My husband wants space and I don't. Are we doomed?

I Need More Space Sticker by MightyDonut

We got this question submitted to us by an anonymous Homie:

My husband and I have been together for three years and always struggled with the balance of personal space. I don't need to be alone at all — in fact I hate it. He is the opposite and thinks we should live apart, feels smothered, hates the noise, doesn't like people and wants to be alone. I'm really trying to see his point of view and have an open "modern" mind. But every instinct I have is just shutting it out and screaming how wrong that is…

How can our relationship survive if he doesn't want to be around me 90% of the time? Isn't him wanting to live separately just the first step in ending the relationship? Or is it already over, and I'm refusing to acknowledge it?

So I put it out there to the Offbeat Home Facebook community and asked for any advice for being in a relationship when each partner has a different desire for time spent together. The reactions were wildly varied, but all so interesting!

Here were some of the top answers:

Maybe it's time to be poly?

This could lead to being polyamorous. Have someone who is there when you need someone while your partner needs alone time. The noise part could be difficult to deal with, but maybe set up your master with a mini lounge/computer area. Consider a Murphy bed that is also a couch?

Your needs may be too different. Consider that as well. Being unhappy is not a life. -Andrell

No matter what, respect his requests

RESPECT IT. If you don't give him his space, he will be constantly on edge and you will push him away. I am an introvert as well, and if I don't have alone time, or time to decompress, I have a meltdown. His need to be alone has nothing to do with you. It's how he is, how his brain works. You don't need to understand it, just respect it. Don't get all neurotic about it. It's not about you…

Relationships are two way streets, and not all plants need the same amount of water and sunshine to thrive. He is not "wrong." He simply is. The question is, can you handle it? If you are going to overthink every time he wants his "me" time, your head is going to explode. And eventually, your relationship will, too. -Paula

Speaking from similar experience…

Eight years in a relationship with someone that only wanted to interact with me on his terms. He slept in a separate room, if I tried to have a conversation with him while he was doing something I was told I was bothering him and I couldn't have physical contact with him without announcing I was going to touch him before I did.

In the end I was alone in the relationship. 10% of someone's time doesn't fulfill one's need for companionship. If you don't feel fulfilled or cared for by your significant other it will never last. Just because someone is an introvert doesn't give them the right to control the relationship and have all things bend to their needs, you have needs too. And if the other person can't or is unwilling to meet them, there will be no happiness in the relationship. -Erin

I used to think and feel this. But recently, I'm finding out that maybe living separate isn't a bad thing. Less tension between the two people. It's far from easy. But if the love is strong enough it works. -Tifa

Therapy could be the answer

You both are on opposite sides of a spectrum and I suspect with some counseling you could meet in the middle somewhere. The question is- are you both willing to work on this? If not then I think you have your answer. -Shanna

This could indicate bigger issues at play

Is this something new from your partner or have they always wanted that much space? If it's something new, that could indicate that things are over, or that something worrisome is happening with your partner. If they've always wanted a lot of solo time, this might mean that they've been trying to meet your needs and have just hit a breaking point.

There's no right amount of time for a couple to spend together; just whatever works for them. -Meghann

Bail out now!

Firstly. He is telling you here that he is not ready to commit and probably would never commit in the future. I would not waste your valuable time and effort on someone who does not want the same things. There will be constant issues regarding this in the future, and, in return, you will only land up feeling rejected and hurt. You eventually will start to feel resentment towards this. It is good for couples to have their own lives going on the side without being tied to one another. This is really important in a relationship, however there are warning signs here that are screaming your partner wants their cake and wants to eat it too. In the grand scheme of things this is not okay. Don't entertain it. There must be compromise. If someone loved you so much, they would want to build a life and work towards goals together. However, you can not force them to do something they don't want to. You have big decisions to think about and make. -Bernie

Once again, our community is full of awesome, strong, well-thought-out opinions. What are yours on the subject?

Have you been in a relationship where one partner wants space and the other doesn't?

