How Much Alone Time Is Healthy in a Relationship?

Stígur Már Karlsson/Heimsmyndir/Getty Images

If you’ve ever been friends with one of those seemingly inseparable couples-the one that gets a joint Facebook page, that only uses the pronoun “we,” and suddenly can’t do anything alone after they get engaged or married-you’ve probably wondered how much time spent together is really healthy in a relationship. But have you ever wondered about pairs that fall to the other end of the spectrum? While you probably know it’s a red flag to need to spend every waking moment with your significant other, how do you know if you’re spending too much time apart? We caught up with Trina Dolenz, LCSW, and author of “Retool Your Relationship: Fix the One You’re With,” and Garett Coan, LCSW, owner of Creative Counseling, to find out how much alone time is healthy. Here, they break it all down, plus share the ideal amount of time to spend together and apart.

As with most things in life, it seems the right amount of alone time is a matter of moderation. “On the one extreme is the ‘disengaged’ couple who do little or nothing together,” explains Coan. “They eventually wind up living parallel lives as glorified roommates. Then, there’s the enmeshed couple who feel threatened when even momentarily separated. A healthy relationship is characterized by a state of being lying somewhere in the middle.”

RELATED: HERE’S WHAT YOUR ATTACHMENT STYLE SAYS ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Naturally, this perfect balance is a tough one to achieve. With a variety of ways to stay hyper-connected, it’s no surprise Dolenz feels the majority of couples actually struggle more with too little alone time than too much. “Most couples today do not spend enough time alone or with others or other pursuits,” she says. The result is a relationship that begins to lose its spark over time. “Being apart brings new experiences and ideas back into the relationship, along with vitality and oxygen,” Dolenz explains. When each partner is free to go outside the relationship and spend time doing what makes them feel whole, they bring that recharged energy back home for the better of everyone.

The bottom line? Coan advises every couple to adhere to the 70/30 rule: For the happiest, most harmonious relationship, the pro suggests spending 70% of time together, and 30% apart. That gives each of you enough freedom to explore your own interests while still being rooted and invested in your relationship.

“Alone Time” Keeps Relationships Healthy

Source: stockfour/

When we think about the phrase “intimate relationship,” we usually think about the presence of intimacy between two people. Intimacy is about transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability. It’s about taking down the mask you wear and the fortress you’ve built to protect your heart, your self-esteem, and your feelings. It’s about letting someone get the full 360-degree view of who you are, where you stand, and where you tremble. And it’s pretty normal to find it challenging to allow others to see us as we truly are — faults and all. It’s a relational risk, and so there are a lot of people who hold tight to their defenses, because of the power that letting them down give others to affect their own feelings, thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors.

However, there’s another type of intimacy that can be just as difficult for some — self-intimacy. This is about making time to reflect on who you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. It’s about letting down your guard and giving yourself permission to stop telling yourself the lies you think you need to hear. It’s about acknowledging the fears that limit you, the self-beliefs that keep you from truly believing in yourself, and the imagined obstacles that keep you from attempting to reach the goals you value.

Self-reflection also helps you reconnect with the person you are (or were) when you show up in relationships. Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Am I someone that I’d want to be with?” If not, maybe you should. Recognizing the aspects of yourself that get in the way of your relationships with others — and yourself — is the first step to removing them. It’s the old truism, “The first step to solving a problem is admitting that you have one.”

Making time for healthy solitude gives you space for honest self-assessment as well as self-acceptance — even for past choices you now wish you hadn’t made.

It’s About Moving Forward, Not Getting Stuck in the Past

Self-reflection and healthy solitude are not about ruminating over the negative experiences in your life. They’re about accepting what is true, and determining what you want to be no longer true and what you want to carry with you along your personal journey through life. As for the “baggage” that each of us carry — from relationship to relationship, place to place, or moment to moment — we are the only ones who have the power to accept it or to let it go. They say that happiness is a choice — and choosing to let your past mistakes and failures weigh you down in the present moment is also a choice that you are intentionally making.

