Reminder, Chicago people, Story Club South Side is tonight at 7:30 pm. It will be awkward in the best possible ways.
Hi Captain and Crew,
My partner and I have been together about eight years, and living together for most of that time. I think we’ve learnt a lot about working with each other’s boundaries and habits, and it’s generally going well.
I’m easily socially stressed and like a lot of space away from everyone. Currently Partner is working full time and I’m studying part time with a lot of working from home, so I get a lot of time to myself through the day and that works out really well.
Recently Partner has needed to take some time off so he’s been at home more than usual. It’s a temporary situation and it’s basically okay, but does leave me more drained than usual. He’s aware of the issue and makes an effort to leave me in peace, but just having another person in the house has an impact on me. I’m a lot more comfortable than I would have been even a year or two ago but it’s an ongoing process.
The real issue comes when I try to express how I’m doing, intended as something like “Heads up I’m starting to feel a bit stressed out and flakey”. I know they aren’t really feelings he can do anything about and I don’t expect him to. I just think check-ins are important and not doing them causes other problems. But I can’t seem to say something like that without triggering a large guilt response for all the trouble he’s causing me, and that’s even more draining.
It’s difficult to talk about what’s going on with me if it’s always going to result in an emotional outpouring about what it brings up for him. His stuff is important too but I can’t always be dealing with that on top of (instead of?) my own feelings.
I’ve tried to express this to him before — including bringing it up at calmer moments — but so far it hasn’t gone anywhere constructive. I suppose it’s difficult to work through being both a source of stress and a source of comfort, and that the stress part isn’t really his fault. Any scripts or advice for finding better ways to check in and support each other in ways we can both work with?
When you say the thing to your partner about how you are “starting to feel stressed out,” what is it that you want to happen right then?
You don’t like what is happening, which is that he apologizes to you and you have to have some FEELINGSCHAT. This sounds remarkably to me like you want to check in about your feelings, but are annoyed if he shares his in return. So “a mutual feelings check-in” seems to NOT be actually on the list of what you want to happen.
I get working from home, I get being introverted, I get liking a lot of alone times in the house, I even get having lived with a partner who was always home and who was very desiring of my attention during those times. It seems to me that when you say that you are feeling stressed out during these check-ins, what you want is for your partner to say “yah I hear you” and then go in another room or better yet, to offer to go fuck off somewhere to the movies or a cafe or to run errands, but you don’t want to be the bad guy and actually ask for that thing. It’s good that you don’t want to trigger a big guilt response in him – “being at home, where he lives” is not actually things he should feel guilty about. Yes, of course it’s disruptive to your routine, so you both need to work out a new one that works for you for as long as this is the new normal. After eight years together it’s tempting to think you’ve got everything down, communication-wise, and that the other person should just understand already, but your question is actually a great example for how that’s not really true and we’re always re-negotiating things.
I think that if you want to avoid the FEELINGSCHAT you should add a specific request or action onto your check-in when you are stressed out.
Half the time, the request could be “Do you mind heading to a movie or taking a walk for a little while while I focus? I am on a deadline/need to get through the end of this chapter and I’ll concentrate better if I can have 2 hours of alone time.”
The other half, the action could be “Partner, I’m going to head out for a walk for a little while/to go to the library/to hit the cafe while I study” so that he can be in the house by himself for a spell. There are lots of ways to get some breathing room here.
You could also work this out ahead of time for the week, as in X and Y days you need to study and want the house to yourself. P and Q days you will be at the library for part of the day. Z day you will spend together doing something fun while has this time off. More structure will help everyone know where the boundaries are, which will actually make the times you are both in the house together more relaxed. Script: “I don’t want to feel stressed, and I don’t want you to feel like you’re impinging on me, so could we work out a schedule for study time/together time/alone time while you’re between assignments?”
I know I’ve said that when in a high-conflict situation it’s sometimes enough to put the feeling out there and make the other person do the work of figuring out what to do about it, but this is not a high-conflict situation with an adversary, this is a negotiation with a housemate and a romantic partner where you want everyone to win and feel good and you actually know what you want to happen. Try adding a specific request or action to your check-ins. If it leads to some kind of longer discussion it can be because you’re working out logistics. You have a lot of power, dear Letter Writer, to improve this dynamic, like, instantly. Less feelings, more action!
116 thoughts on “#590: I want my partner and I to be able to check in with each other about our feelings (mostly my feelings).”
So true for many inter-relational feels. Personally, I’ve definitely improved communication and avoided the hurt feelings spiral just by getting all kinds of things out there e.g.: “I know you’re trying to make me happy by letting me choose what we eat/watch on TV/do tonight, but it feels like too much pressure and I don’t actually want to make the decision every time. It would be a treat for me if YOU would pick.” or “I don’t want you to try to fix this problem, I just need to vent” etc etc.
I definitely think we all fall into the “he/she should just get it slash know me by now to know what I want/what I’m saying” the longer we’re with a person. I know in the 10ish years I was with my ex that was DEFINITELY my mode of thinking, and unfortunately, although our partners do know and love us, they (as well as we) are not mind readers. Sometimes we’re good at inferring, and sometimes we all just hear words at face value.
I think the Captain’s ideas here for specific requests will help. You mentioned that it was a “temporary situation.” How much longer is “temporary”? Temporary indefinitely, or temporary ending next week, month, year? I think the timing also plays into how best to navigate this and get your home life to where you’re both not all itchy around the other. Good luck!
This comment rings so true for me that I had to save in in my email. Everything about it, especially the “I know you’re trying to make me happy by letting me choose, but it’s too much pressure” is what I need to be saying in my 7 year relationship.
I definitely get the “too many choices all the time” thing. I always feel weirdly guilty for not liking that, because I’m a feminist, yeah? So I have this idea in my head that I should like having all the decision-making power. And yeah, I would hate it if someone steamrolled over me constantly. But it’s also annoying when I’ve dated people who expect me to make EVERY decision. Especially if they then reject some of my suggestions: obviously if you’re doing that you have SOME ideas, please tell me! My current partner sometimes falls into this, but generally works with me: I’ll plan a week’s worth of meals, he’ll give his opinion as to what we should eat each night. He’ll tell me he wants Indian food for his birthday dinner, and I’ll choose the Indian restaurant around the corner (there are so many in our city) because I LOVE one of their appetizers. (It helps that our tastes are very similar.) Much better than the weird passive-aggressive guessing game.
Nah, don’t feel guilty. “I’m sure whatever you pick will be fine” is a pretty common thing men do in het relationships as a way to bow out of whatever emotional or social labor needs to be done. Every time you eat as a couple, someone has to make a series of decisions–in or out, what to have, how to cook it, etc, based on knowledge of what’s in your budget and what’s in your kitchen. Every time you go on a date or outing, someone has to decide what to go, and it’s no surprise you might want your partner’s input once in a while. And then there are the bigger decisions–planning a wedding, shopping for housing, getting ready for a baby, and so on. If he leaves the bulk of all of THOSE decisions to you, is he respecting how empowered you are as a modern woman? Or is he letting you take a whole pile of stress on yourself without helping?
Decision fatigue is a real thing. So is planning fatigue & scheduling fatigue. Resolving conflicts, even minor conflicts, relating to decisions, planning & scheduling can also become a kind of fatigue. In my experience taking responsibility for these things doesn’t have to be a perfect 50/50 split [which may be impossible] but if either I or a partner end up doing more than feels fair, especially in relation to resolving conflicts, it means something isn’t right.
Or even worse, what my brother does to his wife… expects her to make the decisions and plan things, but complains when she doesn’t make the exact decisions he would have made.
Deliberate needs-signalling is difficult but awesome. I find myself sometimes saying, “I need not to be the one who chooses.”
I say “I am happy to thumbs-up or -down things, but I can’t brain the possible options right now, can you?” My best friend from the last place I lived and I had a deal–whoever planned/chose didn’t have to drive, whoever drove didn’t have to plan/choose. It worked really well (in a large metroplex with no transit) to make the planning of activities equitable.
At our place, I’m the one who needs lots of alone/quiet time. Mr. OtherBecky and I have worked out a system (which, admittedly, is made possible because of the size & layout of our space). We have a small den/spare bedroom that is kind of off by itself, and if I tell him I’m going back there for some “cave time,” the deal is that we both pretend the other one isn’t there. I might listen to some music so I can’t hear stuff like him walking around or fixing a sandwich, and he doesn’t come talk to me unless it’s an emergency.
This works really well for us because I came to the realization that the reason that his good-faith efforts to give me my space & quiet weren’t working was that a small part of me was always waiting for, and on edge about, the next interruption. So when the deal is that I know, absolutely KNOW, that there won’t be a “next interruption” until I leave the den, I can relax and soak up the solitude. If your space is really small, or has a very open floor plan, this might be trickier to pull off, but there could still be some creative solutions. I have a colleague who made herself a nice folding screen for their home by getting 3 old storm doors with busted screens from a “materials re-use” discount place, some zip ties, and some fabric remainders. They use it to hide their clothing storage solutions since they live in an old bungalow with no closets, but something similar could just as well be a privacy screen.
