94

I am almost 50, my partner moved in with me a few years ago (I was a widower before then), we have no children.

During this period, I've grown a little more frustrated that I don't get much time to myself to do the things that I want to do - I work all day, and when I get home, I have to do whatever my partner is happy with ("Happy wife, happy life", etc.)

When I attempt to watch something on TV or a film that my partner isn't interested in, she gets agitated/bored and I feel I need to stop so that she's more relaxed again. I end up having lots of things saved on the DVR box (or simply not record them at all).

She goes out maybe once every one or two months, where I get a couple of hours to myself in an evening.

I have tried asking for a bit of "man" time, but she's surprised that I don't want to spend time with her and asks if there's anything wrong. She often seems to mistake my frustration with me not liking her (which isn't the case at all). I can see that me asking for some time to myself in my own house can be seen as me attempting to eject her out of the house for a while and I can see how she could this as a rejection.

So, I'm a little stuck. How do I negotiate more "Man" time for myself without offending my partner?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Jan 9 '18 at 2:06
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    Do you only have one television/DVR, and/or is it difficult to get away from the television in your home? (I posted this question before, but it got swept up in the "discussion"; I'm re-posting it because I genuinely think this information might help inform answers.) – 1006a Jan 9 '18 at 10:00
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    @1006a We only have the one TV/DVR. It's possible to get away, but it means going away from the comfortable "heart" of the home. – Snow Jan 9 '18 at 15:29
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    While not worth a full answer, consider changing your language from "man" time to "personal" time to "hobby" time. There's certainly nothing gender specific about your activities, and that may be a particular trigger point for her. – Adam Davis Jan 10 '18 at 19:37
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    I didn't notice if this comes up anywhere but does your partner work part-time or full-time? If she isn't and isn't doing much otherwise (or even if she is), she sees the evenings as bonding time. – mkennedy Jan 11 '18 at 21:25

12 Answers 12

81

First of all, don't worry that you don't always like to do the same things. Compatibility is often more about how you deal with issues like this than the things you have in common.

So you don't like watching the same kind of things on TV. This is the same with my wife and myself. She likes period dramas, I like some sci-fi, but there are things we both like... we both enjoy crime dramas and comedy. However, both my wife and I are pretty independent. We both lived alone for years before we got together (we've been married 2 years). So my personal experience is that she is just as keen to have some time to herself as I am, which is great. We have two TVs, we both have tablets, so if I say I'm going to do something alone she just responds "great, I can catch up on some of my mindless drivel". Okay, so she doesn't use that expression exactly. But we're both happy to do some things alone knowing there are other times we can spend together.

Could perhaps the problem be not that she actually resents you watching programs you like, but rather you feeling guilty about it? So she looks bored... does she actually say she is bored, or voice an objection? And when you change to watching something she likes, are you bored? Do you suffer in silence? If the answer to any of these questions is 'Yes' then there is a distinct lack of good communication. You're both being passive, she isn't saying that she doesn't want to watch your shows; meanwhile you're stopping yourself watching them on an assumption she wont.

If you have a conversation about this problem, don't come at it from an angle of YOU want 'man' time and SHE is stopping you. Because from the details you have given, that may not be the issue. Plus it isn't just men that need time to themselves.

You both need time together, both relaxing (perhaps watching something on TV you both enjoy) but also communicating (perhaps eating together, away from the TV so you can talk properly).

When you are in a relaxed setting perhaps say:

I've felt a little frustrated of late, feeling like I don't get time to do things I enjoy such as [state hobby, or watching favourite TV programme]. It isn't your fault - I think its because I feel guilty when we're not doing things we both enjoy. Do you think we could have some set time each week where we can both catch up on the things that we like to do/watch by ourselves?

If you think this is reasonable and she does not, then it may be that she is just that bit 'needier' than you. But if you are a good team with similar goals then this doesn't spell disaster - you might need to balance your request out with some guaranteed together time, perhaps even a date night or something. You may find that by communicating more and not always defaulting to being together in front of a screen results in you both feeling more content and comfortable with time alone.

40

Balancing "me" time and "us" time is the key here.

I work all day, and when I get home, I have to do whatever my partner is happy with ("Happy wife, happy life", etc.)

No you don't. This doesn't mean not do anything for your partner or with your partner but you definitely don't have to do something with her every day. It's as simple as that.

When I attempt to watch something on TV or a film that my partner isn't interested in, she gets agitated/bored and I feel I need to stop so that she's more relaxed again.

