NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

New Relationships: Learning to Compromise About Time Spent Together

When two people fall in love and begin a new relationship, it's often a romantic and exhilarating time. Aside from the physical attraction, they usually have enough in common for them to want to be exclusive with each other.  But as they get to know each other, one thing that couples often discover about each other is that they have different feelings about how much time to spend together vs time apart.  If couples can't compromise about how much to spend time together, the relationship can quickly devolve into arguments and resentment.

Learning to Compromise About Time Spent Together

Spending Time Together vs Time Apart:  Learning to Communicate and Compromise
Obviously, there are no rules about how much time people in relationships "should" spend with each other.  So, there is no right or wrong.  But there needs to be honest communication and a compromise so the couple can work it out if they want to remain together.  But many couples struggle with this issue because they get stuck in a tug of war about it.  

Spending Time Together vs Time Apart:  Making Premature Assumptions Can Lead to Misunderstandings
People in this situation often make premature assumptions about what it means that their partners don't see eye-to-eye with them about how much time to spend together.

For example, the person, who wants to spend more time together, often feels hurt that his or her partner doesn't want to spend as much time together, assuming that the other person isn't as committed to the new relationship.  While there might be times when this is true, it might also mean that the person who wants to spend less time just needs more time to him or herself.  It could also mean that s/he wants to take things slowly.  

It could mean a lot of things--but that's the point:  Neither person can make assumptions about what it means and both people need to discuss this openly.

The following vignette, which is a composite of many cases, with all identifying information changed to preserve confidentiality, illustrates how this problem can be worked out:

Joan and Dan:
Joan and Dan were in their mid-40s when they met.  Both of them had been divorced for several years when they met at a mutual friend's party.  They hit it off immediately and began dating the same week. During the first two months, they saw each other a couple of times a week, which worked out for both of them.  Neither of them was dating anyone else, and they agreed to be exclusive with each other.  

By the third month, Dan told Joan that he was in love with with her, and Joan was elated because she felt the same way.  After that, Joan wanted to see Dan more often and she told him that she wanted them to spend all their weekends together.  

Dan wanted to spend some weekends together, but not the entire weekend all weekends.  Sometimes, he liked having part of the weekend to himself.  When he told Joan this, she interpreted it to mean that Dan wasn't as interested in her as she was in him.  She had spent several years by herself after her divorce, and now that she was in love again, she wanted to spend all of her free time with Dan.  

Joan really enjoyed Dan's company a lot, and she had assumed that he enjoyed being with her just as much.  But when he told her that he would want to have some time to himself on certain weekends, she felt deeply hurt and angry:  Why wouldn't he want to spend all of his free time with her?  She also felt ashamed of making herself so emotionally vulnerable to Dan only to get her feelings hurt.  When Dan told her how he felt, she hung up the phone and burst into tears.

Initially, Joan didn't take Dan's phone calls because she was angry.  This surprised Dan.  They'd never had a big argument until now and he didn't know what to make of it.  When Joan finally agreed to take his call a few days later, at first, she didn't want to talk about spending time on weekends together, but Dan insisted.  He realized that Joan was hurt because she misunderstood how he felt.  He suggested that they meet for dinner to talk about it.

When they sat down together at dinner, Joan had a hard time making eye contact with Dan.  She was still feeling hurt, angry, and ashamed.  Dan remained quiet, but handed Joan an envelope and said, "Open it."  At first, Joan was hesitant, but Dan gestured to her to go ahead and open it.  And when she did, Joan gasped--she saw two round trip tickets to Paris.  Dan explained that he didn't want Joan to think he didn't want to spend more time with her.  It was just that he felt he needed time for himself sometimes on weekends.

They spent the rest of the dinner talking excitedly about how they would spend their time in Paris, which would be the first time for both of them.  They also talked about how they could compromise on the issue of spending time together vs. spending time apart.  

They worked out that they would spend certain weekends at Dan's house, which was much larger than Joan's apartment so that when Dan felt he wanted some time to himself, he could spend time in his den or in the garden while Joan read or did whatever she wanted to do.  

This compromise worked out for both of them.  It allowed Dan to have some time to himself, and it allowed Joan to spend more time with Dan, even if he was in the garden or in another part of the house for part of the time.  Just knowing that he was nearby was enough for her during those times when he wanted time to himself.  They also had a great time in Paris.

Working Out a Compromise About Spending Time Together vs Time Apart
As I mentioned, this is a common problem that a lot of couples struggle with in their relationship, especially when the relationship is new and sometimes even in longstanding relationships.  

An important aspect of working it out is not to make assumptions about what it means if one of you feels differently than the other.   You might have different needs.  

Have an honest talk with your partner and see if you can work out a compromise that will satisfy both of you.  It's important that whatever you work out works for both of you because if one of you just gives, there's bound to be resentment and it won't work out.

Getting Help in Couples Counseling
Many couples can't work this out themselves.  Often, one or both people can't put aside their own feelings to try to understand where the other person is coming from.  

Also, each person's personal history in his or her family of origin can affect their being able to work it out.  If, for instance, the person who wants to spend less time together felt smothered in his or her family of origin, those feelings might get triggered in this situation, making it difficult to compromise.  Likewise, if the person who wants to spend more time together grew up in a family where he or she felt emotionally abandoned, these feelings could get triggered when the couple tries to work out a compromise.

If you find that you and your partner can't work out the time together vs. time apart issue on your own, you could benefit from seeing a couples counselor.  A skilled couples counselor can help you navigate through this potentially thorny issue.  A couples counselor can help each person to understand how his or her family background might be affecting their situation and how to differentiate what happened in childhood from the current situation.

If you're in a relationship with someone you love and this is an issue that is standing in your way, you both owe it to yourselves to try to work it out in couples counseling.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.