My partner and I run into this sometimes, too; he’s an introvert, we both work at home, and we each do work sometimes that requires concentration yet at the same time we want to share the Neat Thing I Found On the Internet. So I’m looking forward to seeing the various solutions people have found for this.
My partner and I solve this by emailing the links to each other! It’s a little bit goofy, especially when we’re both in the same room, but it’s by far the least intrusive, yet quick, method we’ve found of sharing things. Texting or IMing both have notification urgency attached to them, but we have an agreement that there is zero obligation to respond to those emails until or unless the stress lets up, or we have a moment where we want to take a break, or whatever. This also has the advantage that we can carry on conversations about multiple Neat Things On The Internet at once without losing track of what we’re talking about, and that anytime I want to take a socialization break, there’s usually a message or two in my inbox that I can read and respond to.
Depending on stress levels and importance of concentration for the things we’re doing, we pretty organically vary the level of expectation that we have that the messages will be responded to, and in times of extreme stress, we’ll explicitly acknowledge that we’re not going to be able to respond to messages for a couple days. When the stress is lighter, even sometimes chatting aloud is okay, as long as we’re both clear that it’s alright.
Passive methods of communication and clear consent! The Olives Method of Hardworking Introvert Partnership Success?
Same here! Partner knows that when I’m lying in bed on my phone, it’s generally Do Not Disturb JDrives time. But we love sharing funny memes and interesting Game of Thrones-related articles with each other, so it’s delightful when I’m having Me Time and I see a little email notification from him. I appreciate that he respects my space but still wants to share with me a Thing That Probably Makes Me Happy.
Sorry, should have been more clear. We have Skype up all the time and Skype to each other from the same room. Perhaps the thing is that I need to be better about not checking Skype when I’m working, but then I see the little blinky blinky thing and I feel the need to check it, especially if it might be something more urgent than “Here’s this link I thought you’d like.”
My partner has been home a lot recently. We just tell each other when we’re doing the kind of work that needs concentration.
I love white noise generators. I have one in my bedroom, under the bed, and use coffitivity on my computer in my downstairs office/craft room, which functions as my cave. The coffee shop sounds mask sounds coming from other parts of the house, so I can feel alone. It is also great if you suffer from tinnitus.
My partner of 36 years is not nearly as introverted as I am, but needs a lot of time to himself, so we are pretty well matched. I interrupt him a lot more than he does me, but he is pretty comfortable with it.
Small plug for my friends (who also created Calming Manatee): Rainy Cafe is a nice, free web-based white noise generator.
OT, but did you see that someone remixed Calming Manatee and Courage Wolf into Calmage Wolfatee? Calmage Wolfatee is my favorite: http://kickingshoes.tumblr.com/post/78448864965/therareandferociousswamprabbit-daveyoufool
For other folks trying out this solution… just be aware that some people are driven batty by white noise/extra sounds. For example, my partner likes to fall asleep listening to very soft talk radio (CBC) – and I can’t stand it. Can’t sleep a wink. So – if someone else can hear it, maybe try to find something you both like (or at least tolerate without gritting your teeth).
I’m okay with rain noises, but my partner likes the woosh of a fan and I can’t stand that. It sounds like people talking just under my threshold of comprehension and my brain struggles to parse it. It might take a few tries to find something both people like.
I’m like your partner and I use sleepphones (http://www.sleepphones.com) with my iPod. You can sleep in them easily and noise doesn’t leak out to bug the other person. Literally cured my insomnia, even if they do look a bit silly…
We solved it – and the snoring problems and the “not-the-same-schedule” problems – by having our own bedrooms. It works really well for us, but obviously not an option for many others.
another separate bedroom person here..my BF and I see one another at weekends, he comes to visit, he would prefer if I slept with him all night, but he has sleep apnea and startles me every time with a loud snort..and he snores…and I prefer to sleep alone. It was a bit rocky getting him to understand, but he now accepts (and probably doesn’t much like) that I will cuddle with him in bed at the start of the night and in the morning, but in the middle I am going to my own bed..alone..to sleep… it can be a tough thing to negotiate, but without my sleep I am a cranky arsed zombie, so he understands that for the sake of the relationship it is a better thing.
I can’t even begin to express how much I need these.
OH MY GOODNESS I NEED THESE. i can’t fall asleep unless i have something to listen to. have been using normal headphones for years. not comfy. thank you so much for sharing this!
My boyfriend lived in the city; I was used to the woods and the window open. solved by what he called my “portable isolation chamber”: a soft bandana folded into a two inch strip wrapped around my head and eyes, and tied on the side, and a pair of foam ear plugs. worked like a champ. when we moved far away from the rail yard, I weaned myself off them…
I would like to respectfully disagree with the suggestion that you can ask the person you live with (who presumably pays some share of expenses of living) to just…leave their own house for your convenience. While I think this might be a good suggestion to keep in your back pocket, I think I would consider it an “in emergencies only/ABORT/EJECT” sort of request, and one to be very gently made, ie: “Hey, I’m really struggling today and need some serious alone time to finish [project], can I buy you a movie ticket so I can buckle down and get my stuff done? Then we can make dinner/do some fun thing together when you get home.”
I am deeply introverted and work long hours, and require lots of alone/quiet time to recover. For me, this means “sending myself to my room” and closing the door, or taking a long walk/bike ride/sitting at the pool with a book. I feel like it is my responsibility to take care of my own needs, and clearly express how I am going to do that. My roommate (who is also a close friend and fellow introvert) and I have an unspoken but standing house rule that a closed door is a large DO NOT DISTURB (unless of course there is an emergency or a pizza has been ordered.)
Can you declare a room in your living space a work/study/closed door do-not-disturb area? Or maybe come up with some sort of shorthand code phrase for “out of social hit points right now, need alone time, nothing personal at all about this?” (My roommate’s code phrase happens to be: “I just need to play video games for a few hours” [unspoken: please go and be somewhere else so I don’t have to interact with a person for a few hours while I kill some virtual dragons].) One thing that works well for me is just saying “hey, I need alone time, see you in a few hours [goes to room, closes door, insert joke about reading porny fanfiction].” This is pretty much a polite way of saying “I am going to fuck off now because I can’t stand one more human interaction today, even if it is with my super-cool best friend.” Doing this might help alleviate your partner’s guilt about something they can’t really change (your need for quiet time alone) without turning the conversation into a drawn out discussion.
It really depends – I don’t think LW has the right to request it if it would inconvenience her partner, but it might equally be something that’s actively good for her partner, and all she’s doing is saying, “Hey, if you were going to go for a walk today, some time in the next hour would be really good for me.”
Me and my partner have a joke that she’s a puppy who needs walking every day, or she starts to go a bit crazy. It’s not her job to vacate the house so I can be there alone, and it’s not my job to remind her that she’ll be happier if she went for a walk, but it works super well for both of us if she tells me that she’s thinking of finishing off this article and then going for a walk about three (and I know I’ve got an hour of alone-in-house time to look forward to then) or I tell her that I’ll finish work about four today and I’d really appreciate some sitting-on-the-sofa-in-an-empty-house time around then. But this is a discussion that LW and her partner need to have – what’s reasonable for him?
I don’t think LW has the right to request it if it would inconvenience her partner
I take this back! I like emdashing’s framing below – it’s OK to request, as long as it’s OK for the partner to say, “Actually, that wouldn’t work for me.” Demanding not OK, requesting or saying, “this is my idea, what do you think?” totally OK.
This sounds like a really awesome way of handling both of your needs without making one person feel pressure to leave their living space.
It is now – it took us a while to get here!
My partner and I have a similar arrangement, where we’re both very willing to vacate for a couple hours to give the other person space. Part of the reason it works so well is that we both need a fair amount of alone time, so we really understand where the other person is coming from and don’t feel hurt. We’re also both very capable of enjoying movies, or walks, or gym time alone.
One thing that helps a lot is that we talked about this at a time when no immediate alone time was needed, which made boundary discussions easy and not very emotional. We also accommodate each other’s schedules – I might really want my alone time at 4pm, but he’s going out for drinks with friends at 7, so I can just deal with the three hour gap before getting some sweet sweet solitude for the rest of the evening.
Though our schedules are so crazy these days we actually tend to have the opposite problem more often…
My partner needs more alone time than I, so I go out a couple of times a week without him, and when I might feel guilty about it, remind myself that he likes alone time. He’s good about coming with me to social events if it’s important to me, so I’m careful not to overwhelm him with that. So I might go shopping or garage saling or something for a few hours, as well as to social events or meetings he’s not interested in. Sometimes I go to the movies with my daughter so we get mother/daughter time as well.