Think about it . . . by taking time for some healthy solitude and giving yourself time to figure out what you are willing to carry and where you want your destination to be.

Is “Alone Time” Self-Indulgent? Not at All

How do you make time to do something that others might consider self-indulgent? One habit that encourages healthy solitude is a daily reflective walk — whether you log 10,000 steps or just a few hundred. When your body is in motion, you are spurring the creative process and fighting any tendencies towards depression.

Another opportunity is found at the beginning or end of your workday. Get to work a little early or stay a little late. Using this space for quiet self-reflection can help you identify the goals that are truly worth your pursuit. Whether you’re in your car, on a bench in the lobby, or at your desk, let yourself catch up with yourself and reflect on where you’re going and what’s the best “next step” to get you there.

Creating a space for journaling also provides a dedicated opportunity to turn over the rocks and stones of daily life to see what’s hidden underneath or building up within. Some of the most powerful moments in counseling sessions occur when a client says something “out loud” that they had only thought about or reflected on before. It’s amazing the power that words spoken aloud or journaled into reality can have on a person. Whether the words are simply about stating a truth or crystallizing a plan, once you name an idea, you have given yourself the power to move past the past or towards the future by being present in the company of an expressed idea.

Vision boards and dream boards and gratitude lists and all of the ways in which people are encouraged to map out their hopes are similar activities to journaling in that you are giving a space to feelings or thoughts that you have not yet crystallized into shape or form.

By giving yourself the opportunity to develop a stronger level of intimacy with yourself, you are also giving yourself a boost into the depths — or heights — you can take your relationships with others. If you can’t look yourself in the eye and see yourself for who you are, you may have a hard time accepting another’s faults or foibles. It’s okay to be human: It’s a condition we all share.

As technology and our daily tasks grow increasingly intertwined, making time for healthy solitude becomes increasingly important for making sense of our place in the world.

How Much Alone Time Do You Really Need?

Good news: Preferring to spend some time solo does not signify you’re a total weirdo or even lonely and sad. In fact, being a lone wolf (at least sometimes) can boost productivity and even make romantic relationships stronger. But if we feel lonely when we’re alone, that solitude can actually become a health risk. A table for one might be the perfect way to recharge after a hectic week, but it can also be a reason to start singing the blues.

Solo Act: What’s Alone Time, Anyway?

Alone time is a pretty difficult concept for some of us to grasp. Between cell phones, email, and social media, Americans are spending more and more time plugged-in. That said, psychologists define “solitude” as the state of being physically alone with no one else to communicate with-not to be confused with loneliness, or the feeling of being disconnected from others and longing for connection. In other words, it’s completely possible to sit alone in an empty room without feeling lonely. At its best, time spent without others around is associated with getting to know oneself, inner peace, and spirituality.

Solo time can be especially beneficial at work. Some experts have critiqued brainstorming sessions and open office plans, questioning whether group work is the best way to generate good ideas. Instead, they suggest, people may be more productive when they work in private, or at least when there’s a balance between group work and solo time.

But the bonuses of alone time aren’t limited to the boardroom. Many relationship experts agree that one or both partners may need some time alone for a romantic relationship to function. And we can scrap that stereotype that men are the only ones who need time alone in their “man caves.” One survey found women in relationships want alone time, girl time, and even separate vacations more now than in years past.

Some people aren’t even up for sharing a bed in the first place. In the USA today, 25 percent of the population lives alone (that’s 32 million people), compared to 10 percent back in 1950. Among people ages 18 to 34, the number of people living alone (five million) has increased ten-fold since 1950. Americans who live alone often say having their own personal space makes them more social outside the home, more productive, and generally happier. But before anyone heads out to Walden, we should mention it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

Is One the Loneliest Number?

There may be truth to the cranky shut-in stereotype. Some research suggests that, among adults, spending time alone is associated with poor social adjustment-though it’s not clear that solo time actually causes the social problems. Loneliness can also result from being alone when we really want to connect with others (Think the first day of elementary school all over again.) So it’s definitely possible to be surrounded by others (in the real world or across the interwebz) and still feel lonely.

