I think, fundamentally, there are two types of people.
Some folks are perfectly satisfied to have their romantic partner as their only social outlet. They don't need other friends, they don't need hobbies, they don't need alone time, they're perfectly content to live with the "us against the world" mindset.
Other people need to maintain a social life outside of their partner. They need to continue those friendships, outlets, and time to themselves to recharge. To those people, the idea of being someone's whole world isn't a heart-warming one; it's a high-pressure suffocating situation.
I'm not here to say one type is right or wrong, but relationships can get pretty complicated when one partner is one way, the other is the opposite. Communication is key, but this can be a really hurtful topic of conversation that's difficult to navigate when one partner just doesn't get the others needs or why they would even have them.
One Reddit user is sitting squarely in the middle of this problem. She adores her partner, but he never gives her any breathing room and tries to make her feel guilty when she takes some time to herself. He even texts her constantly while she's at work and gets hurt when she can't respond right away. In an effort to get some time to herself, she called in sick to work so she could just be home alone. She realized she's hit her breaking point and reached out for some advice.
I called in sick to work today so I could have some time alone from my partner. My partner is always around. Some people will say I'm lucky that he wants to be around me all of the time, but it's feeling so smothering.
We've been together for 10 years. He has no friends he hangs out with, and the only time he'll do his hobby (fishing) is when I'm busy doing something else. If I suggest he should go fishing, he asks why I'm trying to get rid of him. If I want to hang out with my friend (which we only do once a week), instead of saying "that sounds fun, I hope you have a good time!" he'll say "well what am I going to do? You've been at work all day, I haven't seen you, I'm going to miss you". He makes me feel guilty for leaving him alone.
I'm just feeling overwhelmed. How do you tell your partner of 10 years that he's smothering me and I need guilt-free alone time? I have told him before, but he gets a little mopey and wonders why I need "me time". It's just not really a concept he understands, and it's hard to explain.
It hasn't always been like this, but we've moved cities a few times and his friend pool has dwindled down to nothing, and he doesn't know how to make new friends. His co-dependence has just been getting worse and worse and I'm just starting to hit the end of my mental strings.
Here are some of the responses she got. Some have been edited for clarity. What advice would you have given?
Let Him MopeGiphy
One secret to getting people to accept something you want and they don't is that you need to be able to handle the moping. Just let him mope. Don't cave in. Keep repeating the message on different occasions. Go hang out with your friend. Go out for a walk. (You probably can't force him out of the house, so for now you need to leave to get some alone time.) After a while it'll sink in that moping doesn't accomplish anything.
It's like when I was little and would whine to my mother that I was bored. Her response: "I see." Of course I thought that was massively irritating as a kid, but I did learn how to entertain myself. :-)
Now this isn't to say that you can't help your partner, too. Maybe you two could go check out a hobby together, so it's not so scary for him the first time? Just do this on a separate occasion, NOT when you were just planning to go out alone.
The things you want for yourself (time to yourself, a life, friends, hobbies, work being a time you aren't available to just socialize) these are all super reasonable things. But since your SO is pouty and difficult about it you feel like you need to compromise or give up these completely reasonable healthy things.
You need to be able to just accept that it is okay for you to do these things and if your SO can't see that, it is on him. He is the one making himself miserable here. It isn't your job to be a co-dependent shut-in who has no friends or hobbies and texts with him all day when you should be working to spare his feelings. Instead, you should live a normal adult life and it's his job to learn how to handle that.
Stop feeling bad or guilty or like you need to comprise on having a normal life. Don't feed into his pity party or moping or annoyance. It works a lot less well to be a pouty moper if no one pays any attention to that. Whether it's an intentional manipulation or just a more unconscious learned behavior, you've taught your boyfriend that if he is pouty, mopey, annoyed, etc that you make his feelings into your problem and you compromise yourself and give him the attention he is seeking.
Suggest Some Self ReflectionGiphy
He needs to do some self-reflection. I did a lot of introspecting this year and I reached a few conclusions. I've always been really clingy and had a great need for attention.
I was neglected most of my life and praised for not being a troublemaker. So I never made trouble or went looking for the attention I needed from my mom. Worth noting is the few times I did act out, I would get beat down and it would enforce the idea that I was the problem and I would double down on just raising myself
And I realized that emotionally I never grew past being a toddler. I had this realization when I hit a lot of growth this year, I was joking about finally entering my teenaged rebellion in my mid/late twenties when suddenly I realized it was basically exactly what was happening.
I've grown a lot and I'm getting better at being self sufficient, but it's a long road and I'll always be behind the curve, I think. I'm alright with that, and my husband is alright with that. We have a good dynamic. He understands that I need attention and I understand that I need it, so if I feel like I'm not getting enough of it I can channel and process those feelings and work through them. Over time I condition myself to be more independent.
Just a few thoughts.
Desktops And Cell PhonesGiphy
I once read this analogy in this sub: extroverts are like desktop computers, they're always available to interact with other people, their source of energy for interaction never runs out. Introverts are like cell phones, they're happy to interact, but eventually their battery runs out and they need a brief period to recharge before they're ready again.
Perhaps you can use it to try to explain to your SO that it's not that you don't enjoy your time with him, it's just that's the way you're wired and it's a personality trait you cannot change by sheer will (not that you'd have to even if you could.)
He Gets It, He Would Just Rather...Giphy
It's not that he doesn't understand. Honestly, he doesn't have to feel the same way to understand. He gets it. He would just rather service his own discomfort over yours. He puts his want ahead of your need. Not cool.
It's not your job to stop him from moping. Set the expectation. I love you, I need alone time because I like it. Not because I dislike you. Millions of people have this same need. You have to respect it in order to respect me.