I think your advice isn’t really that far off from the Captain’s. She’s just advocating that the LW use words instead of “code words.” It sounds like your system works really well for you and your housemate, but the situation for the LW is NOT working, so I agree with the Captain that directness is in order.
As an introvert who really enjoys alone time and considers a day that doesn’t require clothing besides pajamas to be a successful one, I totally get what you’re saying about how you need to be careful asking someone to leave his or her own living space. But the key word is ASK. What a relationship needs and what is “fair” don’t always align. LW has to have room to ask for what she needs. If her partner finds the request untenable, that’s a whole other conversation, but given the LW’s stated desire for alone-time, it’s a conversation that would likely need to be had.
To use some Savage* parlance, part of being GGG in a relationship in both sexual and non-sexual circumstances is not stigmatizing requests your partner makes. You always always always have the right to say no and set your own boundaries. But good faith requests based on emotional needs are not unreasonable to at least ask for. I think part of the LW’s inability to articulate hirself is the worry that the request IS unreasonable, and that can be silencing. You CAN ask the person you live with to absence themselves. You CAN’T demand they do so, or insist they respond to the request with happy sunshine feelings. But it’s usually not good for a relationship where parties want open and honest communication if there are actually secret rules about what can and cannot be communicated.
*Insert required caveat that Savage sucks sometimes, but I find GGG a really useful concept.
what is GGG?
Hmm! According to Wikipedia, “it stands for Good, Giving, and Game, and it means one should strive to be Good in bed, Giving ‘equal time and equal pleasure’ to one’s partner, and Game ‘for anything—within reason.'” Seems legit! Though I wouldn’t know, being deeply introverted, asexual and aromantic (also why I avoid/don’t know much about Dan Savage.)
It stands for “good, giving and game”, and Savage uses it as shorthand for “be open to new suggestions and make a good-faith effort to honour reasonable requests from your partner, particularly in a long-term relationship where partners can be expected to make reciprocal compromises”. He makes a point of saying that “reasonable requests” do not violate a person’s boundaries and that this notion only works in a relationship where there is honest communication, mutual respect and reciprocity.
Unfortunately, because we can’t have nice things, there are people running around saying that this means Dan Savage thinks people owe it to their partners to do whatever the partners want them to, however casual the relationship and however out-there the request.
Thank you Z & Laughing Giraffe. I should have included a definition!
Except… doesn’t Dan Savage also say that if you don’t fulfill your partner’s kinks, it’s morally OK for them to cheat on you?
Dan Savage says a lot of stuff. Some of it is interesting and applicable. Some of it is not. Let’s not go down the “Things Dan Savage Says” trail in this thread, please.
What you’re describing sounds exactly like the relationship my apartment mates and I had–everyone’s room is their island unless food or cute animals are present 🙂
I think though the difference for the LW is that if I told one of my apartment mates “I’ve had too much human contact, sorry if I’m being irritable,” they would maybe warn the others to give me space, or ask if I wanted them to turn the music down, but overall they’d expect me to deal with my own emotions, and definitely wouldn’t have FEELINGSGUILT without compounding factors.
I’d say since the LW’s partner is worried about LW’s feelings to the point of feeling guilty about them, they probably wouldn’t mind taking a trip to the movies/a long bike ride/grocery shopping a couple of times a week without LW if that would help. The balance of LW and LW’s partner each leaving half the time also helps my sense of fairness. Maybe LW’s partner could schedule a set amount of time a couple of times a week when they’re going to be gone when they otherwise would be home (knowing the length of alone time definitely helps me) and then if the LW feels particularly stressed at other times the LW could take it upon themself to leave?
If this wasn’t a temporary situation, I think the fairness aspect would matter more, but if the LW wants to request their partner schedule some out of house time, then they can ask and see how their partner would feel about it.
I would react fine to this request from partners or housemates — as long as they allowed me to choose my own time and gave me some warning.
“Can I have the house to myself sometime tomorrow for a couple of hours?” = 100% fine. I think I would have been 100% fine with this even when my kid was small and it would have entailed hauling a toddler someplace.
“Can I have the house to myself every Wednesday for a couple of hours?” = “Sure; what day of the week are you going to let me have the house to myself? Because Monday nights would be fantastic.”
“Can I have the house to myself for a couple of hours right now?” = annoyance: But I was just getting ready to take a nap/bake bread/do laundry/go online/call my mom!
“I would like to respectfully disagree with the suggestion that you can ask the person you live with (who presumably pays some share of expenses of living) to just…leave their own house for your convenience.”
I get that, but I think this is one of those things that is relationship-specific. There have been times when I have used that with my spouse and have had it work well. His attachment style is different than mine. If he had his way, we would never be parted. The thing about getting alone time by going out myself is that often the reason I wanted in the first place was because I was physically tired. I didn’t have the energy to walk somewhere and be in a noisy environment. In theory me going in a different room would have been fine. But in practice, if I napped, he would open the door periodically to check to see if I was awake yet. If I wanted to read in a different room, he would feel hurt and try to pressure me to read near him – even if he was watching TV and I had a hard time focusing through the noise. The thing about being alone is that it meant this tension was genuinely gone. I didn’t have to worry that he was outside my door counting the seconds. When you’ve lived with this sort of conflict long enough, you feel it in the air and you wait for the other shoe to drop even if the other person is actually not doing anything wrong. That’s why I valued alone time so much, not because somehow he was ruining my day by being in the other room.
OTOH it is tricky because you can’t just boot someone out of their own house…but I think it’s okay to ask. Asking is different than demanding. There’s a lot of room for working stuff out in a positive way.
It’s pretty impressive (and encouraging, as a more introvert-avoidant type myself) that two people with awfully different attachment styles have hashed out a workable compromise!
Mostly it has worked out okay. We went through a bad period when he was depressed, anxious, and thought that clinging to me extra-hard could fix it. At the time I didn’t want to admit the toll that took on me. Fortunately that period in our relationship was temporary. Among other things, he got therapy for the issue which had triggered the depression/anxiety. I am now really a convert RE the potential benefits of therapy. It really helped him.
Yeah, I was gonna say: if I started getting routine requests to leave the house to accommodate someone else, after a few times all I would hear is “hey, do you wanna just… move out?” And at that point, my answer would probably be “yes, I’m already looking for a new apartment.”
I think that she should discuss how to handle this with her partner BEFORE enacting a plan, to make sure what she is asking for is a) something he understands the meaning of and b) is something he is happy to do. It doesn’t have to be a feelingsdump, just a conversation about what each needs from the other person. Does he like his alone time/not having to go outside time, too? Is sitting in a separate room enough for them? I would NOT recommend starting to ask him to go for a walk every time you are feeling stressed–I would plan to make time when neither of you are stressed, to come up with some strategies together that you BOTH feel comfortable with.
I like your idea of a discussion first, rather than repeated requests that might seem to come out of nowhere, but it *is* really relationship-dependent.
I lived with a partner who was unemployed and really depressed about it. And he was always, always home. And me closing my room door to work or concentrate or just have a little time to myself made him feel sad and rejected. And like the LW, if I brought up feeling stressed or crowded by him always being around it resulted in a giant FEELINGSDUMP of all his issues. I left the house at least a few times a week for work and social stuff, and I would go to the library or the cafe to write frequently, so he got alone time in the house, but I almost never did. I talked about it with my therapist and was like, but I can’t ask him to leave, can I and my therapist was like “why not? Is ‘once a week, for an afternoon, please go for a walk or to the movies or make plans’ really that unreasonable?”
I don’t live there anymore, and I’m not with him anymore, and I still remember the Christmas where he HAD to go to his family but I did not have to go so I didn’t as one of the best Christmases ever. A whole day! Alone! In my house! The first in literally months and months! I cleaned, I made myself food, I watched what I wanted on the TV without consulting anyone, and I didn’t have to take care of anyone else’s preferences or feelings for a few glorious hours.
Right now I am the one who is home all the time, getting this letter made me also check in with my also-introverted, also a writer partner to make sure I’m not driving him batty. A request like, “could you fuck off for a while on Thursday so I could write and have a day to myself” would not hurt my feelings, at all. If it came all the time, every day, then yes. But you know what would make me more anxious and hurt? Having my partner say frequently “I’m getting stressed out by the fact that you are around so much” but not giving me any indication of what I could do about that.
Exactly! And with the LW, there is a radical change in the schedule dynamics. There is absolutely nothing wrong with saying, “I used to get X hours per day/week alone in the house naturally because of your former schedule. I am finding that I really do need some regular time alone in the house to stay on an even keel emotionally. I’m sure you are finding things you miss relating to your former schedule as well. Can we work on a plan that will meet both of our needs?”
I think this applies in both temporary situations and longer-term changes. This reminds me of the fairly common stories from het couples in my grandparents’ era. The husband retires, and is suddenly home all the time, and they both start driving each other nuts.