Your partner is responsible for finding things to do so to not feel bored when you want to watch TV. It's not your responsibility to make sure she never gets bored or agitated. It sounds like your partner doesn't have her own interests or hobbies. If this is the case, perhaps you could help her with that but entertaining your partner on a daily basis isn't your job.

Next time she feels bored or agitated, just don't stop doing what you're doing. Encourage her if she wants to talk about her feelings or why she feels this way but explain to her that you don't even need "me" time everyday and that you shouldn't feel you're doing something wrong.

If you enjoy spending time with her, make that time really special and fulfilling for both of you. Most couples get bored when they always do stuff together or when they are around each other too much.

Encourage her to take up a hobby or to go out more often with friends or try to understand why she feels rejected when you actually do spend time with her.

I have tried asking for a bit of "man" time, but she's surprised that I don't want to spend time with her and asks if there's anything wrong.

Next time, don't ask. Just do what you would have liked if you were alone. You could tell her that you wish to watch a movie or TV or whatever but you don't need to apologize or make it sound as if you are afraid of her reaction. You can always tell her that you are more than happy to do x, y or z with her but right now you want to do a, b, or c.

Bottom line: Have a conversation with her where you try to understand why she feels the way she does especially when the majority of times you do spend time with her and you do try to make her happy.

29

Several of the existing answers suggest something along the lines of "you do your thing while she does hers." I'm assuming your partner could come up with a solution like that on her own, which suggests that the reason she doesn't simply occupy herself while you're having "man time" is because that's not a viable solution to the actual problem.

You mention that you have talked with her about this, and this was her response:

...she's surprised that I don't want to spend time with her and asks if there's anything wrong. She often seems to mistake my frustration with me not liking her (which isn't the case at all).

To me, that doesn't sound like the problem is her lacking an independent hobby, or her simply not knowing what to do if you won't watch her marble racing videos with her or whatever. It sounds like she is reading your desire to do your "man time" stuff as a threat to your relationship.

Even in a strong relationship, we all feel insecure at times. It sounds to me like she is feeling insecure about your connection; she's seeing your desire for alone time as a desire to escape her presence (which is why she's asking you if there's anything wrong). If I'm right, that's actually great news for you: It suggests that there's no problem with you having the alone time you want, as long as she gets the reassurance she needs that your relationship is strong.

How to reassure her? Make a point of showing her that you want to connect, that you're happy to see her when you get home, that you want to talk with her and tell her about what's going on in your life. When you want to have some alone time...

  1. Make sure you take a little time (it could just be a minute or two, really!) to genuinely connect with her first. Make eye contact with a warm, genuine smile, maybe give her a kiss, etc. Ask her how her day was, and really be present while she answers.
  2. Tell her Bob at work has been driving you all into the ground to get the new contracts out and you're just so excited to turn off your mind for a while and catch up on the Great British Bake Off (or whatever your actual situation is).
  3. Then when you go off to watch your show, she will know why (and it's not because you want to get away from her) and she'll know you like talking to her.
  4. When you're feeling refreshed, come find her again and tell her how much better you feel and maybe share with her something that got you excited about your show ("There was a cake/dragon/zombie/whatever that was so cool! Let me pull up a picture and show you.") Even if she doesn't actually have any interest in your TV show/hobby, she'll probably like your impulse to share something you enjoyed. And again, it underscores the fact that you do want to connect with her. Again, this interaction after your alone time can be quite brief --- just a minute or two might be plenty.

The idea isn't to balance the number of minutes you spend in "me" time vs. "us" time, but rather to make sure that she doesn't misread your desire for alone time as you pulling back from the relationship.

17

I believe you are phrasing the problem incorrectly, you say you want more "Man" time because she expects "Us" time but actually, by allowing her to always determine what you watch/do, you are joining her during "Her" time. There are 2 problems with this.

  1. No "Me"/"Man" time
  2. No/Low Quality "Us" time

Everyone needs their personal time to do the things they enjoy, currently you are giving your partner your time and starting to resent her slightly for this, enough to ask strangers for help, presumably not enough to hurt your relationship. The longer this continues the worse the situation will become. She needs to know how you feel. As you are spending "Her" time together she likely considers this to be "Us" time (if you aren't enjoying it, it isn't) and so may not understand why you want so much personal time when she doesn't. The truth is that she's already getting more than her fair share.

But how to resolve this situation?

Option 1 - Normalisation

The effectiveness of this method will depend on how entrenched your current patterns of behaviour are. Essentially you simply start doing more things you want to do and get used to her looking bored. Be sure to give her the opportunity to do her things and watch her shows as well with an even a split as you can. You can do this gradually, pick a series you want to watch and watch it regularly. Once she is used to the idea that at a certain time you will be watching that series she will either find something else to do on her own or she will stay with you and watch it in spite of her preferences. Even if she looks agitated and bored, stick with it, you need balance to maintain a healthy relationship.