But there’s good reason to fight those solo blues. Feeling lonely can have some serious health effects. One study of young adults found that being alone was associated with a spike in cortisol (the stress hormone), but another found that a cortisol spike was specifically associated with feeling lonely. That’s possibly because loneliness is linked to depression and stress, so lonely people generally show high cortisol levels. Other research suggests that in habitually lonely or depressed people, the body may produce cortisol to help prepare for dealing with the demands of social interaction. Lonely folks also tend to have worse sleep habits, higher blood pressure, and weaker immune responses than others-all potential results of those higher cortisol levels.

Some recent research suggests loneliness is on the rise, and technology-everything from social networking sites to cell phones-may be to blame. Sometimes people choose Facebook messaging instead of face time, using social networking as a replacement for in-person interaction. Another way to explain the connection between technology and loneliness is that constant access to our social networks makes it easy to define ourselves by connections with others. So we might feel lonely when we don’t have that many Twitter followers, for example.

Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for the amount of alone time we need. But there are ways to make sure that privacy doesn’t turn into loneliness. Some psychologists suggest that we avoid using technology as a substitute for real face-to-face communication, so try catching up with a pal over coffee instead of tweets. And in relationships, it’s all about compromise and respecting each other’s needs (“Okay, I’ll go to your work party, but only if I can be alone for the rest of the evening.”) It’s rarely a good idea to stay in a partnership out of fear of being alone.

In the end, the value of solo time depends on the individual. One person’s lame Friday night in may be another’s ideal opportunity to turn up the Tiffany.

Do you ever feel like you need a break from the hustle and bustle? How do you avoid feeling lonely during solo time? Tell us in the comments below!

More from Greatist.com:

Why We’re Obsessed with Reality TV

15 Unexpected Reasons to Love Caffeine

40 Ways to Relax in 5 Minutes or Less

  • By Kelly Fitzpatrick of Greatist.com

11 Weird Signs You Need More Alone Time

Do you hate spending time alone? If so, I totally understand. It can be a bit boring, and maybe a tad lonely. And yet, it can’t be denied that occasionally going solo is pretty darn important. This is especially true if you start showing signs that you need more alone time.

As an example, think back to those days you felt crankier than usual, or frustrated for no reason. These may have been little hints that you needed to slow down and, say, spend the evening at home with nothing but your dog, Netflix, and a ton of snacks. (Yes, even if that meant missing out on something else.)

Taking time to yourself — to be alone, to travel, to partake in a hobby — is essential, and definitely not something you should forgo. As psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez tells me, “… it is actually a very important process to give ourselves that time and space alone to unplug, work through things, or just disconnect from everything around us to truly relax and get centered.”

It may sound scary, or feel totally unnatural at first. But it is a skill that’s necessary to develop, lest you spend the rest of our life feeling stressed out. Read on for some signs that you really need to disconnect and relax — all by your lonesome.

1. You Cringe When Your Phone Rings

Some of us aren’t super into our phones, and that’s OK. But if you feel the urge to casually toss yours across the room whenever it rings, take note. Not answering your phone — even when you’re available — can be a sign that you need a little time to yourself, clinical counselor Paula Anderson tells me. This urge to be “off the radar” is your body telling you to, well, be off the radar. Listen to it every now and again and you’ll likely feel much better.

2. You Constantly Feel Frustrated

If you feel frustrated by everyone and everything, you might have a “human hangover,” says life coach Bridget Chambers in an email to Bustle. “Being on edge makes us edgy… and in time, our toleration threshold for otherwise frivolous annoyances dwindles to nothing,” she says. “Take an evening or weekend to decompress alone … reenergize your spirit and make you more grateful, less irritated, and better equipped for the stuff that tends to push your buttons.”

3. You Snap At All The Innocent People In Your Life

Your partner didn’t do anything worth yelling about, and neither did your best friend. And yet you can’t keep yourself from snapping at them. In fact, you find yourself snapping at everyone in your life — whether they did something to “deserve” it or not. “This is taking your need for alone time — and your inability to get it — out on them,” Martinez says. Not cool.

