husband is out of the house for an improv class.
“I have my Monday nights when I can watch my shows, and you know, have have time and space for myself,” says Marter. But be sure that it’s equitable and it’s not always one of you who has to leave. “You’re both creating space and opportunity for each other.”
Above all, Marter says not to compare yourselves to other couples; Dr. Daramus says to remember that your needs are valid.
“It’s easy to think that our introverted needs aren’t as important or that we’re being bad for it,” says Dr.Daramus. “Respecting that your needs are completely legitimate, it’s completely okay for you to be the way you are and need that alone time despite the social pressure to be more extroverted. And then it’s a lot easier to push the issue of getting your needs met.”
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