When you’re in a relationship, how much togetherness is too much?
Of course there isn’t one right answer. Some people believe that being in a relationship means being together constantly, while others find spending the night together to be smothering.
So the issue is really how you negotiate with your partner around what might be an important difference of opinion.
If you frequently try to wheedle your significant other into spending more time with you than he or she would like, the outcome is unlikely to be happy.
And of course, if you are on the receiving end of “togetherness pressure” and say “no,” you’re going to have to deal with the fallout of letting your partner down.
What’s the solution?
Central to my work in couples therapy is to help each partner be generous and strong.
Generous means listening to your partner’s requests and being willing to meet them. The exception to this? You don’t say “yes” when it is important for you to say “no.” Not out of resentment, spite, or anger; but because it’s important to you to make a different choice than your partner requests.
Strong means keeping calm when you’re upset, and being able to tolerate disappointment without being retaliatory. And it means being able to hold your ground when it’s important to you to do so, despite pressure from your partner to do otherwise.
To illustrate, read the recent letter to my Washington Blade advice column, along with my reply (below).
And if you and your partner need assistance finding a way to resolve important differences, give me a call or email me. I’ll be glad to help you.
My girlfriend is driving me nuts with her insistence that we do practically everything together.
We met eight months ago and at first things were great. Kate is funny and sexy and seemed really independent, which I like. But after we agreed to be exclusive (mutual decision) a few months back, she started pushing me to join her for more and more things: dinner with her friends, brunches, movies she wants to see, trips out of town to visit old college classmates.
I’m not interested in everything she loves. I don’t like spending all of my free time with her and her friends. I don’t even like some of her friends!
Although I’m not a loner, sometimes I just want to be by myself. And more than anything, I don’t like feeling I’ve got a leash around my neck for Kate to pull me in whatever direction she wants. It’s choking me.
If I bring this up to her, she says we’re a couple and should be doing things together. If I push, she gets a hurt face like I’m rejecting her and then I give in. But then I’m not happy, to put it mildly.
Agh! Am I crazy to want my own space sometimes? Or does this mean I’m not relationship material?
You’re not crazy. Wearing a choke collar is a horrible way to be in a relationship. But you let Kate put it on and it’s your job to take it off.
Yes, you will disappoint her by saying “no,” but that’s life. None of us gets everything we want. Kate doesn’t get to have a partner who always says “yes.” You don’t get to have a partner who will make it easy for you to say “no.”
It’s understandable that Kate would have her expectations: our culture tells us that “two should become one.” While that might sound romantic, it’s impossible. Two people always have different likes, dislikes and viewpoints.
Here’s an important PSA for everyone reading this blog post: You’re going to have a much better shot at a happy relationship if you accept that your partner is a separate individual. Wallowing in disappointment isn’t going to make anything better. Guilting your partner into doing what you want is a bad move unless you’re seeking resentment and a sour relationship. Focus instead on enjoying what you actually do together.
Even if Kate keeps pressuring you to go along with her, you don’t have to cave to her sad looks. Why not view these situations as opportunities to develop into a strong person who can survive disappointing her girlfriend?
I’m not saying that you should always say “no” to Kate. I am saying that you should start to pay attention to how you react whenever you’re faced with the question of whether you would rather disappoint your girlfriend or be resentful and miserable.
Right now, you’re automatically choosing the latter. I propose you get off autopilot and start wrestling with yourself a bit more before answering. If you start honoring your own wishes when they are important to you, even if doing so is scary, I’m certain that you’ll enjoy yourself more when you do spend time with Kate. I also expect that you’ll get better at establishing boundaries. I even think it’s possible that Kate will get better at tolerating your independence.
My hunch is that you have a major people-pleasing groove in your brain. If so, learning to keep calm when Kate gets ticked off will bring the huge benefit of helping you stop twisting yourself into a pretzel to please everyone in your life.
It’s time to start figuring out why it is so important for you not to disappoint others. That will make it easier for you to start saying “no” when you really want to. Good luck and keep in mind that the more steady and resilient you are, the better a relationship you will have.