Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: My spouse retired last year and is home all the time. I am currently working full time and need to find some alone time. How do I tell him without hurting his feelings? Even when I have to stay home sick, I still have company. I do love being with him, but everyone needs a little alone time, don’t they?
DEAR NOT ALONE: Some do, some don’t. You do, so ask for it.
If he’s one of the ones who doesn’t need alone time, then, yes, it might hurt his feelings. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for what you need, it just means you need to be firm and kind in explaining that he has his disposition and you have yours, and yours works a whole lot better when you have X minutes to yourself on a daily basis.
If he resists hard, don’t budge, even while remaining kind: “It’s not fair to expect me to be like you. I need X amount of time to recharge. I always have, in fact – you just never noticed that because I got it while you were working. Now that you’re not working, I need to adjust our routine to give me that time. I propose (your preferred arrangement). Deal?”
If he refuses you that, then have a Plan B ready where you’re the one taking the initiative and therefore are less reliant on his consent – for example, you go for a 30-minute solo walk.
If even that is greeted with pouting and complaining, then it might be time for a professional referee.
RE: ALONE TIME: Why does the alone time have to be in the house? It’s one thing to say, “I need to have some time to myself”; it’s another thing to say, “I need you to leave the house for two hours, three days a week, so I can have alone time.”
Isn’t It My House, Too?
This is one of those arguments that makes sense on paper but not in practice. Yes, of course, it’s the other person’s house, too, and of course it will feel wrong and presumptuous to ask the other person to leave – but do you know what it feels like always to have to leave your home to be alone? Sometimes a person just wants to kick back and enjoy some solitude – book, couch, fresh coffee – without the fuss of making arrangements or accounting for another’s needs. A thoughtful spouse doesn’t even need to leave, but instead can just observe and preserve the solitude.
New parents especially can relate: It’s almost always a matter of having a sitter come while the parents leave, when what many tired new parents fantasize about most is just plopping down at home and having no one need them for a couple of hours.
Anyway, I think people who pay attention to their spouse’s needs would have no trouble with the idea, specifically, of bugging out for a bit to let a spouse putter and recharge at home alone. Begrudging each other’s needs in general is not the path to marital glory.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com.