Schedule the times. Don't give in to guilt. He understands. He just prefers to guilt you instead of managing this alone. And he needs to.
I would essentially say,
"Listen babe. You know I love you, and I love spending time with you. I don't know if you understand, but I would really love it if you could respect my wishes for when I would like some alone time. Sometimes, after working all day, i just need some time doing my own thing and being my own person. It doesn't mean I love you any less, it just means that sometimes I need to recharge my batteries. I really think this is important because without this individual time to recharge, I get really worn down a lot quicker; which means when you and I DO spend time together I will be a lot less attentive... and neither of us want that! I can't pour from an empty cup babe! I need this time alone to recharge and refill. I would appreciate it so much if you could try to understand and if you could respect my wishes when it comes to this. I think it may even make us a stronger unit if we both strengthen ourselves individually so we can be extra strong when we are together."
I had a really hard time with this too. I had no friends, was alone all day... it was hard because I felt really deprived of human interaction and I would get said and feel left out when my BF would get home from work and almost immediately go to do something with friends or go fishing or something. It hurt my feelings because I was like, "does he not care that I literally don't see anyone all day? He's my only interaction with people I get all day and he just leaves me alone?"
Then he sat me down and had that same talk with me basically. What really made it click for me was when he told me it's really important to him that we both can be our own person without the other one there. He told me that he would think it was really cool if I picked up a hobby and devoted a lot of time to it or something like that. and he also said that he believed it would really strengthen our bond (distance makes the heart grow fonder) and make the time we do spend together even more special and that really made it click for me :)
Used To Be The Clingy PartnerGiphy
I used to be the clingy partner towards the beginning of my relationship with my husband. For me, it came from an extremely low self esteem. I needed him around to feel whole. I didn't engage in hobbies or friendships because I didn't bother ever starting it because I was lazy and subconsciously didn't think I was worth it. The reason I say all of this is because about 3 years ago I became interested in self help, yoga, meditation and affirmations. All of which slowly helped me gain my self esteem. I'm almost a different person now--I actually thoroughly enjoy my own company. We spend a lot of time apart doing our own things and I love it. And when we we're together again we enjoy each other's company more than we ever have. Just my experience.
Introverts Need To RechargeGiphy
Sounds like you might both be introverts. I could be wrong, but I'm writing this as an introvert myself. I need time to energize after social interactions. After I get home from work for instance I usually just want to be left alone. I don't have to do that, but after a day or two of constant socializing I just shut down and retreat.. So I get ahead of that and give myself plenty of alone time throughout the week.
It sounds like your partner is recharging while you're gone and does not run into the same problem you do, as you have no time to recharge and be by yourself. If you're really an introvert (and maybe even if you aren't?) such alone recharging time is vital! If I didn't get mine, I'd be so cranky all the time.. I feel so much better after getting that regular alone time.
Talk to him about this! Tell him you need your alone time too! He gets his, and you need yours! Your partner needs friends and hobbies, his lifestyle doesn't sound very healthy, and it's draining your social energy away.
Dude Is LonelyGiphy
I sifted through the comments looking for the reason why this was happening- the trigger- and factoring in all the moving, this totally makes sense. If this is not the person they were 10 or even 3 years ago then in my mind this is just a bump in the road and not an unchangeable personality flaw or mismatch between you both.
Dude is lonely. Plain and simple. And he's not lonely from your relationship, he's lonely from lack of meaningful platonic intimacy with friends and he's projecting that onto you. He's trying to fill a different need with the substance of your relationship so inevitably that well runs dry. If he struggles with expressing his emotions he may be aware and be embarrassed to say so, or he may not be aware at all.
When my husband had some frustrations around loneliness and lack of friendships when we moved to a new state I tried to address the need for an outlet that wasn't me. So I invited a couple female and male coworkers out to a movie with me and my husband so he can meet new people, I started hanging out with a girl who I thought was great and suspected her boyfriend and my husband would hit it off and scheduled a couples date, and I helped him find a new job (at a young startup!) because he was surrounded by much older, boring colleagues who he couldn't connect with. I also made plans for him to fly back home to see his best friend and family, and I planned a surprise trip for a friend of his to come stay with us for a week.
It sounds like a lot of work and it might be a little overwhelming to essentially plan friend dates for your partner but if he feels lost and lonely and admittedly making friends later in life IS harder, then for his mental wellness and definitely your own, it may take a little magic on your part to nudge him in the right direction.
If after trying some things to get him going on being his own person, and having a conversation with him about your needs there's still no change then I would really consider couples cognitive behavioral therapy because woooo is that a life saver. I say that because if he can't find his own way I think you will continue to grow frustrated and resent him, and he will continue to feel lonely and on top of that, rejected by the one person he does have, which will make him withdraw. As you both pull away from each other over time that creates distance that is really difficult to rebuild.
Best of luck to you both! I hope your heart gets the space it needs to grow for itself and grow fonder for him, and his gets the friendship it needs to grow independent.
"...Like A Bear Trap..."Giphy
Nothing makes my vagina clamp shut like a bear trap faster than neediness. If he sulks and pouts every time you close the bathroom door without inviting him in, this might be a fundamental incompatibility issue. I honestly don't know how you've lived through 10 years of this, but it sounds like you're hitting your limit and now it's literally affecting your work, so it's time to deal with it directly.
I suggest that you sit down with him, not at a time when you've butted heads over this issue, but when you're both calm and rational, and talk about it. Tell him what you need, and how it makes you feel when he lays guilt on your shoulders. When he says "why don't you want to be with me", tell him point blank that you're worried about him, that this level of co-dependence is not healthy, and that it's damaging your relationship and you need to do something about it before it's too late. If he's not willing to listen to you or consider your feelings as well as his own, then you've got a real problem here.