4. You Truly Hate The Thought Of Alone Time

Like I said, not everyone enjoys spending time alone. But if you deeply and truly detest the idea, consider it all the more important. “Not wanting to spend time alone can often be a sign that you really need that time to face the thoughts you’ve been avoiding and really listen to yourself,” says holistic wellness coach Leah Lesesne, MA, in an email to Bustle. Let that resistance be your guide, and do it anyway.

5. You Feel The Need For Constant Validation

It’s really nice to get validation from friends, family, partners, etc. But you shouldn’t be getting it from them exclusively. If you feel like you require someone else’s advice, then it may be time to hang out with yourself. “Spend some time alone assessing what would be best for you, your energy, your time, and your interests,” Chambers says. “In the end, you cannot do right by others if you cannot do right by yourself.”

6. You Suddenly Find Everyone Very Annoying

While everyone is annoying from time to time, we’ve all had those days when the entire planet seems downright awful — even thought nobody’s doing anything wrong. “A roommate, boyfriend/girlfriend, or parent may walk around the house and their very gait makes you cringe,” says gestalt life coach Nina Rubin, MA, in an email. Or maybe you despise how they pour their cereal, or hate what they’re watching on TV. When this level of sensitivity occurs, it’s most definitely time to retreat.

7. You Aren’t Enjoying Anyone’s Company

It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, even if that good thing is the company of others. So take note if you suddenly feel bored in the presence of your otherwise amazing friends. “When we do not have that equal balance of alone time and time where there is connectedness, we actually enjoy the time with others less,” Martinez says. “Striking that balance is what allows us to fully enjoy both.”

8. You Get Sick At The Worst Times

If you’ve been extra busy as of late, don’t be surprised if your body sabotages your schedule. “When we are not getting the time we need, sometimes our body forces us to take it,” says life coach and psychic Laura Powers. This might show up in the form of a cold that keeps your from going to work, or a flu that requires you to cancel that last-minute trip. It may feel like horrible timing, but take it as a hint that you need to relax.

9. Your Emotions Are Out Of Whack

It’s totally OK to cry, and you should do so whenever you want. But don’t ignore your mood if you’ve been feeling extra teary as of late, as it may be a sign that you’re over doing it. “When we do not get the time alone to ourselves … our emotions get off kilter … for what seems like no particular reason,” Martinez says. An evening or weekend spent doing exactly what you want to do truly can help.

10. Your Anxiety Seems To Be Worse

If you’ve been burning the candle at both ends, your old pal Anxiety can and will come strollin’ on in. You might feel a sense of overwhelm, Powers tells me, or like your anxiety has turned up a few notches. Taking some time to yourself can help the stress — and your anxiety — dial back down.

11. You Feel Tired Even Though You’ve Slept

If you’re getting a full eight hours, but still feel tired, it may be a sign you need some time to yourself. “Just as with getting sick, our body will react when we are not getting what we need,” Powers says. “Sleep is truly alone time, so getting sleepy or tired can force us to get more alone time in the simplest way.” Is this your life? Then go ahead and give into that nap — and any additional alone time you may require.

After all, spending time alone is not only perfectly OK, but totally essential for good health.

Images: Pexels (12)

