“I need my space!” How many times have you heard that from a partner, a child or a friend? It’s easy to feel hurt and pushed out when your loved one makes this emotional demand, but you shouldn’t. Believe it or not, it’s not always about you. Life is a continuously undulating pathway in which we all move from needing support and connection to needing time to ourselves. And it is all good…that is, until you need alone time and your partner needs together time—or vice versa. Ouch!
I married a man who needs more alone time than I do…and—no surprise—we had children who also need more alone time than I do. I am well-versed in feeling pushed away.
Armchair psychologists like to classify people as either introverts or extroverts. That guy who is the life of the party—always laughing and surrounded by crowds—must be an extrovert, right? Not necessarily.
I learned an important lesson about this when my children’s elementary school offered a session with the school psychologist about children forming social relationships. One example given by the psychologist: When a parent asks a young child who he/she played with at recess, and the response is “No one” day after day, the child is not necessarily having social issues. He/ she actually may be an introvert who needs quiet time and personal space to recharge after the intensity of the classroom. That was my child! Of course, I checked in with her teacher to be sure that my daughter was responsive in class, and I watched her interactions on playdates. Once I was reassured that all was good in those situations, I learned to give her the space she needed.
Here’s where it gets hard. An extrovert doesn’t always understand an introvert’s need for alone time…and an introvert may not understand an extrovert’s need for connection. I can’t tell you how many times my husband and I have been out of sync on this one—he may be perfectly happy doing his thing at his desk or in the garage, and I arrive to talk or just be together. While he is happy having his party of one, it makes me feel like I am imposing when I don’t get an enthusiastic greeting. And then, as the old joke goes, “That’s when the fight begins.” Does this sound familiar?
Through the years, my husband and I have worked hard to gain a deeper understanding of each other’s needs, and we have gotten better at both communicating our individual needs in such a way that feelings don’t get hurt…and understanding that we function in different ways. This has been critical to our success as individuals and as a couple.
Here’s what I have discovered after many years of observation and experience.
- Understand that when your partner is being quiet, it is not a sign that he/she doesn’t want to be with you. It may just mean that he is recharging.
- Realize that by giving the introverts in your life their space, they will be much happier when they come back to connect. If I push my husband into chaos when he is not ready for it, he will tolerate it, but it won’t be pleasant. I can see his whole neurological system relax when he has his space, and I can see every cell in his body tighten when he spends too much time, for example, in New York City’s crowds and traffic. On the other hand, when he has plenty of time to recharge before or after the “chaos,” he then has the fuel to be there with me and for me.
- It’s OK to seek other sources of fuel. Your partner, children and family members don’t have to be your only sources of fuel. Integrate other friendships and activities into your life to help fill your need for connection.
- Speak up. It’s important to reassure the extroverts in your life that you simply need some space. Going dark and not communicating create tension and make an extrovert feel unwanted.
- Build time for recharging into your week. It can be exercise…meditation…going to the movies alone…or simply listening to music with headphones on. In our house, my husband often needs “transition time” when he gets home from work—just a little bit to shift zones, so I generally don’t engage with him much until he has had a few minutes to change clothes and shift into the home zone. And while I am more of an extrovert, I need my recharge time, too, so I make those needs known and schedule it into my week.
- If you get overwhelmed, don’t let yourself blow up. Once again, speak up and simply share with your partner that you need time to reset. Emotional outbursts are destructive to your health and the health of your relationships. It can be as simple as saying, “I need five minutes peace.”
As is true in so many situations, there are two keys to success—communication and caring. Being clear to yourself about what your needs are and making those needs clear to the people in your life are critical to avoiding hurt feelings or misunderstandings. It doesn’t take a lot…just a simple “I need five minutes” can make all the difference.
The other piece, which may be even more important, is understanding the needs of those who operate differently from you. I need to constantly balance my needs with understanding the needs of those around me—do they need space and quiet? Do I need connection? How do we strike a balance? A little understanding of yourself and your loved ones goes a long way in the land of introverts and extroverts.