Option 2 - The Millennial Solution

You will often see young people glued to their phones even in the company of friends and may think that they aren't enjoying each others' company. The truth is that they are simply harnessing technology to solve this exact problem. By each enjoying the things they enjoy whilst being in one-another's company, they can share the highlights of their own activity making for quality "Us" time without losing their "Me" time. In other words, get a tablet or laptop and some earbuds so that you can watch your shows whilst staying in the same room as your partner. Don't cut yourself off entirely, be sure to have pauses for conversation, offer to make a brew and so on as you would normally. The "Me" time won't be great quality but it will exist in much better balance. You can then have regular quality "Us" time by having meals out or going for a walk together or other shared activity.

Option 3 - Hobbies

Encourage your partner to find other activities that she likes. Maybe a book club or wine tasting. This will be easier if you do the same. You only need one night a week to make a huge difference so don't go overboard and suggest loads of activities as that will make it seem like you want her out of the house (which admittedly you do) rather than you wanting her to enjoy herself (which you also do). I would also suggest finding a hobby that you can enjoy together to improve your "Us" time as well.

Option 4 - Communication

Already mentioned this earlier but I feel that it needs repeating. Tell her how you feel. I know you've already done this but it sounds like your focus was on her going out more rather than you choosing what to watch more often. She must decide if she is willing to put up with your choices or find something else to do, you can't dictate this, but you have to let her know that you need to be able to choose what to watch as often as she does. Remember that you aren't pushing her away here, she can still be right there with you if she wants, but that's her decision. She can always use Option 2 herself and occupy herself with a second device without leaving your side.

Ultimately you have helped to create this situation by setting the level of expectation, the "normal", and now you seek to change this to rebalance things in your favour. There will be resistance to this, it won't be easy and could take a long time, but the longer you let this continue, the more you will begin to resent it and by extension, her. For the sake of your relationship, get to work fixing the problem you helped cause.

11

Have you two ever discussed, before or after moving in together, how each of you envision the relationship? It might be time for that discussion.

I've always been a person who overscheduled a lot of interests and activities and liked to be out and about. My ex-wife (spoiler alert!) saw her mother and step-father's relationship as her ideal partnership. They'd come home, sit in the living room, watch TV or sports together, have a couple cocktails.... always together. Her dad was much more of a get out, mountain-climb, go sailing, take a hunting weekend with the college friends type. I completely missed the clues that were right there.

I greatly curtailed my activities, but from her perspective of her mother's home life, I was still a very active, out of the house guy. From my perspective, I had already cut out a huge percentage of what I thought made me who I was. If I got to the point where I was coming home and just sitting on the house watching TV with her every night...... just throw the dirt on my still-breathing corpse.

I tried to get her to get out and have some of her own, personal activities that I was not a part of, that way we could coordinate "away"/"me" time without it being me abandoning her alone at home. Things were too far gone by time she started taking up more activities.

We just had very, very different ideas of what that relationship was supposed to be, and we never took the differences and tensions in hand and seriously examined what it meant.

You guys need to have that discussion. You'll either figure out where the compromise is and the shared priorities are, or you'll see that you both want very different things. Both of which are better, as sad as the second one is, than getting there through gradually escalating conflict (I'm not talking about physical, just how tension builds and non-physical fights evolve).

6

You mentioned in comments you are interested, so here are my thoughts on TV/hobby time.

Although she may get bored or annoyed by some of your favorite things, she is your partner and it sounds like you get on well so I think it is very reasonable to assume that if you express how much you enjoy something (such as favorite TV show) she will either be happy to encourage/give you space to do it, or even try and take up the new interest herself to grow closer to you. The latter here is why I recommend asking for TV/hobby time rather than time away from her where she may still encourage you to do what you want but there is no option to get closer to you and you risk making her feel pushed away.

One thing I might say is:

I heard from a friend that they thought Fargo was brilliant and I am really excited to see it. Now, I know you aren't really into dark comedy shows but I was thinking of watching it over the next week and you are welcome to join me.

Your partner wants you to be happy so if you say something like this then you need not feel guilty about watching it, and hopefully she will be glad for you too. You have also said that you know she doesn't typically enjoy it, but offered anyway. So now she has the choice to join or not and will not feel forced into anything, if she does not want to join then take it as you are each doing separate hobbies and you are also each happy for each other to do so, and if she joins you know it is because she wanted to and you can truly enjoy the magnificence that is Fargo, without any worry or guilt.

