Why Spending Time Apart Makes a Relationship Strong

spending time apart
spending time apart

It’s been said that absence makes the heart grow fonder—something which many couples know to be true. While the phrase typically pertains to extremely long stretches apart, time away from a significant other means different things to different couples. Some choose to spend time apart by engaging in what sex educator Debby Herbenick (Ph.D., M.P.H.) refers to as “co-puttering”—both partners are in the same room but engaged in different activities. Meanwhile, others take more elaborate actions, like taking separate vacations.

While both notions may sound absurd, especially to those wildly in love with their one and only, numerous couples and relationship experts agree that time apart can strengthen relationships. Here’s why.

Why you should “co-putter”

Herbenick says that the concept of “co-puttering” (or being together but apart) allows each person to connect with their individuality at the same time as connecting with the other person. For example, an individual who is an early bird may decide to head to the gym and then meet a friend for coffee. When they return home, they may find their partner reading a book after having just returned from taking a short jog.

Each person was able to do something that interested them, but just as important is the fact that doing these things apart allows them to now discuss topics they wouldn’t talk about if they were doing these things together. This process creates an ongoing “getting-to-know-you” scenario, which can be reminiscent of earlier dating days.

While the very notion of dating may cause you to roll your eyes and feel thankful that you have a lifelong partner, let’s face it—being together constantly can remove an element of the intrigue that likely motivated you to bond in the first place. Couples say that spending time together but apart allows them to maintain their sense of identity while also being able to return and share stories with their spouse.

Time apart can maintain relationship intrigue and foster communication

Using the earlier example, perhaps there’s a story to share about a new gym class, interesting news that was learned over that cup of coffee with a friend, or the fact that a jogging session allowed you to notice that a particular house in the neighborhood just went on the market.

These are all things to talk about, in which everything from laughs to new insight into the other’s personal thoughts may develop—all of which enhance your bond. In a relationship, it’s important to keep this dating-like intrigue and communication going, so you continue to learn about each other. Otherwise, you’ll find that you’re talking about the same topics repeatedly (because you’re always together), which can make a relationship go stale.

Some people may frequent occurrences of co-puttering as a surefire sign that the relationship is doomed. Rather, it’s just the opposite; while talking nonstop or doing things together is important, but so too is the ability to sit in each other’s company, comfortable with moments of silence as you participate in different activities. Not perpetually having “what should we discuss or do next?” thoughts are a sign that your relationship is strong.

Skiing while your partner scuba dives in Bermuda: taking separate vacations

A more extreme example of spending time apart involves taking separate vacations. However, those who do it say that just like co-puttering, it’s not synonymous with a disconnected, troubled relationship.

An article in TIME magazine delves into this topic, its author stating that for many couples, taking separate vacations is a priority. Even those who have been happily married for several years sometimes engage in spending this kind of time apart. They thoroughly enjoy the “me time”, plus experts say that vacationing separately conveys significant trust and security. And, just like the notion of doing something together but apart, it allows the couple to share a bevy of exciting stories and experiences that can deepen their connection.

Recognizing when time apart is a problem

Of course, it’s worth noting that spending time apart becomes troublesome when it’s all your relationship is about. Severely diminished interaction is clearly a sign that problems exist and should be addressed. It’s one thing to share the scoop on your different activities and adventures, and another issue altogether if you always feel a sense of elation when your partner heads to the garage or when their plane takes to the skies.

Furthermore, if the time apart is used in ways that disrespect your significant other (i.e. flirting, cheating, bad-mouthing the other person) then clearly, other issues are at hand. Time apart is meant to strengthen your relationship, not sever it or turn into an excuse to return to behaviors that are more appropriate for single life.

Every person is different. Some would never dream of spending time apart in the same room, let alone in different parts of the state or indeed different parts of the world. While it’s up to each couple to determine what is best for them, many partners and professionals tend to agree that a certain degree of time apart bolsters relationships while also allowing for much-needed personal time.