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  1. I had a partner who was somewhat similar in that he needed lots of space. We worked at it for awhile and eventually that relationship ended for many reasons. However, he never wanted to live in totally separate houses. I am all for negotiation and compromise in a relationship, but that negotiation and compromise has to come from both sides. I would personally draw the line at separate houses, but to each his own. If you decide it's something you can compromise and live with, then do it.
    In addition, if the separate houses are the "beginning of the end," then it would be a much easier "end" if you were in a separate house already.

    2 agree
    • Does "living separately" mean separate houses? I thought she meant separate bedrooms. That would make a big difference, which one she meant.

      1 agrees
  2. I think the root here is; is HE willing to take steps so that YOUR needs are filled too?

    He can't expect to have an on-call wife for the rare occasion he wants one. You are human, you have a right to attention and time.

    (I totally understand different needs though. I am extremely adventurous and need to go out and DO stuff on the week ends. Camping, a music fest, visiting an attraction. Boyfriend wants to hibernate on the couch. We have a casual airmiles system, where after a few week ends working on the house (renovating an old farmhouse) I go and do whatever with whoever. He doesn't get to argue. I invite him but he rarely comes and I don't get to nag.) Understanding people are wired differently and won't change does not mean you are incompatible, it just means a need for more communication and compromise.

    I am curious. You have been married three years? Was he always like this? What about when you were dating?

    20 agree
  3. There are differences that can be overcome via mutual compromise. There are also issues that are non negotiable. That doesn't make them bad (or good). But they should be recognized as such.

    Of course, such differences and issues are the concern of *both* parties, not just the injured one.

    Both of you visiting a competent therapist could help the two of you sort things through.

    It's no guarantee that it will save your marriage, but at least you two will be better able to make an informed assessment as to how salvageable your marriage is.

    Good luck.

    6 agree
  4. I need a lot of alone time, but I can't imagine asking my spouse to live in another home. You're in a tough sitch, and you really need to evaluate whether or not this is a relationship you should continue to invest in.
    What do you want out of a partner? Are your needs being fulfilled? Are your wants being fulfilled? (They're different. One is negotiable and one is not. You need to know your hard limits.) Yes, you have to value his needs too, but your first responsibility is to yourself. If you're incompatible long term, that's okay! You're allowed to decide this is no longer the right relationship for you.

    For my two cents, if you have separate homes and separate lives, I personally wonder what the point of being married is. I view marriage as a way to share expenses, have a reliable helpmate, and have reliable companionship. If you're planning on having kids, you need to have a lot of conversations about how he would participate in raising them. If he thinks you should raise the kids while he lives in his house alone, I say run and do it now.

    14 agree
  5. I'm sorry, but this would most likely be a dealbreaker for me. You can try talking it out to figure out what your needs are at the moment and see what possible solutions could there be for your particular situation. Or you could try going to marriage counseling together. Other than that, I don't know what else to tell ya. Also, definitely listen to your gut. If something doesn't feel right, chances are it probably isn't.
    I strongly agree with Cassie when they say what's the point in being married if you all are going to basically be living separate lives in separate places. Marriage, in my opinion, is about partnership, teamwork, and – most importantly – commitment. If one partner is willing to commit and the other isn't, well . . . let's just say it rarely ever ends well (in my experience, anyway).

    3 agree
  6. I'm the partner who needs a lot of space.

    It was easy with my former fiance who was similarly minded (space didn't end our relation, radically different reactions to a miscarriage did, FYI.) Since then, I've dated people with differing levels of need for space, some levels of need which shifted for the other person as emotional intimacy grew . . . but not for me.

    Words of advice:

    1) There's usually a reason for this attitude. For me, it's because of my family. We are very close emotionally, kinda codependent, but to cope with that, we just don't spend that much time together. When we are together we are TOGETHER, but when we're not, we still love each other and are still all up in each other's business. A continous group text, but little face time, and no one feels slighted if someone doesn't join in for days at a time. We do family vacations, but we spend 75+% of the vacay separate. Sometimes, we are physically in the same place but very much separate, e.g., all at the beach, but swimming, reading, snorkeling separately without talking the entire day. Even still, I usually end the vacation by wanting to beat at least one of my relatives with a golf club and need several days alone from ANYONE after.

