Sex & Relationships

How Much Alone Time Is Too Much?

“Trust that intuition,” a family and marriage therapist tells Bustle.

How much alone time is normal in a relationship? Experts weigh in.
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Because of pandemic lockdowns, couples everywhere are coming off a year of essentially zero alone time. Even so, when your partner says, “I need space,” it still hurts. It’s an emotional gut punch, like in Sex and the City 2, when Big suggests Carrie sleep at her old place two nights a week. But on the other end of the cohabitation spectrum, there are folks like Gwyneth Paltrow, who spent the first year of her marriage to Brad Fulchuk living separately. “I think it certainly helps with preserving mystery and also preserving the idea that this person has their own life,” Paltrow told Harper’s Bazaar last year. So how much alone time is normal in a relationship? Clearly it’s not that simple.

"Alone time is healthy, particularly in relationships,” Joanna Townsend, a life coach and Washington, D.C., psychotherapist for Blush Online Life Coaching, tells Bustle. “It's imperative for recharging, re-centering, connecting with oneself, and being able to show up to the relationship fully.” If your partner asks for some space, take a breath and review the facts. Here’s when time apart is healthy, according to experts.

1

Your Partner Balances Alone Time With Couple Time

Even though everyone's needs for alone time are different, there should be a sense of balance between time together and apart. "If they choose to be alone mostly when given a choice, then there is a threat present for the relationship," Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist and host of The Kurre and Klapow Show, tells Bustle.

2

They Talk Openly About Their Need For Space

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There shouldn't be mystery around your partner's alone time. "It can become a threat to a relationship or a reflection of deeper issues when alone time is not communicated, when it is used aggressively, or as a form of expression, or when it is taken in spite of the other — to get away, ghost, or exclude," Townsend says. But if you're both open and comfortable about your respective needs for solitude, that's a good sign.

3

They’re An Introvert

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It’s important to understand core differences between you and your partner, especially regarding how you interact with others. “People who are introverted are going to need much more alone time to fuel their tanks,” says Dr. Nan Wise, a cognitive neuroscientist, licensed sex therapist, and author of Why Good Sex Matters. “Extroverts aren’t going to need as much alone time because they draw their energy from being around people.”

4

You're Still A Priority

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As long as your partner's alone time doesn't make you feel neglected, you probably don't need to overthink it. "Is your partner looking to go for a run or meet up with friends for a beer during a weekend they primarily spend with you?" relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, asks Bustle. "That’s pretty normal." If you sense you're still a priority to them, you likely have a healthy balance.

5

Things Feel The Same When They Get Home

If alone time is a problem in your relationship, things might feel awkward or stilted when your partner gets back. "Check in with yourself when your partner comes back from alone time and see if things feel normal or off," says family and marriage therapist Rachel Wright. "Trust that intuition."

6

Or, Things Feel Even Better When They Get Home

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Sometimes a little space can help establish closeness between you and your partner. “Spending every waking minute with one another more often than not actually breeds resentment as opposed to a healthy, blossoming intimacy,” says relationship and sexuality educator Dr. Logan Levkoff. “Maybe there are things about having your space you really enjoy, [and] that you need in order to feel fulfilled.” At the end of the day, being fulfilled as individuals is imperative for feeling fulfilled as a couple.

7

They're Doing Something That's Important To Them

"Check and see if your partner is more filled up than drained when they get home," Wright says. "Are they doing something that truly lights them up and fills up their soul?" If their alone time is nourishing for them, and doesn’t detract from your relationship, it's probably a positive thing.

8

They Fill You In

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“It's really fun once you regroup with your partner to tell them what you did during your alone time,” says Yue Xu, co-host and co-creator of the Date/able podcast. Maybe they went rock climbing, which sounds dangerous to you, but signals endorphins and a clear head to them.

9

You Still Get Quality Time

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Time with your partner should be more about quality than quantity. "Very often couples believe they need to spend as many hours together as possible to strengthen the relationship," Klapow says. "The reality is that depending on each person, spending time alone may be an important part of the overall wellbeing of each individual and the overall quality of the relationship."

10

They're Equally Happy Alone Or Together

Even if your partner loves alone time, it's important that they feel content in both situations. "If your partner is primarily happy when they’re alone, if they are only or primarily calm and centered when they are alone, if they chose to be alone mostly when given a choice, then there is a threat present for the relationship," Klapow says.

If, however, your partner likes alone time and quality time equally, then that's a great sign. "Your partner should be able to derive joy and contentment both from being with you and being alone," Klapow says. "Like two flavors of ice cream — both delicious — just different and with different preferences at different times."

Experts:

Joanna Townsend, psychotherapist

Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist

Dr. Nan Wise, cognitive neuroscientist and licensed sex therapist

Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, psychotherapist

Rachel Wright, psychotherapist

Dr. Logan Levkoff, sexuality and relationship educator

Yue Xu, co-host and co-creator of the Date/able podcast