As the song says, even lovers need a holiday from each other, but considering we live in a world where many refer to their partners as their ‘other half’, it’s a common scenario for your social lives to merge, and for friendship groups to incorporate your partner and vice versa. Sometimes, however, this merging doesn’t occur; sometimes your partner wants to socialise without you on a regular basis and you eventually find that you don’t know their friends very well – if at all. It can be difficult to know whether or not this is a deal breaker, because working out how much time you can spend away from each other without growing apart can be confusing. How much of our social lives should be shared, and how much should be separate?
Jealousy – Justified or Something You Need to Get Over?
When your partner heads out and leaves you behind, do you feel an overwhelming sense of jealousy? If you’re feeling spurned, you need to work out why. Are you upset about the time you’re losing with your loved one? That’s easily fixed – organise a firm date night every week. Are you emotional about the separation because you haven’t met your partner’s friends? Again, this is easily fixed – ask to be included in a get together with the understanding that it might be a one off.
However, if your jealousy is not being provoked by any of these easily fixable things, are your worries reflecting your trust issues? If so, this can be a little harder to unpack. If these trust issues spring from previous relationships, it’s unfair and unproductive to allow them to impact your present partner. If you’re grappling with trust issues, discuss it with your partner so they understand your insecurity – but work on this yourself and don’t ask them to fix them for you. But if your trust issues are stemming from this relationship, then you need to deal with it head on.
Are you Being Locked Out?
It can be hard to work out if your partner is preserving a sanctuary where only their needs are considered (as opposed to tending to your social and emotional needs), or if they are judging you as not worthy of, or incompatible with, the company of their friends. Sometimes your partner will want to see a particular group of friends without you and this only reflects the nature of the friendship, rather than a problem in your relationship. But sometimes this is cause for concern; for example, does your partner leave you behind whenever they see work friends? Or have you been left out of all social functions with a group of their oldest friends?
Sometimes your problem with your partner socialising with people without you stems from a suspicion that they are purposefully keeping you away from a part of their lives. If you feel like this is occurring, it’s time for a frank discussion. There is a difference between maintaining space and being locked out of your partner’s space – this difference can be subtle but it’s important to work out which it is, because this can reflect whether or not they are really committed to you. You should talk through your feelings and ask why it your partner prefers not to bring you along to certain functions. They may have completely justifiable reasons – such as a desire to maintain time apart so that the relationship stays exciting. Occasionally a boys’ or girls’ night out will provide an easy, stress-free experience, and bringing a partner in would cramp the style. But if they can’t provide a good reason for locking you out, you need to seriously consider why not.
When you’re first together it’s hard to tear yourself away from each other. But it’s natural for people to eventually attend to the lives they led before you met, which will mean a little more time apart. When you feel your partner pull away, it’s simply a sign that it’s time for you to pick up your phone and organise the next meet up with your friends. Time apart can improve your relationship – but does this thought terrify you? Maybe past relationships have made you scared not to hold on tightly or you don’t feel secure in your partner’s affections – for whatever reason, if at this point you feel a sense of abandonment that possibly means that you’ve lost yourself in the relationship.
It can be tempting in a relationship to stop working on yourself as an autonomous person, but that can lead to a feeling that you don’t know who you are anymore. Psychologist Dr Mark D. White argues that “the only way it can happen is if you let your partner control you or try to change who you are. It takes strength of character to resist this, to remember that only you can determine you are, and only you can “lose yourself” to somebody else.” Remember that you should have somewhat separate lives, friends and hobbies and that maintaining the separateness while sharing your lives is a sign of a successful relationship, not a lack of love.
The things that matter
Relationship success is not marked by hours logged or how much control you have over each other’s daily life. Those are not the things that reflect love. Sharing each other’s lives also means giving each other time alone to revisit old and new versions of yourself – and to return to togetherness after experiencing that time alone. It is really important to share time and social space without crowding each other. Working out just the right amount of personal space to maintain in a relationship is tough, but having a relationship where you can be free to be yourself is worth fighting for.