Oh yeah, it definitely does depend on the relationship dynamic as to how the conversation happens. And I don’t think that the LW should abandon the idea of asking him to leave the house sometimes, but I do think that if he is feeling guilty and shitty about it already, it might be better to sit down ahead of time and say “it isn’t your fault that I often feel this way, and you have nothing to feel guilty about. That said, I still need your help to not feel this way, so here are some ideas I had about things we can both do to make this situation work for both of us [closed door=Do Not Disturb/you go see a movie once a week/I go to the library once a week/we both Internet at WiFiCoffeeShop once a week]. Do you have any other ideas or concerns?”
If he doesn’t have the capacity to have that type of conversation/can’t bring himself to take a step in the right direction toward addressing the problem, and continues to hijack the topic each time she mentions her needs and just transforms it into a guilt trip, well… frankly, that would worry the absolute hell out of me. Temporary situation in an 8yr relationship or no, that would be a huge red flag in my book and worth putting some serious consideration into.
Regardless of anything else, it is always going to be worth asserting your needs and wants in your relationship, so she should absolutely do that in whatever way seems appropriate for her. But if I was in a relationship where there was no way for me to discuss my needs without it turning into a guiltfest, and I couldn’t assert them without hitting a wall of negativity, I would likely start making sure I had the resources at hand to change my living arrangement, just in case.
I would like to respectfully disagree with the suggestion that you can ask the person you live with (who presumably pays some share of expenses of living) to just…leave their own house for your convenience.
Why not? It’s not really “their own house,” it’s the house they share with another person: you. We all make concessions about exactly what we’d want to do for the sake of what our partners want. Maybe that’s paint color selection or sleeping with the windows open or eating straight out of the jar of peanut butter.
If this was something that really impeded one partner’s enjoyment of the home it would be one thing, but wanting to be alone in the house sometimes isn’t usually a bear of a request; usually each person has their own desire to get out of the house from time to time anyway. The issue is making the request in a reasonable way and not making the person feel junky about it.
I don’t know what prompted OP’s partner to “need to take some time off,” but if it’s a work reduction or illness then they may already be feeling kinda crud about the impetus. Making them feel bad about the result – when they didn’t really want this anyway – is poor form. But there’s nothing unfair about the underlying need.
Not to pile on, but I agree with those who are saying that this might be relationship-specific.
Because in normal roommate situations, which I’ve had, I’d generally agree with you – a roommate requesting a little quiet time or that I not have people over would be fine, but having them ask me to leave would piss me off in all but the most extreme of situations. If they want alone time, they can go to their rooms.
But living with a significant other is, IME, a bit different.
For one thing, when you’re living with a significant other, you generally share a bedroom, which means that just going to your room and closing the door – while a great strategy in general – isn’t going to work quite as well, because it’s their bedroom, too. They have many reasons for entering that room that are not “I want to talk to you,” which isn’t true for a roommate… so a closed door isn’t necessarily a deterrent.
There isn’t a clear “your space, my space” – it’s often just a mess of “our space.” That’s especially true when you share tight living quarters; I don’t know about the LW, but I’m currently sharing a two-room apartment with my boyfriend, and it’s not easy, particularly when you want alone time.
Roommates also can generally stop being roommates and remain friends – in fact, most roommates do not expect that they will continue to live together for many years. Romantic partners, on the other hand, often go in expecting that if things work out (and people would generally like them to, I think) they will live together for decades.
It’s definitely a bit of a different dynamic, at least IME.
When we moved in together, I was insistent that we each have an “office.” Yes, we have our own businesses and work from home, but neither of us works in our offices; we sit on the couch together. But it means we each have some space of our own, and it provides a place for all the crap we each have that we don’t want to have in the public space and so the other person isn’t stressing about the crap.
I think that that sounds awesome, and my parents have a similar situation. However, especially for people who are less well-off, there’s often just not enough space for this to be an option. I’m not sure if that’s true for the LW, but it’s not uncommon.
This kind of thing is why it’s a good idea to come up with some regular reason why you two are apart–like he goes out to take a class or go to the gym or something every Wednesday so you have guaranteed time off. Way back in the dark ages when I used to date, I somehow seemed to date busy guys or ones that didn’t live around here for that time off.
I also just come from spending over a week with my mother visiting and hoo boy, did she not ever want to have time alone. Like, “I’m going to an appointment, you have to come with me and sit in the lobby rather than stay home.” On the other hand, I got the time off while she was in the appointment…..
I agree with the Captain that scheduling stuff in advance is a great way to make everything easier. Similar to GERTI above, I don’t know that I personally would be comfortable with asking someone to leave the house, but here are some other suggestions that might work:
–Can you create a space that *feels* like nobody else is there? (A comfortable, happy space.) Someone above mentioned white-noise generators; headphones with calming music (whether that’s Enya or Tool or Britney or whatever) are also a super powerful tool. Try to set yourself up so you can’t perceive him. I know (believe me) this doesn’t always exactly simulate actual alone-ness, but it can help, ESPECIALLY if this is scheduled “alone time” and there is zero chance he will bother you.
–Do you have a deck or a backyard? Is there a park or a lake or something nearby? What about a botanic garden? If you’re in the northern hemisphere and have appropriate sunglasses/hat and something to sit on, Outside can actually be a nice place to read or work (astonishingly to me; I only figured this out fairly recently). Downside to this is that the weather can disrupt your plans.
–Make sure he understands that “alone time” does, in fact, mean that there is zero chance he will bother you, unless zombies are actually attacking at that actual moment.
–I don’t want to encourage self-deprecation, certainly (particularly recalling the body-shaming discussion of the other day), and YMMV, definitely, but some humor can really help with this. I live in a family of introverts, and when we are people’d out, we will sometimes do a Greta Garbo impression (“I vaaaaaant to be ALONE!”). Something like that might help. Also for him–“Hey, don’t feel bad for existing! I’d be sad if you didn’t exist. We can exist together tonight, if you want, but for now I’m going to exist by myself for a while.” Maybe that will help him see that he’s not accomplishing much in the moment by being guilty.
–In line with the Captain’s discussion of actions–how are you phrasing your discussions? When I need to be alone, that’s what I say. “Hey, I’d love to hang out, but I really gotta be alone for a few hours.” “Man, it’s great to be home, but I am so people’d out right now–see you after dinner.” *retreat with nachos to room* Then it’s about my *needs* instead of my feelings, if that makes sense.
–Do you know approximately how long you can hang out before you start getting stressed out? I realize this will change depending on the situation, but if you can estimate how many social units you have and how long of X activity will use them up, you can maybe try disengaging *before* you get stressed. “Let’s watch a movie before I head to my work cave for the evening!” “I’m going to study at the library all morning, but I’ll come home for lunch. Then I have to cocoon myself with Work Project–do you want to cook dinner together?” Food is great because eventually you finish it and have to do something else. Then when you’re done, “Okay, this was awesome! I think I’m going to go take a bath with my class reading now.” If you’re cheerful and pleased with the general situation when you disengage, it’ll be easier for everybody. This is obviously not always possible, but if you can manage it, it’s SO helpful (at least for me).
I think these are all very solid suggestions. From my point of view, you should focus on things you can do proactively for yourself to feel less like you are trapped and at the whim of your partner bothering you, and less on the things you would like him to do but can’t make him do.
This last weekend I went on a road trip with a group of people who have very different taste in music, very different politics, and very different conversational styles than I do. The thing that kept me from blowing up* was that every time I felt stressed by their presence, I reminded myself that I am adult and I don’t need anyone’s permission to go off and spend time by myself. So I did. It was awesome.
I like all of these suggestions quite a lot (with caveats about retreating to designated smaller spaces) but I really, really, love the last one, want to circle it with purple markers several times and draw hearts and stars around it, and will definitely put it to use in my own life.
(This comment will make much more sense in context when my longer comment downthread pops out of spamlimbo.)
Captain’s advice is great as far as how to deal with your feelings: problem-solve them! Try approach A, approach B, figure out what works for you.
If you still still want to have regular feelings check-ins, too, I would consider whether part of his guilt is maybe due to whatever is causing him to have to stay home more. If so, he’d be feeling a bit of that no matter what. Even if you could honestly start off the weekly feelings check-in with: “I’m feeling super stoked that you’re around more,” he might still say, “I feel bad that I had to take all this time off, useless and underfoot, etc.”?
In that case, I would suggest doing what you want him to do with your feelings: hear him out, try to get where he’s coming from, offer some sympathetic words, and don’t try to problem-solve his feelings. (Just keep on problem-solving your own feelings.)
