There’s a problem that often crops up in even the most successful long-term relationships: though you’re grateful the relationship is healthy and stable, you’re also a little… bored. Maybe things just feel a little dull; maybe you’re having sex less, or starting to feel like you’re just roommates. A common reaction to this feeling is to try to invest further in the relationship: planning date nights, taking trips, or spending more intentional time together and communicating. These things are almost always good ideas, but there’s another helpful approach you might not have considered: spending less time together. Let me explain:
Separate activities keep novelty and mystery alive
Novelty and mystery, in their own way, are the driving force behind the early stages of a relationship. You want to know everything about this new person you’re infatuated with — what was their childhood like? How do they take their coffee? What do they think of all your favorite movies? Everything they do is fresh and charming; you’re delighted by each new personality trait or piece of personal history you discover.
Over time, as your connection becomes a long-term relationship, novelty and mystery are slowly replaced by security and stability. You already know all your partner’s go-to funny anecdotes at parties; you know their Chipotle order by heart. This has its own value, and the intimacy of knowing someone deeply is special. But when people talk about feeling “stuck,” or like the “romance is gone,” they’re usually talking about missing the sense of novelty and mystery that once excited them about their partner.
Intentionally doing some parts of your life apart is one way to keep some of this alive in your relationship. Imagine your partner taking a poetry class on their own — you get to learn about their fellow students and what they’re learning over dinner each week, and get invested in gossip about the classroom dynamics. At the end of the course, you get to attend their final class reading, and see your partner in a new light as they take the stage to read work you haven’t heard before. People are always growing and changing; letting you and your partner both pursue your own interests separately lets you witness the ways you each grow and become new people bit by bit over time.
Maintaining your own social relationships keeps your life balanced
We’ve all had friends or loved ones who seem to completely disappear from our lives when they enter a relationship — these people have made their partner their entire world, and usually their relationships are the worse for it. It’s not healthy for your romantic partner to be your everything — humans are highly social creatures, and we’re meant to have a variety of social relationships across multiple areas of our life.
We’re each slightly different people in each of our social relationships — maybe we’re goofy and carefree with our brother, gossipy and intellectual with our best friend, and focused and competitive with our recreational rugby team. Cultivating these relationships in different areas of our lives helps us stay in touch with those parts of ourselves; a full, vibrant set of relationships is correlated with a full, vibrant sense of self. This includes investing in those relationships as an individual — not bringing your partner to every single hangout, effectively showing up to the relationship as a unit. Limiting your social world to just your partner is also a way of limiting who you are — and being a more boring version of yourself means your relationship becomes more boring, too.
Independence prevents resentment of your partner
When someone’s only major social relationship is their partner, it doesn’t just make their world smaller — it can cause a lot of active problems in their relationship.
It puts an enormous amount of pressure on a person to be their partner’s only form of social support. It may put them in a situation where they feel guilty taking time to themselves, or making plans with others; where they feel obligated to take on your interests and activities so that you don’t have to do them alone; where they feel personally responsible every time you feel lonely or bored. Many of us saw the impacts of this during quarantine, where we felt our social circles constrict to our live-in partners.
A surprising number of fights grow out of this — arguments about whether to go out or stay in on Friday night; about being “stuck in the house” and never going out and doing anything; about how you’ve always wanted to do X activity but your partner doesn’t, so you’ve never been. Being open to doing these things separately — either with other people or alone — instantly relieves the tension from all of these arguments.
At the end of the day, you are responsible for your baseline level of satisfaction in life, not your partner; and it’s each of our jobs to invest in building the kind of life we want to live. Doing so will only benefit your relationship in the long term — a couple who’s happy apart will be happier together.