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Breathing Space
Mom with a View

Breathing Space

How to tell your spouse you need some private time, alone.


Apparently, having enough space, or privacy, in a relationship is even more important to a couple’s happiness than a good intimate life (Wall Street Journal 06/19/12). It doesn’t get as much attention as the latter but it is actually a very strong need that, if unattended to, can wreak havoc with a couple’s marital bliss.

In a story cited in the article, a married woman discovered a receipt for a late lunch at a waterfront restaurant during a time her husband said he was working. Alarm bells went off and she imagined the worst. But it wasn’t what she expected. Her husband just needed some time alone.

You’d think that telling her directly would have been the simpler route. Why cause that needless worry and anxiety? But it’s not that easy to tell our partners that we need space. It can sound hurtful. It can seem rejecting.

It takes confidence and strength to recognize your spouse’s need and allow him or her to satisfy it – without you.

Some people crave privacy more than others. For those who do, being around people, even family that they love, can seem suffocating. It makes them feel like they can’t breathe (like I said, suffocating). But how do you tell that to a beloved wife or husband? How can they understand that it’s about you and not them?

The need for privacy, for breathing space, is deep and primal. It’s not something you can be talked out of or learn to live without – without a psychic toll. It isn’t that private people don’t enjoy conversation, socializing, working and playing with others. Those who enjoy privacy are not necessarily reclusive hermits or serial killers, not loners on the outer edges of society.

They are you and me, people who get rejuvenated and replenished by a little alone time.

And that is, of course, the way to explain it to our spouses. “I will be a better wife to you after this time alone.” “I will be a more attentive husband if you give me a little break,” “This isn’t about time away from you; this is about enjoying our time together more.” It requires tact, thoughtfulness and sincerity. We must choose our words carefully. But we can’t ignore this basic need. If we do, we will end up suffering – and so will everyone around us!

Don’t feel guilty. You’re not harming your spouse; you’re improving your marriage.

When my friend built a new home, she created that room for herself that we all dream of, her retreat away from the chaos and demands of her family. It’s a small space with a comfy flowered sofa and a cozy pink lamp, a feminine oasis. I want one too!

But while we can’t all literally have that room, many of us do need to create that space. We shouldn’t feel guilty. We are not harming our spouses; we are improving our marriages. We shouldn’t be embarrassed by our need for privacy. We shouldn’t sneak around and foster unwarranted suspicion. Sometimes my husband just needs to go walk on the beach by himself and clear his head. I’m glad that when his cell phone is turned off I know where he is and why. We need to be straightforward and specific about our needs. “I need an hour to wind down before dinner.” “Would you mind if I went out for a few hours by myself after I put the kids to bed?”

And, with all that said, we still need to remember to devote most of our time and energy to our marriages and our time with our spouses, not apart from them.

July 7, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) SusanE, July 19, 2012 5:10 PM

Alone time and Getting away from a spouse are Totally different.

Men had studys or a den or a workshop in the garage, or a hobby. My grandpa had a woodshop. The women were happy they were 'out there' and would never think of calling them in. Seriously! - - - - - - -- Generally though, it's the men who want time away from their wives, cause their wives never shut up. They just yak and yak and yak at them. At least that's how I see it cause I know the wives. I would be very doubtful if that husband in the article was having a 'late lunch' at the restaurant because he needed some time alone.

(7) Rachel, July 10, 2012 7:26 PM

I'm with Emunah all the way on this one

It seems that a lot of people are so caught up in romantic ideas of marriage that they think they should be together all the time, or at least all the time when they're not each working. But adults realize that sometimes, others need some space. I used to treasure my commute home on public transit because I could stick my head in a book (and not one related to my job) and go to another place for 1/2 an hour. It's interesting, too, that as our children grow they will ask for more privacy, and we need to know how to let them have it at appropriate times, as well as continuing to be involved in their lives.

(6) yacovah, July 10, 2012 5:02 PM


a couple needs to be with their brothers and sisters cousins and then go back to her husband and for him the same.

(5) ruth housman, July 10, 2012 3:09 PM


This is a necessary article, because so many feel guilty in asking for time away, or a place of their own, to close the door, even within a house, to be with oneself. We all need this, and it is a replenishing thing, and I do believe it's very healthy all around to have this kind of respect for each other in a marriage. I am helping care for my little darling granddaughter right now, and she's just four months and a bit, and it's really a full time job caring for a child, or... it takes a village. And I am so grateful others are helping. When she's here, it's about vigilance, because a child this small can easily get hurt. We all experience myriad stressors in life, even when life is good, and it's so sweet to be with this little girl. We all need, to find time, to escape, for a bit, and do whatever we are called to do, for ourselves. Today I am happy to have the entire day to myself! It's a gift, and it's due to my husband's recognizing my need, as I recognize his. And we all do chip in to make the space possible. As it should be...

(4) Mayacb, July 10, 2012 2:54 PM

Some people are introverts

Emuna, you are exactly right. Some people can not function without time alone the person they marry needs to respect that they have to ask for the time space.

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