6

From the sound of it, she's not crazy, so I'll assume this can be resolved.

Part of this is that you're still new and exciting and she enjoys the emotional stimulation. Zero conflict means the relationship is dead. She's relationshipping with you.

But I think another part is that she's trying to find out where your boundaries are. She needs that information to be calm and know where she stands, and you're not providing it. I think the reason you're not providing it is because you feel like that will involve conflict, and you don't want to start a conflict with somebody you care about and live with.

Don't be frustrated with her. She's frustrated with you because you're being ambiguous. If you set boundaries from a place of frustration, that will lead to conflict. Everybody has a right to set reasonable boundaries. The only time a woman is your whole world is your mother when you're a toddler. Neither of you wants that kind of relationship.

If you "negotiate" or "ask" for time to yourself, that's like you're asking her for permission to set boundaries -- as if, as a grown man of 50, you still don't know what's reasonable. But she doesn't want to be your mother, and she doesn't feel like she is your mother. She doesn't know if you really need the time or what, so she's fluttering around, poking at it, trying to figure out what's what with this 200 lb gorilla she's waking up next to. She's not communicating this in a way that's very clear to you, but neither are you communicating in a way that's clear to her. It's a truism men and women usually have different communication styles. You can't expect a cat to catch a frisbee. And one of the running jokes in the human comedy is that both sides have a habit of assuming that the other is trying to do it their way and just isn't very good at it.

So pick a reasonable, considerate set of boundaries and be consistent and proportionate about it. Most importantly, be clear about it in a calm and friendly way. Some people have a tragically mistaken idea that "setting boundaries" has something to do with confrontation or anger. That idea comes from people blowing it off until they're angry, and then blaming the other person for their own failure to communicate important information in a timely manner. Tell her "When I'm watching the game I want to focus on the game" or whatever. Obviously if the stove bursts into flame or her sister gets hit by a truck, the game can wait.

There will be more fluttering until she's convinced that you're steady and consistent and you know your own mind (besides, as I said, she enjoys minor emotional ups and downs as a harmless entertainment, much the way we enjoy football). Be patient and don't get drawn into arguments about it. If possible, figure out how to tease her about it in a way that makes her light up (shouldn't need to be said that if she doesn't light up, what you're doing is not teasing, it's mean and you should drop it).

This isn't an occasion for conflict, so don't approach it that way. I certainly hope there isn't any conflict when she sets her boundaries.

Then once you know each other's rules and the excitement wears off, you can get bored with each other and come back for more advice.

  • 2
    This is a really, nice, clear, insightful answer. Yes, you're kind of treating my partner as a dog needing to be trained, but I totally get where you're going with this and it makes perfect sense. Thanks a lot for a great and thought-provoking answer! – Snow Jan 9 '18 at 15:19
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    @Snow I wouldn't express it as "dog needing to be trained" at all, other than maybe in a very vague sense that the only way to communicate with people, dogs, cats, computers, and motorcycles is in terms they understand. Anyway, I called you a gorilla, so hey :) – Ed Plunkett Jan 9 '18 at 15:25
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    Yes, that's what I meant. We have dogs ourselves, so the parallel jumped immediately to mind. N offense meant. – Snow Jan 9 '18 at 15:26
6

This could easily be my dad's post but you said there were no kids. My mom is like this; very clingy and needs to always have a partner for mundane things like watching a show that she likes even if my dad hates it. ("say yes to the dress" for example). You need to get on top of this issue now.

My dad took a passive and gentle approach for a long time. He indulged her in this need- and to offset it, he would stay up very late just to get some alone time. Then she became angry that he no longer went to bed at the same time as her anymore. Occasionally she'd wake up from the anxiety of him not being in bed yet and would come to the stairway and yell "FredddddDDDD!!" And he'd jump up and get to bed.

I'm a woman in my thirties now and my parents are still together. My dad still fights for his alone time. I believe at some point he set a rule that he wanted to watch football every week by himself. Even so my mom still finds a way to intervene. He still stays up late and sometimes falls asleep on the couch.

I'd strongly encourage you to tackle this head on. Be firm but tactful. You may need to set a schedule of alone time. Maybe if she knows ahead of time she'll handle it better. For example - every Monday night and Thursday night I need a few hours to myself, completely uninterrupted. Or just give her 24 hours notice if possible.