This is really fantastic and timely. I 100% agree with the observation that it’s not so much feelings check-ins for their own sake that will benefit LW in this situation, as actionable outcomes. I think that there’s a bit of ask/offer goings-on here: LW is putting out into the atmosphere the fact that zie is feeling uncomfortable, and inviting Partner to offer a solution, and instead, Partner is offering feelings of his own. LW needs to shift into a more asking-based mode.
My partner and I have been together ten years, we’re both pretty introverted, but he has a higher level of desire for, I guess you could call it “ambient intimacy” than I do. He is NOT one of those jerks we’ve talked about here who expects to be “entertained” or waited on hand-and-foot, but he does want to be in the same room, doing vaguely the same thing (reading our respective books or on computers in companionable silence, watching TV together, cooking dinner together, working on projects together). I think that he would be pretty happy if this were the state of affairs very nearly every waking minute that we’re both home. We also work together but at slightly overlapping schedules, which generally looks like: he has an hour and a half alone at home after I leave, we see each other in passing during the five hours we’re at work together, I have an hour and a half alone when I get home, we spend the evening together. So I just… tend to do things that require aloneness and concentration in the early evening. It works pretty well. Sometimes I just have to take a Sunday and say “I am going to work on X and Y” and get caught up on all the not-hanging-out-with-him stuff I’ve slid behind on, and that’s okay too.
BUT YOU GUYS. Within the year he is going to be retiring and I’ll be the full-time, solo breadwinner (I’m fifteen years younger) and I love this dude very much, but the thought of him always being there when I leave for work and always being there, wanting some company, when I get home fills me with a sort of dread. I feel like we need to do some re-negotiation and expectation-resetting BEFORE he retires or there are going to be a lot of avoidable tensions and hurt feelings, and I think some of that is going to have to do with scheduling times for him to Fuck the Fuck Off And Leave Me Alone. (Luckily, his retirement will coincide with moving to a different city with many more opportunities for evening activities with friends, and I think the route of least resistance there will be for me to just opt out of some regularly scheduled activities).
I would gently observe that every solution on the framework of “creating a private space within the home and making a verbal contract with Partner not to intrude on it” is, essentially, creating the expectation that Self routinely vacate (part of) one’s own home rather than asking Partner to vacate one’s own home, and that’s a fraught line to walk. Not impossible or inappropriate, but fraught. And definitely at least sometimes a gendered thing; men are socialized to take up as much space as they desire, and women are socialized to make themselves take up less space for mens’ convenience. “Nests” and “man caves” work for many people, but for myself, I’m very resistant to the idea because it feels like restricting access to space I’m entitled to, which I sometimes already feel on the edge of the slippery slope of doing. (This definitely falls into “is this a dynamic I’d tolerate with a female partner, and if not, why should I tolerate it with him?” territory.) There is nothing wrong with desiring to have one’s own house entirely to oneself at times, and as Mary said upthread, demanding is not okay but asking needs to be okay.
” “Nests” and “man caves” work for many people, but for myself, I’m very resistant to the idea because it feels like restricting access to space I’m entitled to, which I sometimes already feel on the edge of the slippery slope of doing.”
Sometimes, it may be a point of view thing. To be restricted from the rest of the house may feel as if you’re not allowed to take up space. But if your are taking control of a space and asking that others’ be restricted from entering it, that might feel more like you have control/ownership/a right to inhabit the space you are in without interference.
YMMV, and I’m not at all disagreeing with the gendered aspect of it. Just offering another possible approach to how to see it.
When I was a little kid, I always thought it was unfair that my Grandpa had his den and my Grandma didn’t have a similar private space. How very 1950s housewife of her! (She was literally a 50s housewife btw).
Then I got older and realized that my Grandma was a smart, smart lady because my Grandpa was a constant, constant talker/noisemaker/attention seeker if he was in the room with you. “Yesssssssssss, hussssssband, go to your dennnnn…staaaaaaaay in there…thinking important manly thoughts….yessssssssss.“
Bit like Charlotte Collins nee Lucas. Who, while having a room for her own particular use, also encouraged Mr. Collins to walk and work in the garden as much as possible while keeping the rest of the home.
And she picked the less desirable room for her private space because then he didn’t want to come hang there. Brilliant!
I always feel kind of sorry for Charlotte. She gets a lot of undeserved bad press.
I really like your “ambient intimacy” term! I have many folks in my family who prefer this as a mode of closeness, but have never had a good way to describe it. I hope you don’t mind if I adopt it!
My partner and I also do a lot of the “ambient intimacy” thing, only we call it “parallel play,” because I work with small children for a living. And we’ve developed a term or about this that also comes from my work.
Most notably, “I want to/can I sit in the sandbox with you” is an acknowledgement that the other person is being by themselves and seeking permission to come and be nearby without interfering (maybe laler (sic) is always an okay answer, unless we’re both getting ready for bed, because denying access to the bedroom at bedtime is mean). And because we like Frozen, “go awaaaay, Anna!” means “I’m completely overwhelmed, out of social stamina, negatives to my Will Save and everything, need a complete introvert decompression/decontamination now come back in an hour unless the house is on fire,” which we treat as a near emergency situation, because house of introverts.
We also use headphones as a visual cue – if one of us is wearing them (especially when venturing out of the area we have just chosen to isolate ourselves in), it means we’re carrying that personal space out with us and wish to be left alone for the time being. It’s not perfect, but we feel like it works for us.
” And definitely at least sometimes a gendered thing; men are socialized to take up as much space as they desire, and women are socialized to make themselves take up less space for mens’ convenience.”
Yes, this times 1000.
And by erasing ourselves from our homes, we lay ourselves open to living our entire lives at the periphery.
It was a huge important very big deal when I had the Ah hah! that my exercise, or sitting around moping, or any thing else was important, and shouldn’t be scheduled at 5 am. I am entitled to real time, and real space.
Something that caught my eye here is that LW feels when they bring up their emotions (at least in this situation) Partner also brings up his emotions. And LW would like to be able to keep Partner informed of their emotional state, without it getting derailed by Partner’s emotional state.
This is something my partner and I have dealt with, as well. When I bring up an issue I’m having, or emotions I’m having, is not the right time for my partner to then turn the conversation into a discussion of the emotions or issues that they are having. I have asked my partner to do the following instead: when I bring up my emotions or issues, listen, and let the conversation be about me, because that is why I bring it up in the first place. If that reminds them that they have an issue or emotion they want to discuss, they can make a mental note to bring that up at a different time. It was tricky for us, because my partner doesn’t normally think about the issues they are having, so they don’t tend to bring up the issues independently. And I tend to think, if they don’t bring it up on their own, it must not be that important. But when I bring something up, it reminds them of the issues they are having. And it was really not working for all of the conversations I started about my issues and emotions to get derailed. I have found this policy of keeping the conversation to the original topic, and not countering emotions/complaints/issues with the other’s emotions/complaints/issues to work very well.
A script for this could be “Partner, sometimes I like to tell you about my emotional state, so that we stay in good communication with each other. I don’t expect any action on your part, just acknowledgement. But when I do that, sometimes you then tell me your emotional state. I understand that you want to share with me, and keep up your lines of communication with me, so that the communication goes both ways. While I appreciate the effort and the thought behind that, it ends up making me feel less heard, and it makes me feel like I then need to attend to your emotional state instead of mine. And the back and forth adds a social stress, as well. I would prefer if, instead, when I bring up an emotional state, you simple say something to acknowledge it. And then you can communicate your emotional state at a later time, independently, and I will acknowledge yours then. Would that work for you?”
Also, if Partner is not good at initiating these sorts of conversations, it could go a long way, when LW is feeling up for it, for LW to initiate a conversation about Partner’s feelings, so that Partner has a chance to communicate them without fear of overly burdening LW.
Maybe a script could be “Partner, I appreciate that you care about how your presence at home affects me. You’ve said that you feel guilty about it. Do you want to talk about that? I’m in a good mental frame to really listen right now.”
I hope LW and Partner can work out a good solution!
I like your take on this, a lot.
Yeah– I read this less as “you want to talk about your feelings but don’t want your partner to talk about theirs” and more as “you want to be able to talk about your feelings without it being derailed by your partner’s session of self-flagellation.” Both of which are issues that need to be dealt with, but not on top of each other! What the LW described reminds me of what happened when my brother was living at home, unemployed, for a year– with his girlfriend, also unemployed more often than not! Every time Mom would gently check up on how things were looking as far as plans or job-hunting or… anything, he would go into a long rant about what an awful son he is and how terrible he felt to be staying there. Emotionally exhausting and unhelpful both for him and for my mom, who would still never get an answer to her question! (Conveniently, this allowed him to avoid having to say he, you know, wasn’t really searching for jobs.) The details aren’t what the LW is dealing with, but I have a feeling the idea is the same– how to I get my needs addressed when whenever I bring them up, my partner goes into a spiral about how terrible they are for not meeting them (instead of actually working with me to figure out how to meet them?)
Mhm, that’s the way I read it too
yes thank you! I feel like a lot of replies to this have been very focussed on how to solve the alone time problem and not on how to have check ins problem. I mean yes the basic premise of ‘say what you want to happen’ still applies, but it’s okay if what you want to happen is that someone gives you a hug and says ‘i understand that you are feeling that way and thankyou for sharing’ and then NOTHING ELSE HAPPENS.
I find that I benefit a lot from being able to share my emotional states with a partner, even if i don’t expect them to be able to do anything. Sometimes it’s bc I feel like it’s useful information to them, so that if i start being short tempered or distant or anything else they know it’s not their fault, i’m just not doing well, but sometimes it’s just because all i need is to express my frustration and have it heard and then everything is okay.
this is often true for me even if the emotional state is directly caused by someone elses actions. if it’s not something that is reasonable to expect them to change, it can still be really healing to hear someone say ‘i understand that you were hurt by this’ or whatever.
So yeah, tl:dr thinking about what you want the outcome to be is still good – just wanting to be able to check in is totally a valid outcome
As someone on the other side of this scenario – the person who ought to be around the house a bit less – I really appreciate this advice. I have a related question though: How long is it polite to sit in a coffee shop/cafe soaking up free wifi and coffee refills? I feel like the King of the Dicks after more than 90 minutes, but maybe that’s due to my own anxiety issues 😛
I hope I’m not derailing, but I would also like an answer to this question!
I think it depends on the particular place and time of day, and you can often get a feel for it once you go a few times. Anywhere that’s small and/or busy most of the time probably expects the tables to be able to turn over reasonably often. Other places may not care as much – they’re bigger and/or a chain. 90 minutes should be fine most places, unless it’s actually more of a lunch/cafe place rather than just a coffee joint. If I am somewhere more than 2 hours, I usually feel like I should buy another item, if I’ve started with just coffee or coffee and a pastry – I don’t go many places that offer free refills, and when I do I wouldn’t ask for more than one. (If I’ve gotten breakfast and/or lunch, I consider that should give me a 2-3 hour range.) On the other hand, there’s a cafe/bakery nearby where my writing friends and I often meet, and we regularly stay there all afternoon one day a week, 4-5 hours. They always have a few tables even during the busy lunch hours, and we spend a fair bit of money there so they don’t seem to mind.
A few ancedotal data points: Our local Peets’ Coffees used to have a 2-hour limit on wifi (and you needed to get a free password from the cashier to activate it) – they’ve since eliminated that, probably because they were sick of dealing with all the little password printouts. I think Panera limits wifi to 1 hour during the lunch hour.
An alternative suggestion: how are your local libraries? They’re often really nice and a lot have cafes now.
I work in an independent coffee shop in a smaller city. For reference, there are 5 other coffee shops in my city (excluding chains), so there’s not a ton of competition, and our regulars visit all of them in turn.
It’s not uncommon at all for people to arrive shortly after we open and stay through my 7 hour shift and into the afternoon. Others come in, stay a few hours, leave, and then stop back in later for a little while. We have study groups, people writing on their laptops, people grading giant stacks of papers, lots of people painting, etc. And there’s a huge number of people that come in literally every day. You won’t be weird, I promise. It is appreciated if you buy something every few hours, even if it’s just a refill or a cookie. Also helps the staff get to know your face.
There is a small independent coffee shop around the corner from me. I try to keep an eye on things and make sure I’m not taking up a table at peak time, but at one point I got really into what I was writing and only looked up when one of the people who works there asked if I wanted another coffee (I’d been there maybe an hour and a half?) I said no and apologized and started to pack up so they could have the table. They stopped me and said, “No, no, if you’re worried about keeping the table, you’re in the wrong spot. Stay, write, do what you need to do. We just wanted to make sure you were okay. There’s free water over there, hang out as long as you want.” This is now the only place I go to write (I’m headed there in about half an hour, actually) and I just go until my battery dies.
I think as long as you keep an eye on things and talk to the people working there, you can usually find out what their policy is. I do try to get *something* beyond my initial coffee if I’m there for over two hours, though. I want them to stick around, and I’m happy to buy a delicious pastry to help make that happen!
I don’t know about coffee shops, but I work in a public library and we have quite a few regulars who are waiting in the parking lot when we open and stay for 8-10 hours, and others who come and go over the course of the day. This is part of why we exist! When I work while traveling, I like to try to find the bonus trifecta of library, coffee shop, public park or other greenspace within a block or so of each other, so that I can change up the scenery, stretch, and get some fresh air over the course of the day.
I’ve seen the “2-hour rule” discussed a few times around the Interwebs — the idea that you should buy a thing every 2 hours or so. It seems to be pretty widely accepted as a good rule to follow, especially at independent coffee shops. Personally, I do stretch the rule a bit at places where I’m a regular, on days they’re not too busy. I always tip, clean up after myself, and treat the baristi like humans rather than drink dispensing robots, so I seem to be generally pretty well tolerated at coffee shops I frequent.
Also, I’ve never been to a Starbucks where anybody cared how long I sat, as long as I’m being polite/quiet, so when in doubt, and for the truly marathon writing sessions, I go there.
Yes, tip heavily, and you will definitely be welcome. I also base my tip on how long I’ve stayed rather than how much I have spent if I’ve been camping a while, especially if I’m at a place that serves meals and the staff are likely to fall in the “tipped employee” wage category.
I’ve been a barista and my experience has been as long as: you aren’t a problematic customer, you have been supporting our business with your dollars and you are ready to leave when I’m ready to lock the door (as in I need there to be no customers there while doing closing tasks), you’re probably fine. I’ve only encouraged someone to patronize another coffee shop when they were making my coffee shop an uncomfortable or unsafe space.
I didn’t have at-home internet access for a while, a couple of years ago, and was doing a lot of work-from-home stuff out of a neighbourhood cafe. My general rule was: Spend $2 every 2 hours (a coffee OR a cookie OR a muffin OR a tea) and, ideally, turn up well before – or immediately after – their lunch rush (or equivalent) so that I’m not taking up real estate that might otherwise go to someone who will buy an $8 sandwich or something.
It depends on the place, although I haven’t come across a place yet that I’ve gone to write that have seemed to mind how long I was there. I’d go to the nearest Starbucks by my parents’ house when I was still there during NaNoWriMo, for a few hours, and there’s a great local coffee shop where I live that people regularly stay all day writing, doing homework, editing photos, etc. Everyone covets the one with an outlet to plug in at 😛 I usually try to go and stay until my battery runs out, to put a time limit on myself to focus, but the atmosphere really does it anyway. If I stay longer than a couple of hours I’ll buy something else, but I rarely (unfortunately) have the time to spend more than that now.
Maybe I’m just being oversensitive because I have seen this behavior in an abusive context, but nobody else seems to have addressed it so I want to bring it up.
What I’m hearing from the LW is what is going on looks kind of like this:
LW: Hey, I’m feeling kind of stressed out and anxious because I’m not getting enough alone time.
Partner: Oh no! That’s because of me! I am a terrible partner and a terrible person and I feel awful about this! *Does the dance of shame*
LW: No, no, I understand what’s going on and it’s fine, just…
Partner: No! I’m totally inconveniencing you! *more shame spiraling*
And so on. This is a FEELINGSDUMP response, and it sounds to me like LW’s feelings never actually get addressed at all. I agree with the idea of making constructive suggestions about what you want partner to do – but I’d also take this as a possible red flag. Does partner regularly stampede over your feelings or demand attention when you’re feeling down, or is it just this particular stressor? (If it’s just this, maybe you guys could take turns addressing your feelings about the situation, or maybe each seek a neutral third party (a counselor, maybe?) to vent to, so nobody has to play Brave Martyr Carrying On Through This Difficult Situation Without Complaint or throw on a hair shirt and engage in self-flagellation.) if it’s not just this situation, though, please treat either Your Feelings Are Less Important Than Mine (aka enough about you, let’s talk about ME) or You Shouldn’t Have These Inconvenient Feelings At All, Stop Bringing Them Up (also they make me feel bad which makes you bad) as giant red flags.
I have to say, though … it sounds like LW has already told her partner multiple times that she is feeling stressed out because he’s home all the time right now. I think there’s a limited number of times it’s reasonable for her to get to say, again, “I’m stressed because you’re home, even though I know you have to be, and I want you to acknowledge that,” purely as venting. I am all for her asking for specific changes that would actually help her spend more time alone, like his going out for a while, or her going out for a while, or their agreeing to inhabit separate rooms for a while.
But I see why her partner finds it hard to keep hearing “I don’t like it that you’re home so much” when being home so much isn’t his choice. And I’m not sure that getting to repeatedly “check in” about her feelings, if her feelings are “I’m still stressed about the fact that you’re still here,” is really a fair expectation for her to place on her partner. Once he knows how she basically feels about the situation, unless she’s making an actual request, I think it might be really helpful for her to find someone else to vent to about “it’s driving me crazy that he’s still here,” rather than repeatedly having that conversation with her partner.
I agree, there’s not much use going ”yeah, still annyoyed with your presence”. I wonder if this might be a geek fallacy thing? ”If we just talk it over some more we will fix it.” No, sorry. Bring it up when there’s a possibility for change. No use poking the hurt feelings-bear. They’ve got an end-date, that’s something.
This is another reason to do things separate from one another – to have interesting things to talk about other than the same old same old. Hopefully that’ll lead to less friction as a bonus.
I read the letter like Amtelope did, that the LW’s partner isn’t aggressively talking about his own feelings in order to avoid talking about the LW’s, but rather, he’s heard the LW’s feelings a lot already and doesn’t know how to keep responding.
I think that it’s really important to be able to say to a partner, “I’m not feeling my best because of (reason),” and to be able to bring it up every once in a while even if it doesn’t change. But it becomes tricky when that reason is “because you are here.”
Personally, if my partner told me, “I’m stressed by having you around so much,” without a followup request, I wouldn’t know what to say. The first couple times, I suppose I could temporarily forget that I was the source of the stress and try to validate their feelings, but I believe when someone says to me, “something related to you is causing a negative thing with me,” it’s good form to apologize even if it’s not my fault. I’d probably go with some combination of feelings-validation and the kind of apology you give when there was nothing you could have done, and then asking if there was any way I could help.
But after a few times, I’d start to get really confused about what they want. Do they want me to make cooing noises and sympathize? Stay out of their way for a bit? Or is it that they’ll feel better if you have the chance to remind me of how I bother them? I don’t think this last one is the LW’s intention, but the partner may be confused about whether this is a genuine request for listening or covert attempt to punish, especially if he’s been hurt by passive-aggression before. (Not saying the LW is being passive-aggressive! Just, that’s something passive-aggressive people do, and someone with a certain type of history may remember being punished in a similar way and feel the need to self-flagellate.)
If this is what’s happening, a specific request is a great way to circumvent all this. The LW will know, “They aren’t trying to punish me for existing, they are prefacing a reasonable request with a reason.” Even so, it’s still hard to hear, “Your continued presence makes me blue,” repeatedly from a loved one, and I agree that if what the LW needs most is to vent, they really need to find someone else to vent to.
Alternatively, the LW’s partner may have learned through some experiences that when a person brings up a feeling, it is Feelings Share Time, and so after he hears the LW out, he may believe that it’s his turn to share his feelings. (I mention it because I used to carry this fallacy.) It’s possible he was socialized to not bring up his feelings on his own, but to wait for another person to initiate Feelings Share Time. Maybe if the LW directly asked him to choose a different time to share his feelings (someone else brought this up already), it would help.
I feel for both of them and I hope they can work it out.
I feel like this can definitely go multiple ways on the “is this unfair/abusive” front. On the one hand, the introverted partner can end up making the around-too-much partner feel unwelcome and on edge in their own home, and on the other, the introverted partner can be [unreasonably] made to feel like a bad person for needing quiet/space.
In my experience with this dynamic, neither of us was trying to be shitty, but we ended up making each other miserable. My girlfriend needs lots of alone time, and is additionally super sensitive to noise. We tried talking about/addressing it. I worked on being quieter while cooking/doing the dishes, I found reasons to be out of the apartment at least one evening a week, and she got her own room and I respected a closed door. For her part, she mostly tried to be less sensitive to things and to talk to me when something was upsetting her. But having that conversation was always really difficult for her, which was really obvious to me because when she did get around to saying something, it was usually after I’d been doing the thing that bugged her for weeks or months. So I ended up feeling super guilty all the time, because odds were I was doing something wrong and she hadn’t said anything yet. Me talking about this guilt at all made HER feel bad though, and made her struggle more with bringing things up–even though that was the exact opposite of what I wanted.
In the end, this death spiral of “we are hurting each other and we don’t want to hurt each other but we also can’t talk about the problem because that in itself is hurtful” killed the relationship. I honestly don’t know if the problem was unsolvable (as in, she just is never going to be happy sharing living space with another human, regardless of efforts to make that easier), or if we could have worked through them if we tried harder (we went to therapy together once, but we could have probably used more sessions to figure out how to communicate better)–it doesn’t really matter anymore. Point is, she decided she couldn’t live with me, and I decided I couldn’t stay with a primary partner who was giving up on finding a way to live with me. Relationship ended.
My point is, we started out as just two people with opposing needs, and neither of us was wrong simply for having those needs. We probably BOTH could have handled them better, and you could probably easily frame the situation in such a way as to make either of us look like The Bad Guy. I don’t think the dynamic as described to us by the LW in and of itself is a clear-cut abusive situation–though it very well may be, or it may be headed there– but it’s open to interpretation.
In case it wasn’t obvious, I meant my EXgirlfriend.
Um, I read this a little different than the Captain did. Seems to me that LW can’t bring up their feelings without their partner reacting and making it all about them. That’s absolutely something that can be worked on, btw, LW. I recommend reading a little in the archives on setting boundaries, there’s a lot of great advice there.
Quick tip: I like to focus on one thing per feelingstalk. If the other person thinks of something, they can bring it up later but right now it’s your turn to adress your concern. That way hopefully you’ll both feel heard and you both get a platform. You feelings aren’t any less important than theirs. Likewise for your partner. Itf hey are making your feelings about them, that’s a red flag. I hope that’s just me projecting things.
I feel you. I was in a similar place with someone and they were always there. In the bed snoring, in the living room playing music, in the kitchen leaving their sticky dishes everywhere, wanting to get in the bathroom when I was there.. Then we had a talk and scheduled time away from each other so I knew when my house would be empty and that helped a lot. Then that someone got very busy for a few weeks and were rarely seen and worried I’d be sad but I was so happy, lapping up all that alone time.
IMO, it’s just how some people charge their batteries. I need to be fully alone for my charger to kick in.
I don’t like having another person in the house, so I live alone. Why live with someone if you don’t like living with someone? That hardly seems rational.
You love them and will deal with shared space issues because of that?
You have kids together.
You have a disability requiring someone in home with you.
It’s what you can afford.
It’s not culturally acceptable to live alone.
It’s some sort of emergency.
Lots of reasons, is what I am saying. Even if living alone is what you might prefer, there might be other factors, and therefore needs for various scripts can come up.
Thank you for saying this, mamacitaconpistoles.
Nae bother, hen. 😉
Obviously if there’s an emergency or it’s financially necessary you might have to do it, but in that case you just suck it up and deal with it. You are not entitled to kick somebody out of their own home, and obviously you can complain about them being there all the time, but you’ll seem like an irrational jerk for doing so when you chose to live with them, regardless of the reason you chose to do so.
Sarah, by your logic, living with another person has to be 100% magical ALL THE TIME or else NOT AT ALL or else you are an irrational jerk?
Enjoy your permanent solitude/constant togetherness, I guess?
No, that’s not at all what I’m saying. I’m saying that if you are a person who doesn’t like to live with other people, you shouldn’t live with other people and then complain that it’s not 100% magical all the time. Of course even if you’re a person who likes living with someone else it’s not going to be perfect all the time, but that’s not what’s being discussed here.
But they’ve been together happily for 8 years with a recent glitch…so, that IS what’s being discussed here.
I guess I read the post a lot differently than you did. “I’m easily socially stressed and like a lot of space away from everyone.” “… but just having another person in the house has an impact on me.”
To me that reads like someone who really doesn’t like living with someone else, and has been lucky for the last 8 years that he hasn’t been around a lot.
I’m not sure what happened to my comment. I don’t even see it waiting for moderation. Anyway, I think we read the letter differently. I’m reading this as someone who really doesn’t like living with another person and has just been lucky for the last 8 years that he hasn’t been around a lot.
I am also an introvert who gets annoyed if people are around All the Time, but I really don’t do well on my own. I like a situation where someone else friendly is in the house but I don’t have to actually interact with them, and then we hang out for an hour or two per day, maybe more sometimes if we’re feeling sociable, maybe less if we’re not. If my partner suddenly started wanting to hang out all the time, or was even just around all the time and I never had any time where it was just me in the apartment, it would annoy me just like it does the LW even though I enjoy living with him now.
There are lots of reasons. Many people feel that living together is required for intimate relationships. Money is a major issue for many people and it’s cheaper to share a house. Living with someone can feel safer for many reasons. I currently live alone, and I largely love it, but there was one time I was really sick and couldn’t get out of bed and had a fever and passed out and it occurred to me afterwards that there was no one around to notice and call an ambulance if I hadn’t just gotten over it and woken up later.
I like being around Mr. Hedgehog. I like living in the same house as him. I’m not sure I’d like being together ALL THE TIME. Sometimes people just need some time to themselves, and it’s not necessarily about not liking to live with another person.
