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.