Jenny Block on spending time apart

I know a couple who only spent one night apart their entire 20-year relationship. I know another couple who spend two nights of every week together and the rest apart for the whole of their 20-year relationship. Most couples I know are more like the former, very few like the latter. But one thing I am sure of is this: The majority of couples need room to breathe. Without it, they suffocate.

The misnomer is that if you want any time apart, you are not really that in love with your partner; otherwise, why wouldn’t you want to spend every living, waking, breathing moment together? I’ll tell you why: Because if you do that, you don’t have the chance to be your own person. And if you don’t each have the opportunity to be your own person, you don’t have anything to bring to the table. Not a thing.

I love my wife. A lot. I feel crazy lucky that we found one another. I feel that way for a lot of reasons. She’s sweet. She’s funny. She’s ferocious when it comes to protecting me and all of the people she loves. She also gets that the more I am able to take adventures out into the world — to travel, whether for work or play or volunteering — the more whole I am and the better partner I can be.

It’s a direct correlation. It’s a firm connection between my freedom to roam and my ability to love fully. And it’s not just the “If you love something set it free. If it comes back to you, the love is true and if it never returns, it was never to be yours.” I have zero interest in other people romantically or sexually. But I have 100 percent interest in being in the world.

For me, that translates to traveling. For others, it might be a certain job or time alone with friends or some kind of volunteer work or extracurricular activity like playing softball or bowling on a league or talking about books every month over coffee. It’s about time and space and letting your partner be more than just your partner. It’s about allowing them to be an individual.

If you think about it for even a minute, it just makes sense. If you are together every second of every day doing the very same thing, what is there to share, to talk about, to discuss, to explore? Yes, it’s great to travel and play games together, to binge watch Hulu and take long walks as a couple. And hey, every couple is different. That couple I mentioned who only spent one night apart would not have wanted it any other way.

But for most of us, to spend time apart — to honor separate interests, to grow and stretch and discover all kinds of things to bring home and share — that is one of the greatest gifts of being in a couple. Sharing is half the fun, but only half. You have to have something to share apart from the other’s experience. Without it, you stagnate. And that is one of the scariest prospects of all, dulling to the point of losing the shine that made you the couple you once were.

And this is true without mentioning that if you’re with someone who insists you stay home, you only travel with them, do all activities and socializing together, such conduct says a lot about them or what they think of you. Where is the trust? Where is the interest in your growth and well-being as a human? Where is the love and the understanding? Where is their own self-worth? That is all rhetorical, of course. If your partner feels the needs to chain you up — or you feel the need to chain up your partner — you’re missing the point. No one can soar with clipped wings.

My wife misses me when I travel (she says!), and I miss her. When I overbook and am away more than I’m home, and when I am home but exhausted, she reminds me that too much of a good thing is not a good thing anymore. But mostly, being apart helps us to relish the time we’re together, and that time apart crafts us into the people we are. When I’m not home, my wife can spend time alone with her friends and work on the boat and watch black and white movies and listen to her favorite ’80s gay anthems.

Then, when I get home, we each have stories to tell and experiences to share and we are over the moon to see one another. Same goes for when she gets back from a work trip and I’ve been at the house keeping the home fires burning. It’s good to be together and it’s good to be apart and more than anything it’s good to let your partner be who she or he is. If you don’t, they won’t likely stay. And if they do, you won’t get the best version of who they could be.

Let her go on that trip. Let him join that team. Let her try that hobby. Let him practice that sport. Just let go. Because there is one thing I know for sure: Holding too tightly has never breathed life into any relationship, it’s only smothered it.

Have a topic for Jenny? Email her at [email protected].