Tom smiled wide as he reached twenty feet on the layered minerals of rock beneath him at The Circuit Bouldering Gym in Portland, Ore. He had found a new hobby. His girlfriend, Holly, stood below him, cheering him on. Holly found she wasn’t cut out for her boyfriend’s hobby. She tried climbing a few different times but after falling, she realized that she wasn’t physically strong enough to keep up. Even though she wanted to do things with Tom, it was clear that she just wasn’t meant to do everything with him.
“We each have our own hobbies and even though we often try to share them with each other, we find that having our own thing makes it a lot easier to be comfortable with ourselves,” Holly said. “Tom does a lot of rock climbing, and I’ve tried it, but it’s not really my thing so when he gets to have that alone time to go climbing, it allows him to have time away from the responsibility of taking care of me.”
Holly and Tom’s relationship is not unique, though. According to psychologist Mary Anne Fitzpatrick, there are a variety of couple-types. Each couple-type’s attitudes and beliefs toward their partner and relationship hold particular implications for how they deal with conflict. Fitzpatrick developed general relationship clusters to categorize couples into three categories: independent, traditional and separate.
Independent couple-types value both connection and personal autonomy. They actively discuss many aspects of their relationship and hold nontraditional beliefs about relationships. In these couples, there is an open sharing of love and caring and the tendency to communicate a wide range and intensity of feelings. These relational partners tend to seek new friends and experiences. As for space, these couples like to take their own vacations and each has their own private space. They can also go long periods of time without spending much time together.
Some examples of this may be a couple where one of them is in the army and is away for months at a time, or has a job where they travel a lot and aren’t home much. These kinds of couples do fine with space and it doesn’t affect their relationship in any certain way.
The second couple-type is traditional. The men and women in these relationships are highly interdependent and like to do things together versus alone. Since this type is traditional, they tend to hold gender role beliefs, such as the woman taking the man’s last name when they get married. These couples also use positive communication behaviors during conflict, such as discussing issues instead of threatening with issues, and they tend to not argue over petty things.
An example of this is if a couple took up certain hobbies together or if they had to choose between a night out with friends or a movie night together, they might choose to be with each other instead.
The third couple-type is separate. These relationships tend to avoid not only conflict, but interaction as well. Inevitably, couples are going to have to have disagreements in their relationships. The way they resolve these differences, however, range from totally avoiding conflict to actively engaging in it. Couples vary as to their willingness to engage in conflict and their degree of assertiveness with one another.
An example of these couples may be ones who ask each other what is wrong and the one that is upset responds with “nothing” just to avoid having a fight over what he or she really wants to discuss, therefore furthering the problem.
Alesia Woszidlo, an interpersonal communication scholar at the University of Kansas, said that each couple deals with space in a relationship in its own ways.
“Space is important, but it functions differently for different couples,” Woszidlo said. “Some couples place more value on sharing space with one another while others prefer more separate space.”
Having enough privacy and space in a relationship is more beneficial to the survival of that relationship than having a good sex life, according to Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan.
During her research, Orbuch found that 29 percent of spouses said that they did not have enough space and out of those who reported that they were unhappy, 12 percent said the reason was due to the lack of time for themselves.
Holly also said that by giving each other space, she and her boyfriend build trust in their relationship.
“Tom and I have zero trust issues because we are away from each other so often and are really open and honest about what we are doing, and we have to be, because the only thing you have to go on is the other person’s word when you’re not together,” Holly said. “It’s super easy to love someone who is an individual, knows where they stand, and has the same respect and hopes for you, and I think space facilitates all of those things.”
The following audio is about how two college girls deal with space in their own relationships.
Wisdom: Space and individuality both play a key role in a relationship between two significant others. Kelsey Clothier, a sophomore at the University of Kansas says that she thinks the space between her boyfriend and her is what has kept their relationship stable for so long.
Clothier: My boyfriend, Blake, lives in Wichita and I live in Lawrence so obviously we don’t see each other very much. I would say that the whole space thing is good for our relationship because my major is pre-pharmacy so it’s pretty hard and I keep myself busy with that a lot. So it’s kind of good because when I’m not with him I can focus on studying and it helps a lot with our relationship in that way because he’s really supportive of the time that I spend studying and that kind of adds to the strength of our relationship because it means more to me that he’s more supportive of the time that I take away from him to study and he respects that so it’s kind of, it’s a bonus.
Wisdom: Katie Krim, a junior at the University of Kansas realizes that space is what makes her time with her boyfriend so much more meaningful when they’re together.
Krim: My boyfriend Josh and I usually see each other about five times a week. The thing is that we’re best friends so it’s really easy to tell him, hey, I need to do homework, I can’t have you distracting me, or I really need you to just stay at your house because I need my own space or just alone time and I think that we both have had relationships where the other person is too demanding and suffocating our lives and we have both learned through those types of relationships how to let that other person have their own space because once they’ve had their own space, they tend to come back and be more loving and are refreshed and it becomes a more healthy relationship because we aren’t always in each other’s presence even though we do spend a lot of time together. That also has a lot to do with the fact that we both have the same really close friends, but we still have that mutual ground of knowing, hey I need my space and it’s fine I mean, it works out great, we’ve been dating for over two years and we’ve found a really great way to make that common ground.
Wisdom: This is Jordan Wisdom at collegeloveadvice, thanks for listening.
The graphic above shows a surveyed group of 136 middle-class Americans’ satisfactions and dissatisfactions in a relationship and how they’re broken down.
Source: Between Husbands & Wives: Communication in Marriage (1988)