4

I recently discussed this topic with a therapist, and will pass on her words of wisdom (as I understood them) -

Many couples come to view themselves as basically two inseparable pieces of a single entity. This can create the impression that any "air space" in the relationship indicates a problem. However, the reality is, the best relationships are between two people who are complete and independent. Thus, when both people have the time and space to do what's important to them, the relationship actually becomes stronger and more fulfilling, rather than feeling like something that is trapping or limiting you. Individual and shared experiences complement each other - if you did something interesting by yourself today, you'll have something you're excited to talk about with your partner.

So here are my suggestions:

1) Talk to her! (I know, this one is novel, right?) I won't go into detail here, since this has been covered in just about every answer.

2) If you discuss this with her for a while and still aren't able to get on the same page, consider seeing a therapist. This is a tricky one, because seeing a therapist has negative connotations and either you or your partner could interpret it as meaning your relationship is in a bad place. But it is just a means of having someone provide an outside perspective. And it shows your dedication to making sure there are no misunderstandings. Your partner may be getting agitated when you watch something she's not interested in because she's afraid that means you're losing interest in her. A good therapist can help immeasurably in helping clear up that common misconception.

3) Make sure your partner understands that you absolutely support any hobbies or interests that she has but you don't share.

4

It is perfectly normal and healthy for each partner to have time to do the things they enjoy which the other partner may not enjoy. So long as you make quality time for joint activities, that is not unreasonable or neglectful and not something you should have to negotiate.

From what you have posted, your partner may have a few areas to improve. There may be a little too much control if your every minute needs to be doing what pleases your partner or benefical primarily to the partner. Especially if your partner brews resentment, and then that culminates in some type of punishment such as cold shoulder, vocal anger, withholding affection, etc. Of course this is speculation, as it is unclear what it means that you have to stop doing what you want is that she is more relaxed.

You partner may not be able to find enjoyment in solo activities and is too dependent upon you to keep entertained.

Those things said, I wouldn't phrase it as needing "man" time and instead position it as time to enjoy activities which bring you enjoyment and take your mind off your demanding job, etc. Do some research and gather various expert opinions on how alone time is needed in a relationship:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/02/the-secret-to-relationshi_n_4326246.html

I doubt you will find many expert opinions that say alone time is unnecessary. Digest all of this, and then plan on how to best approach the topic in a non-confrontational manner. I am quite confident that once you seek many expert opinions on this, you will be left feeling that your relationship will improve, and that is what I would focus on in the discussion.

3

Alyssa, I'm looking forward to watching an episode of my favorite program, (name of program) this week. I was thinking of watching it either Tuesday or Wednesday evening. Do you have a preference? [You can offer two choices for the time of watching as well.] ... You're welcome to join me if you want to, but if you'd rather watch a program of your own at that time, or go for a walk or [name something she enjoys doing], I'll understand.

The idea: you are going to watch a program you enjoy and have been looking forward to. That's a given. But you're offering her choices.

0

Yes, that's one of the tougher parts of family life, in my experience. Be glad that there are no children involved!

Oh, and nothing of this is related to gender, if the OP were a woman, then we could switch everything around. I am just using genderized terms like "Her" etc. for convenience.

The ideal relationship, in my opinion, would be one which is optional for both partners. I.e., both partners would be self-sufficient, relaxed, and would not suffer at all if the other partner would spontaneously disappear from their lives completely. Both would be able to happily live alone without any form of boredom, insecurity or anything like that. This would mean that both would be happy with any of the "times" ("Man"/"Her"/"Us"-time as per Lord Jebus VII's answer).

I guess what would work as well would be if both are very insecure or easily bored on their own, and both cling to each other to the same degree. This would lead to a pure "Us"-Time and no "Man"/"Woman"-Time.

Unfortunately, it seems not to work out like this, usually. At least one of the partners seems to cling more heavily than the other. You seem to be the one not clinging so much, she does. This puts immense strain on a relationship, in my experience, both from personal experience and from witnessing friends/relatives. You may see it as a minor inconvenience right now, but it will grow and grow and grow. She is already dominating you by her behaviour - i.e., she gets unhappy, so you feel forced to do things you do not wish to do. This can easily spiral into quite uncomfortable zones. For example, you might start to arbitrarily come back home later from work to avoid the uncomfort for a bit longer; or invent white lies; or start hanging out outside of the comfort zone of your home with friends more; etc.

So. I cannot really tell you what to do, as we don't know what's happening in her head, and I frankly do not know from what you wrote how honest you can talk with her (it seems that you have not developed a good base for earnest talks yet). But I would really start watching out here. Discuss the topic very openly with her. It is not about which TV programmes you are watching; it is about how you guys are seeing your relationship (and yourselves) in the comming years. Both of you can waste a lot of time if you cannot fix this topic now, before it is too late.

protected by Mister Positive Jan 10 '18 at 13:12

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