11 Ways Couples Can Benefit From Time Apart
Even in loving, stable couples, partners’ interests and goals sometimes diverge. My sister once went to India for a week alone, leaving her husband and children at home. When you want to do an activity and your partner doesn’t, you might think that the only approach is to get your partner on board with what you want to do.
However, there are some benefits to pursuing your interests and goals independently, even when that means time apart. These same benefits also apply when you spend time apart due to necessity, such as when one partner needs to travel for work or school or to care for a sick family member.
When couples are temporarily apart, both the person who is away and the one left at home can experience growth.
These are specific mechanisms through which absence can make the heart grow fonder:
1. When you’re happier, you’ll have more energy to invest in the relationship.
Resentment will build up if you think your partner is holding you back from your goals and dreams. If pursuing your goals and dreams makes you feel happier, you’ll have more energy, enthusiasm, vigor, and zest to invest in the relationship.
2. You’ll better appreciate tasks your partner usually does.
We tend to underestimate the work done by others. If you need to temporarily take over tasks your partner usually does, you’ll gain appreciation for the effort and skill this takes.
3. You’ll gain new skills.
If you gain skills from spending time alone, that can benefit the relationship in various ways. This can occur directly, or indirectly by making you happier and more confident as a person.
If you always leave particular tasks to your partner because you feel unconfident with them, it can help you to realize you can do them after all. (You may notice that this is the opposite of point #2.)
4. Changing your routines is good for you.
A paradox in psychology is that habits help self-regulation, but changing your routines, even slightly, helps creativity. I’ve written a lot more about this in Stress-Free Productivity.
Your partner not being there will result in at least subtle changes in your routines. This can lead to discoveries—for example, if the person who stays home finds new options for feeding or entertaining your kids that work well.
5. Kids benefit, too (and this can have flow-on benefits for the whole family).
If one parent is away, this can mean children need to be more independent, which can benefit them. They may also gain closeness with both the parent at home (due to doing different activities together) and the parent who has gone away (due to talking to them one-on-one over Facetime, etc). When kids grow, the whole family grows.
6. You’ll learn how your partner’s presence affects you.
We sometimes blame partners unfairly for our own poor self-regulation. For example, we blame them for why we don’t eat better. However, sometimes our partner’s presence does adversely affect us in intriguing ways.
Curiously, I often find I’m more productive when my spouse isn’t home, even though I’m looking after our kids alone. Figuring out why this is the case can be helpful. For example, I need to be better organized when my spouse is away, and this tends to benefit my productivity.
7. You’ll discover new ways to get things done.
I’ve alluded to this theme elsewhere but it’s so important I wanted to make it its own distinct point. When you change your routines or need to take over work your partner usually does, you’ll discover new enjoyment and efficiencies. For example, you do meal prep. Some of these new routines you’ll continue when your partner returns or the next time they’re away.
8. The person at home can pursue more of their independent interests.
If one person is away pursuing their interests or goals, the person left at home can do this more, too. This can involve interests pursued while looking after children, like activities you do with your children.
9. You can experiment without fear of criticism.
Part of how people develop new skills is through making mistakes. When your partner isn’t at home, it can be easier to try new routines or ways of doing things, without fear of critical comments or interference. You can get some breathing space to iterate—to try new ways of getting things done and tweak them until those routines work well.
10. Spending time with different people can be enriching.
If you’re lonely without your partner home (or bored looking after kids), you may make more effort to see other friends, which can be enriching.
11. Changing your modes of communication can improve your conversations.
One routine that changes when you’re apart is how you communicate. For example, you may not usually Facetime or email each other. This change in routine can have positive effects, like if Facetiming results in paying attention more while talking or if it’s easier to discuss contentious topics or make requests of the other person over email than in person.
Whether you want time apart or it’s forced on you, it can have a wide variety of psychological benefits both to the individuals and the relationship.