mindbodygreen

  1. Be sensitive when approaching this conversation. A request for more alone time can leave a partner feeling rejected, fearful, or worried about the health of the relationship. It’s important to be aware of this issue—and to honor that these areas may be unconsciously triggered—as you prepare to talk with your partner.
  2. Avoid blaming or shaming your partner. Orient the discussion toward what you want to create in the relationship moving forward; avoid a blame-oriented focus on any negative habits you or they or both of you might have formed in the past.
  3. Come to the table knowing what you want. Before having a discussion with your partner, take some time to reflect on your wants and needs with respect to more alone time. The greater clarity you have, the more likely your partner will understand and appreciate your desires. Be as specific with yourself as possible so that you know what would make you feel good. For example, you may want a few hours alone each week to exercise, read, or pursue a new creative outlet. Whatever it is you want and need, be prepared to discuss it openly with your partner.
  4. Pay attention to your feelings. Once you’ve evaluated your wants and needs, focus on your inner feelings. Does not having enough alone time leave you feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or irritable? If you know how you feel, you’ll be able to express to your partner more fully how more alone time will alleviate negative feelings such as anxiety or stress.
  5. Emphasize how much you love your partner. Expressing your truth simply and honestly will help your partner feel loved while you’re asking for what you need. For example, you might say, “I love you and our relationship so much. I wanted to talk with you about a personal need I have.”
  6. Use “I” statements. As you move more deeply into the topic, be sure to use “I” messages and include your feelings. This strategy will help your partner feel safe and secure during the conversation. For example, you might say, “I’ve realized that I’ve gotten into a bit of funk by not doing some of the things I love to do. I’ve started feeling anxious and depressed—as if I’m not talking good care of myself in a few key areas.”
  7. Get specific. At this point, you can now move into discussing your specific wants and needs. For example, you might say, “It would make me feel so good to take guitar lessons. I’ve found a class that I’d like to attend for two hours Saturday morning. I also feel a solo run at the end of each work day—about 45 minutes—would do me a world of good. Having a bit of solitary time to de-stress each day would feel great.”
  8. Make it about helping them get more alone time too. Your partner may also enjoy knowing that you’ve considered their needs. For example, you might say, “I know you’ve been wanting more time to connect with your friends and do some online gaming, so perhaps we can free up some space for you to get your needs met, too.”

The Psychological Reason Why You Need To Spend Time Alone

1. Set the stage

Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

The first thing you need to do is pick where you’re going to be alone. Are you going to be at your desk? On a walk? Swimming? Just sitting at your table with a cup of tea?

Choose your setting wisely as it will affect the outcome of your alone time. For myself, I prefer to do something physical during my solitude. I find that as my body is kept busy, my mind is free to roam and relax.

For example, when I swim on my own, the exercise is hard. I come out of it panting from the strenuous workout. But I feel refreshed, content, and peaceful after having spent an hour or so letting my mind drift, thinking about nothing in particular.

2. Ditch the phone

Photo by Benjaminrobyn Jespersen on Unsplash

One of the most important steps to using alone time effectively is to let go of the tether that keeps you connected to other people.

If you want to truly use alone time to its greatest benefit, you have to actually be alone. And in this day and age, that means no phone.

A phone is a constant source of distraction. Social media has been developed around the idea that our attention is currency that we’re paying it without even realizing.

If you’re worried about keeping time, bring a watch. If you want to jot down any interesting ideas, bring a notebook. There are lots of ways to get a lot out of your alone time by relying on analog alternatives to our phone.

3. Set some limits

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Being alone is best when it’s 100% voluntary and there are boundaries around it. Determine how long you’re going to spend alone, what you want to achieve, and the purpose of your solitude.

Decide beforehand what you’re doing this for. Do you want to just relax? Do you prefer to generate some ideas? Are you getting some peace after a busy day?

Use that to help you draw some limits on your time. For example, if I’m wanting to truly disconnect and recharge, I’ll go on a 90 minute walk. If I just want to spark my creativity and think of some great article ideas, I’ll sit down for half an hour.

4. Choose your distractions wisely

Photo by Jacob Ufkes on Unsplash

One of the primary benefits of being alone is that when we disconnect, we’re most receptive to new ideas. But in order for that to happen, we can’t be distracted.

So if your motivation for alone time is to come up with a new story idea, to work on your songs, or eve just be open to fresh thoughts and ideas, you have to actively choose not to be distracted.

That means no podcasts, no book, no music, no phone calls. Just spend the time thinking without distraction.

You might worry you’ll get bored — but you’ll find that as you consciously spend more time alone, you become better at keeping yourself entertained.

Every time you’re alone and you have an impulse to check your email, update your social media, look at the news, read your book, redirect it to internal reflection instead.

It’s like meditation. You might not be good to start out, but with conscious practice, this is a skill you can improve. And there’s a whole world of benefit for you if you do.

Need some time alone

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *