I think I need to have a difficult conversation with my partner. I’m really worried about it, and I don’t know where to begin.
The backstory is this: My partner and I were in a long-distance relationship for two years. A month ago, he got a new job and moved here from Nashville so we could live in the same city. I love him dearly and, up until this point, we’ve had few disagreements.
That all changed when my partner moved to Seattle. Ever since he arrived, I feel like I don’t have enough personal time. He expects to spend three or four nights per week together, and that’s too much for me. I have a bunch of friends, I play music, and I’m involved in my local church community. Right now, one or two nights per week together feels like my maximum.
I feel really guilty about needing more space. After all, he just moved across the country to be with me. I’m afraid to tell him the truth because I’m afraid it will crush him and hurt his feelings — and maybe damage our relationship.
What should I do?
Unbalanced and Blue
I know how hard it can be to express your needs when you’re afraid of hurting someone else’s feelings.
As intimacy grows in a relationship, it’s normal to go through periods of negotiation with your partner. How much time you spend together, how you split expenses, when and how you communicate —these are all completely normal, albeit tricky, conversations for couples to have. It’s best to have them directly so you can get on the same page as soon as possible.
Since you’ve been in a long-distance relationship for two years, living in the same city is a new chapter in your relationship. Every new chapter contains new negotiations. I encourage you to think of this time period as a great opportunity to design the unique structure of your relationship together.
I recommend initiating a direct and compassionate conversation with your partner about how much time together you need in order to feel balance between your relationship and your other commitments. In this conversation, experiment with being vulnerable; you might share how the current number of nights makes you feel (for example: overwhelmed, stressed) and how fewer nights would make you feel (such as balanced, grounded, perhaps more appreciative of your relationship overall). I would then invite your partner to share how he feels about the current system and how he might feel about an adjustment.
Remember: There is no “right” amount of time to spend with a partner. There is no “average” or “ideal” number of weekly sleepovers. It depends entirely on your unique needs, and that’s the beautiful thing: You guys get to write the rules.
The key word here is negotiation. It’s possible that one or two nights per week might not meet your partner’s needs in the relationship. If that’s the case, you will need to compromise to find a middle ground. If you’re unable to find a compromise that helps you both feel secure and balanced, you might need to consider the viability of this partnership long-term.
Keep in mind that if your partner has only been here a month, he probably hasn’t had enough time to become entrenched in his community or form a network of friends. He’s still in a period of transition and might be relying on you for a sense of social connection as he gets established in town. You can have compassion for this while simultaneously reiterating your need for more time to yourself.
I know that you’re afraid of hurting your partner, Blue, but remember — we set boundaries to preserve the health and integrity of our relationships. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t do the difficult work of having difficult conversations.
Consider this: how might having this difficult conversation actually improve your partnership long-term? Here are a few benefits I can imagine:
• It could pave the pathway for more authentic and honest conversations down the road.
• It could open up space for your partner to express any
lingering needs that he hasn’t felt comfortable enough
• You might no longer
carry the heavy burden of a
hidden resentment toward your partner.
• You might troubleshoot this issue and develop
problem-solving skills that will strengthen your
relationship in the months and years to come.
While this conversation might be difficult for you and your partner, it is a marked step toward greater authenticity, transparency, and honesty in your relationship. Good luck, Blue!
P.S.: Do you feel like you’re the only one facing a particular challenge or struggle? Or perhaps you have a question you’d like to see answered in the column? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for the chance to have it included here.