    Further, I was a "happy surprise" for my parents, who were still in med school. As a very young kid, I grew up with parents who focused on quality time, not quantity time. When they were with me it was all about me (and later my brothers) and shared activities, but I spent a lot of time self-entertaining in a conference room or nurses' station.

    This isn't just my dynamic with my family. I'm polite and friendly with strangers but aloof, and need space from friends too. They know I may not hangout with them for more than a month. For long-distance friends, I barely talk with them, but usually will go visit for a three day weekend once every six months/ a year. I see my very best friend twice a year and talk on the phone once every six weeks.

    For me, that's just the dynamic I grew up in, and still experience daily. I just can't shift for a life partner, no matter how much I love them.

    Sooooo- try to figure out- is it because he isn't bonded with you, or does he just need to be alone a lot. Ask why he is this way. Is it typical for him to interact this way with everyone?

    tl;dr: Is he this was with everyone? Accept it. Focus on quality time not quantity time. Try proximity without interaction, example, both go to the movies, but see different movies, or doing separate things in the same room. Ironically, the more space you give him, the less he'll probably need. If he can be alone and private in his own house without feeling pressured, he probably won't want to move out.

    2) In the end- Can you do this? I have a dog. She has spent ~90min alone since I first got her. She comes to work with me. She CANNOT handle being alone. When I get overwhelmed by this, she has a play date/slumber party with my mom's dog, and they chill by themselves at my parent's house with minimal supervision. Are you like my dog? Will you fundamentally be unhappy if you don't have quantity time?

    Maybe, like an asexual married to someone with a strong sex drive, you can substitute things. Join clubs, hang out with friends- pack your life with interaction with other people, while still loving your partner above all others.

    Maybe, you just can't be happy in this relationship and you both need to separate before you become miserable.

    tl;dr: Can you focus on social interaction with people other than your husband to fill the need you have?

    3) Try physical semi-separation. My friends' have a skinny but 3-story house. First floor is shared, utility space, e.g., kitchen. Second floor, is shared emotional space- the bedroom, etc. But the third floor is my best friend's "private space". His office. His rec room. A half bath. A door that closes to the floor. His wife doesn't go up there. Partially b/c he works from home and needs quiet, but partially because he's just like me and needs "space".

    tl;dr: If you can't find fulfillment outside of the house, try to give him absolute solitude inside the home, while you can still know he's there.

    6 agree
  7. I think it’s perfectly possible to live separately and be in a relationship, IF that’s what both parties want permanently or have both agreed to for a certain period, for reason such as one of you has job or study opportunity abroad etc. It’s fine that he has a desire for this, it’s great that he has expressed this clearly very important thing to you. What is less fine is IF he can’t or won’t negotiate around this.

    Like others say, more space at home may solve the issue that makes him think living alone is the solution. It’s not always the case that the thing we think we want is actually the answer we need, if you look at your own feelings you may find that there is another solution to what makes you feel like you hate being alone too, but of course you might not. Compromise is one thing but needs so incompatible that one of you has to totally sacrifice on key values/goals is another situation altogether, however if you can both look at and discuss why you each feel the way you each do (without making the other defend themselves) you may yet find there is a way through!