Exactly — there’s a lot of middle ground between “I don’t like having another person in the house, ever” and “I am delighted to have another person in the same room as me all day long.” I love my husband, like spending time with him, and am really happy to live with him, but he’s out of work right now and we have definitely needed to negotiate some alone-time rules.
Of course there’s a middle ground, but you don’t get to decide for other people how much time they can spend in their own homes. Therefore if you’re a person who needs a lot of alone time, you either live alone or accept that you’ll need a home away from home where you can get your alone time, which generally isn’t super convenient. Kicking somebody out of their own house just because you don’t like having them there is not a reasonable option.
I am living at home (with my single mom and bunch of pets) while I go to college. I do freelance creative work from home, so I spend a lot of time in the house, especially during summer break (and other breaks.) My mom works outside of the house several days of the week, and is home the rest of the time, doing either the same freelance creative work (we have a small online business together) or just hanging out.
I love my mom a lot, but she wants us to be together and talking or listening to/watching the same thing pretty much whenever she is home. This is partially unavoidable, because it’s a very small house and we have a shared work/computer space. I’ve got my own space as well but it isn’t a great retreat, especially when I need to work for long periods during the day, because it is less convenient to access work materials/tea/snacks/water/etc from there. Plus it isn’t air conditioned as well, so during the day it can be uncomfortably hot.
Now I will also be working full days with her 2-3 days per week at [outside-of-house job], which is fine and makes sense and extra money! but it means I get only a couple days at best of alone time per week. I am a huge introvert and really need to be alone a certain amount of time just to have basic equilibrium, but however I try to communicate this, it always ends up hurting my mom’s feelings and leading to no solution. I also don’t have the resources (in terms of emotional/physical energy or finances/time) to go out for a regular Alone Activity. So I’m kind of stumped and don’t know if there is anything I can do, until I can eventually get my own place. Maybe sometimes you can’t negotiate these things, if the other person is not able/willing to see solitude as a normal, impersonal need as opposed to “I don’t want to see you because I am Mad and Don’t Like You Any More.” Sigh…
I am familiar with this situation! From both sides as it happens (I was a very clingy girlfriend when I was younger and also I have known people who flip out at boundary setting). The way to handle this is to set the boundary and enforce it even though the other person is acting like it’s the worst thing in the world. Ignore the emotional reaction – “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I need X”. Then, make sure to make a special effort to be nice and friendly and present for the time you do spend together. Suggest times to be together and initiate shared activities.
They will feel shocked and rejected for a while but if they can see that you still like them when you do spend time together, and that that time is no longer resentful, most people will come around. People who don’t deal with this and stay mad are either incompatible or completely unreasonable (I have a family member with major issues who is like this). If you are dealing with someone who simply won’t let you set boundaries full stop I have found it’s best to just accept their distress as the price for your mental health. Assuming this is someone you don’t want to cut ties with.
It’s not selfish or wrong to set reasonable limits on time spent together.
Totally unrelated to LW 590:
Captain, is there any chance you’d be willing to post the story you tell tonight? Story Club is SO GREATand so is your work (and also Maria’s is so great and Pleasant House Bakery is so great – but pies don’t upload very well anyway), but I have to do Massive Piles of Work tonight. Alas, alack.
Lots of jedi applause,
That short girl who’s borderline too-excited about your work
I want to polish it and submit it to places before I post it here – it’s not ready to be read (vs. heard), but I’ll let you know when it goes up somewhere. I hope you got your work done, thanks for the nice words!
A bit of Cheshire Household shorthand script that got developed to deal with something that looked a bit like this but also with kids involved:
“[Person] is CLOSED.”
Started as a way of making clear to SecondKid that I was really not to be bothered right then and I really wasn’t kidding. Is now understood as the universal Do Not Bother signal, the “no, really, I absolutely cannot have anyone in my space right now, at the very least stay out of the room I’m in and I’d really prefer if you went Somewhere That Is Else for a few hours if possible.” FirstKid is occasionally “closed” if she just wants to be alone with a book uninterrupted, and we make sure we give her peace and keep SecondKid out of her space for a bit. SecondKid doesn’t do “closed” in quite the same way yet but I am guessing she will as she gains more independence reading.
This is such a great phrase!
When my mom had work to get done, she used to say “there is no Mom in the house after nine o clock. After 9, you have to ask The Dad.” Which did much the same job.
This is good and adorable.
The funny thing to me is, none of us ever took it personally. We understood that was when she needed to grade/write/whatever. And our dad is a good egg and an engaged, active parent, too, it’s not like it was a problem to go to him for things. Once in a while, if you couldn’t sleep or whatever, she would let you come sit (!) and read (!!) by her on the couch (!!!) while she worked, and then we’d companionably ignore one another. When all her kids were in college, we’d call sometimes after 9, and if we did, we did it by asking “is there a Mom in the house? Or should I only talk to the Dad?” She gave a commencement speech last year at a school with a lot of non-trad-aged students in the class, and mentioned this practice in passing. There were a LOT of be-mortarboarded heads smiling and nodding along when she told that story.
My mater is a BOSS. So is my pater.
My mother had “do not interrupt except in case of emergency” when we were kids. This was helpful mostly because “emergency” was really concretely defined: presence of blood or vomit, or absence of breathing (on/in any one of the 4 siblings).
(Once we accidentally locked my older sister in a suitcase, the old kind with combination locks on the latches. We decided it fell under “lack of breathing” and declared an emergency.)
LW, this may be a bit of a tangent, but it seems to me that at this point, you’re quite frustrated with your partner, and I wonder if it’s bleeding out a little during these talks.
That happens to me a lot. I try to bury frustration, and often do so poorly, so when I finally break down and talk about one issue that I’m having, a lot of other issues end up coming out… which ends up making it harder to get any real solution to the problem.
When I talked about some issues I was having with my father, he gave me what I think is really the best relationship advice I’ve ever gotten: Keep it about one issue at a time. His point was basically that sure, you might have a number of issues, but they’ll always be infinitely more manageable when you tackle them one at a time rather than getting into “You sleep too lightly / never do the dishes / don’t talk enough about your feelings” all at one time (for example). It’s hard, but even when I’m feeling frustrated, I try to keep that in mind so that I don’t let myself – or my partner! – get sidetracked during conversations about important things.
I don’t know if this is going on with you, but it might be something to think about.
I think the suggestion for a specific request is a good one. You may feel like it’s a good idea to let your partner know how you’re feeling without him having to do anything about it, but in reality, I think it would be pretty hard to hear “just so you know, the fact of your presence is stressing me out again” without being able to do anything about it. This strikes me as the kind of feeling that shouldn’t be shared unless it’s asking to be fixed. Otherwise, it kind of IS just saying “hey, feel guilty about this.”
It sounds like you both might benefit from a weekly/biweekly mutual FEELINGSchat. My partner and I started doing this when we were both home all the time and horribly depressed–we both had so many issues we were dealing with that whenever one of us had a problem, it was like playing emotional ping-pong. We both ended up upset and nothing got resolved. Like you, I was usually the one with the Problem of the Moment, and I felt like my feelings were constantly derailed for his. It was not a happy place to be. Setting a time every Friday for us to talk about things that were bothering us meant that 1) we could actually share things that were bothering us before they reached CRISIS MODE, and 2) problems that were brought up in-the-moment actually got resolved!
Actually, now that I think about it, we could probably stand to start doing that again (not because anything in particular is wrong right now, but just because it’s so helpful).
I was thinking about writing in on this very question, honestly, and I’m liking the responses I’ve been reading. My boyfriend and I don’t currently live together, and I’m a bit scared of us doing so because I need personal space and time alone so much more than he does. I don’t mind if we are in the same room doing separate things (together yet apart), but he tends to want to share tidbits about what he’s doing with me while I’m working on writing or reading or something that requires my full concentration. We do spend a lot of time together and so often if I need the space I’ll stay at home to work on things or get my house cleaned because I cannot focus on it when he’s there. We’ve talked about it but I’m not sure he really understands how deep my need to be alone is sometimes, but that it doesn’t mean that I don’t care about him or don’t want him around. It’s a hard balance, especially when I do get my complete time alone and I’ll end up wishing he was there anyway, it’s a very fine balance. Still working on it. I like the specific requests like, “I’d like if you went out for awhile” or “I’m going to the coffee shop for awhile to work” instead of making it a big deal.
I also hugely relate to the decision fatigue. Boyfriend works for himself so his decision-making is less reliant on others’ feedback, etc. while I am a manager at a small company where I have to make a lot of decisions and solve a lot of problems all day every day. He wants to make sure I get what I want all the time, but I like the suggestion to say, “It’d be a treat for me if you chose” because I think that’s perfect, and would help get the stress off of me and convince him, that really, it’d be awesome if you decided for us. 😛
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