Relationships are amazing; you get to share your life with someone who wants to be there for you. But being someone's partner doesn't have to mean being inseparable. Finding out how to stay independent in a relationship is one of the (tricky) keys to success.
"When we are in a relationship, it is important to have a sense of self and independence, while integrating lives with your partner," Dr. Danielle Forshee, doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker, tells Bustle. "This can be a difficult balance to achieve — similar to the difficulty in achieving a work-life balance." Maintaining the balance, however, is necessary. Friends, hobbies, and traditions don't disappear when someone new enters your life. You just have to work to make things go smoothly.
If there's conflict, it's likely not about the fact that you're spending time apart, but how and why you are. "I often see couples who argue about the way that one of them spends their time, but the issue is not really about that, but about the relationship dynamic in general, and fears and assumptions each partner is making about what those activities mean," Amy McManus, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. This just means, like all else in relationships, that you need to be open and honest with your partner about what you want and why. Communication is key, after all.
In the end, keeping things separate, to some degree, will be healthy for your relationship. "Exposing your partner to who you are and what you do outside of the relationship is ... important in maintaining cohesion in the relationship," Dr. Forshee says.
Here are seven activities you should still do on your own, even if you're in a relationship.
1. Hanging Out With Friends
First and foremost: your friends still need to be a priority, even if you're in a serious relationship. "It's tempting to include your significant other every time you set up social plans, but hanging out with your friends by yourself (at least some of the time) needs to stay a priority," Eileen Purdy, master of social work and anxiety therapist, tells Bustle. "Not only will your friends appreciate it but you'll be surprised how much you'll continue to grow as a person by having some of this alone time with your friends."
These friendships are, and will be, part of the key to your emotional health. "Friends help us realize who we are, challenge us and keep us doing things we love," Naphtali Roberts, licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "[...] When individuals in a relationship can have authentic relationships outside of their romantic relationship they are more equipped to have healthy expectations and communication patterns in their relationships." So set up a friend date, and make it a recurring event. It's good for your soul.
2. Running Errands And Doing Chores
It may seem like #RelationshipGoals, but you absolutely do not need to be grocery shopping with your partner every week. "Running errands does not automatically become a team sport when you're in a relationship. Misery does love company but keep 'divide and conquer' in mind on this one," Purdy says.
This isn't to say that an occasional tag team to Home Depot isn't fun. It just doesn't have to be a common occurrence. "Sometimes we just need to take care of some personal things which aren’t glamorous and can make you tired and cranky," Lori Salkin, SawYouatSinai.com Senior Matchmaker and Dating Coach, tells Bustle. Plus, if you each do an errand separately, you'll have more time to spend together doing actual fun things, like binge-watching Netflix.
3. Practicing Spirituality
You don't need to date someone of your same religion to maintain your spiritual practices. "If you are the religious type and your significant other isn't, not to worry," Purdy says. "Keep doing your thing. Whether it's a church, synagogue, temple, mosque or mountain, if this aspect is important to you it's seriously OK to go it alone." A good partner will support and respect you for doing your thing.
Plus, for many spiritual practices, doing them in solace is an added benefit. "Many religious and spiritual practices require personal reflection and time (such as many types of prayer and meditation)," David Bennett, counselor, relationship expert, and owner of Double Trust Dating tells Bustle. "While you can do some practices with a partner, be sure to keep some activities personal, especially if your partner and you have different religious values." It's a win-win.
4. Doing Hobbies That Your Partner Doesn't Share
It's pretty clear that finding a partner doesn't mean finding someone who shares the same exact interests as you. Yeah, it's cool if you can bond over a love of cats, but you likely won't be finding yourself wanting to indulge in all of their hobbies. And they shouldn't expect that of you, either. "Individuals in a healthy relationship keep doing the things they love," Roberts says. And you don't need to do these things with them.
"This is pretty simple," McManus says. "If there is something you do that brings you joy, and your significant other doesn’t love doing it, you should still do it on your own." So you can keep going to your book club and they can keep gardening. Your relationship will be quite alright.
Despite what Fergie says, when you're up in the gym just working on your fitness you don't need a witness. From the most practical reasons to the larger topic of why you're working out in the first place, your time exercising does not need to be a couple's pursuit. "Many couples are at different fitness levels and have schedules that conflict, which makes exercising together difficult to schedule, and frustrating if one person can’t keep up. Working out separately solves these issues," Bennett says. It also gives you time to decompress and listen to your favorite throwback playlist with no judgement.
Take a cue from your single self to figure out if you want to add your partner to your workout regime. "If going to the gym is an activity you’ve enjoyed doing alone, that is something you should continue doing alone," Dr. Forshee says. And you can take that rule and apply it to almost any activity. If you enjoyed doing something alone prior to the relationship, then you have the right to keep doing it alone even when you have a partner.
Alone time is alone time. Sitting in silence together is not. Plus, research says downtime is really good for your relationship.
"Research by the 'Early Years of Marriage Project' at the University of Michigan related to 'alone time' has found that it is very important in relationship satisfaction to have some time alone," Bennett says. "Many couples [who got] to the point where every bit of downtime is spent together (even if it’s sitting on a couch watching movies together), found that inadequate alone time and space was a major cause of marital unhappiness." If you think about it, a nice walk or makeup tutorial alone can be really refreshing. And your partner can have some time to recuperate too.
As your lives become intertwined, it can be natural to have working alongside your partner become part of your routine. But it doesn't need to be.
"Work is not a date activity ... You will likely need to be very focused and end up ignoring your significant other or getting distracted from your work because of having your significant other there and not get your work done, which will not only result in a waste of time but could also cause friction between you and your significant other," Salkin says. So whether you work from home or from an office, try to keep the relationship stuff at an arm's distance while you're on the clock.
In all, a relationship is about balance. So spending time apart is another way to make your time together feel more meaningful. This doesn't mean that you can't grocery shop, meditate, or go for a run with your partner. But it does mean that you might feel stronger if you feel able to do some of these things alone.