    1 agrees
  8. Over the course of our relationship my husband and I have both held several jobs so the amount of available time we had to spend together has ebbed and flowed. I definitely need more alone time than he does to decompress, do my own thing, etc. It was very hard to adjust, for example, when we went from a 3 hour shift differential with me getting home first, to a 1 hour shift differential with him getting home first. That first week of pulling into the driveway and seeing his car was like "What? He's here AGAIN!? I haven't been alone in four days, ahhh!" Now we're on a FIVE hour shift differential with me getting home first and after about two hours I'm super lonely and want him to come home.
    I can totally sympathize with the husband in this situation because I would become very annoyed if my husband wanted to spend all of our free time together. However, I would never suggest that we live separately (which I took to mean in two separate locations). We each have a room in our house that is "our room" so when we're in there the other knows some alone time is happening. I'm wondering if this couple could work out some sort of schedule that would meet both of their needs? I would start with that rather than immediately jumping to living apart.

    3 agree
  9. The separate living thing would be my only personal red flag, but I know couples who maintain separate living quarters and remain happily committed to each other.
    The problem is your obvious disparity on this subject. The recommendation for counselling, I honestly believe, is the only thing that will get you through this. Having a third party to hear you both out and help you find a balance will be key in this struggle. I wish you both luck, and I believe if you both want this, you can find something that works.
    My husband is extremely anti-social, and I am moderately to very social. This means that I have a robust social schedule with my friends and give him the space he needs while I get the sociability that I need. I do get sad sometimes that he doesn't want to do fun things with me and my friends (and their spouses), but we go out and do our own fun things together and that makes things better. For the record, we sleep in separate rooms, too. On weekends we try falling asleep together, but one of us will usually leave in the middle of the night because our sleep needs aren't being met, but we get the night time connection through a regular good-night routine.

    1 agrees
  10. Late to the party here…

    Does he have a (un/diagnosed) mental illness? I mean that with positivity and love. I'm a strong introvert, too, but this is an extreme amount of time necessary to "recharge." I think therapeutic assistance is definitely in order– and it is possible a medication change is called for. Social anxiety disorders become worse over time if left untreated (speaking from personal experience); they don't improve just because you get more alone time.

    Could also be a physical health issue. My stepfather gets debilitating migraines, and so my parents chose to live in separate apartments in the same building for years. He just couldn't handle the day to day noise of living with someone else. After several years of treatment through the Mayo Clinic, his health has improved dramatically. He still has his own room in my parents' house to retreat to when he needs to be in the dark and quiet.

    If this isn't a mental or physical health issue, I think it's likely a respect issue. That runs both ways. You do need to respect his alone time, but he should respect your need for affection and connection. Couple's therapy is the best place to start. We're all quirky, and that's awesome! We should seek out someone whose quirks are a good fit with our own. You can't become a new person to accommodate your partners quirks, no matter how much you love them. I wish you both the best of luck.

    2 agree
  11. My boyfriend of 4 years and I live separately. I had never lived alone when I met him, and that was important to me. He lived with me and my roommates for a bit while he was in need of housing, and then moved out when he found a place. I lived with him and his roommates for a bit while I was looking for a place, and he didn't want me to leave but I was determined to live alone. We lived very well together when that was the case.

    Now it's been 2 glorious years of living on my own. I'm probably going to move in with him this winter because winter is hard where I live (my house has shitty insulation/heating and we got 500 inches of snow last year). I'm looking forward to a warmer house, less shoveling, and seeing my man everyday, but I know I will be SERIOUSLY mourning the loss of my personal space. We both need alone time to decompress. Space is good for us, both as individuals, and as a couple. So I'm a little nervous about moving in, because in previous times I knew it was temporary…this time…?? I like to be able to retreat to a space that's ENTIRELY MINE, and that won't be an option when I move in.

    So I can kinda understand your partner's desire for more space. It does seem odd that he's asking for this now, unless, as a previous commenter mentioned, he's been trying to meet your need for connection and time spent together and wasn't meeting his own needs in the process and therefore he's burnt out/over it now.

    Also…I get that everyone has preferences about having alone time vs. being with people, but you said you "hate" being alone. Maybe you want to look at why that is? Of course I'm saying this as a person who's definitely more introverted than extroverted so perhaps my perspective on this is skewed…but I kinda think it's a healthy thing to be able to enjoy your own company for at least a few hours at a time…

    1 agrees

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