Want Real Relationship Advice? Leave … and Come Back

Young person sitting on sofa knitting a blanketDo you struggle to step away from your partner to spend time by yourself or with others? Do feelings of guilt follow you out the door?

Balancing time together and time apart in a relationship can be challenging. On one hand, you may very well love each other and enjoy each other’s company. You may treasure your time together, talking and experiencing the world as a couple. On the other hand, spending time alone or with different people is also important.

For many people in relationships, separateness and togetherness can feel like oil and water, like they don’t mix.

The good news is independence and connection don’t have to be in conflict. I know this may sound like wild relationship advice, but here’s a skill I help couples practice all the time: leave and come back.

That’s right.

Leave … and come back.

Leave …

Be your own person. Follow your own passions. Live your own dreams.

You’ve been wanting to knit a blanket for your sister’s baby? Watch 15 hours of YouTube videos and figure it out! Meet the yarn expert at your local crafts store and take them for coffee afterward.

Try not to think about your partner. Don’t feel guilty for the time spent away. These passions, dreams, and the sense of self you obtain when you embody your own life infuse energy into your relationship.

You’ve always wanted to brew your own beer? Buy an all-grain kit and do it! Introduce yourself to the owner of a local brewery or find a class and meet like-minded hobbyists.

Try not to think about your partner. Don’t feel guilty for the time spent away. These passions, dreams, and the sense of self you obtain when you embody your own life infuse energy into your relationship.

In fact, next time you’re on vacation with your partner, consider spending some time on your own, doing your own thing—visit a place you’re interested in visiting, eat something you’ve been aching to try, or witness something you weren’t sure you were looking for. These separate experiences within the shared experience can enrich the experience as a whole, bringing new eyes and ears and a smattering of “Oh, really? Wow!” to your conversations.

… and come back.

Share your heart. Bare your soul. Bring the insights and questions and “aha!” moments back to your partner.

That blanket you knit for your sister’s baby? Use that solo experience to teach your partner what it means to be patient, that to knit is to be precisely free. That first batch of beer you brewed? Use that solo experience to teach your partner what it means to be creative, that to brew is to be uniquely uniform. Give each other the gifts of putting a new spin on tradition.

This is what I mean when I tell people I work with in couples therapy to leave and come back: Go! Go into the world as a unique, whole person and be aware, be vulnerable. And come back! Come back to each other as a unique, whole person and be aware, be vulnerable. We leave to restore and affirm, and we come back to restore and affirm.

It’s important to be careful, of course—careful with distance, with time, with company, with intention, with meaning. How far away from your partner is too far? It takes sensitivity. How wonderful was it without you? It takes trust.

Ultimately, your relationship will be stronger for your individual passions and dreams, for the people you are when you’re apart. You’ll bring that energy back to the relationship, using it to deepen your connection and intimacy, which in turn gives you the courage and freedom to explore on your own once again.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Emily Cook, PhD, LCMFT, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Kelsey

    July 22nd, 2016 at 7:34 AM

    I have this problem with the kids. I know that I need some alone time and my husband would be willing to do that for me but I feel so guilty when I leave, and then they are crying and that just makes it even worse for me to feel like I shouldn’t even walk out that door.

  • Dr. Emily Cook

    July 25th, 2016 at 12:11 PM

    Kelsey, as a mom myself I understand your feelings of guilt when leaving the kids to spend time on your own. I encourage you to think of this time as caring for yourself, that it is nurturing the garden of your soul. That way, when you come back, there are flowers for them to pick and shade to sit under and a place of peace to play and explore. They’ll learn that you always come back, and that you have more to give them when you do.

  • Martine

    July 23rd, 2016 at 8:56 AM

    There was a time in my life where all I wanted was for my husband and my family to somehow set me free. I didn’t feel like I had it in me anymore to accept the responsibility of being a spouse and a parent even though these were choices that I had made. So I left them behind, vowing that he could have the kids and I wasn’t coming back. I didn’t quite understand just how hurt they would be and how empty I would feel when I no longer had them in my life.
    I am grateful that with work and help he took me back and the kids have accepted me back into their lives too but I know that there is still hurt and anger there that might never go away.

  • Dr. Emily Cook

    July 25th, 2016 at 12:06 PM

    Martine, it sounds like by coming back, you and your family are doing the hard and important work of healing the wounds of leaving. Thank you for your comment.

  • mona

    July 23rd, 2016 at 11:48 AM

    and then what if the advice that you have when you return is that this is really not a good fit for you?

  • Dr. Emily Cook

    July 25th, 2016 at 12:04 PM

    Hi Mona, that’s a great follow-up question. It can be hard to know how to end a relationship that no longer feels like a good fit. I wonder–what is holding you back from sharing your concerns with your partner? It may be helpful to talk through your concerns with a therapist first, to gain insight and confidence.

  • Louise

    July 25th, 2016 at 9:13 AM

    I have tried doing these things, finding a part of myself that I can enjoy on my own but them share, and it feels like no one wants to be a part of that. That makes me feel lonelier honestly.

  • Dr. Emily Cook

    July 25th, 2016 at 12:01 PM

    Louise, I understand. Sometimes, time alone can accentuate feelings of loneliness. Perhaps the place to start is with time together–really enjoying the quality time you spend with the people you love and who love you. Could these moments fill you up, sustaining you through your time apart?

  • Jeremy

    July 26th, 2016 at 10:18 AM

    Sometimes you just need a little time away from a person or even a living arrangement to clearly see how much you want or need this in your life. I think that our vision often gets skewed when we are in the middle of living it, so that’s why you have to get out of it for a while to know if this is a positive situation for you to be in. I think that it should be fairly easy to get your answer once you can take a step away and look at it through eyes that are a little more further removed and objective.

  • John

    July 28th, 2016 at 4:32 PM

    I agree that taking a little time out and a step back can give you much clearer perspective about what you feel like you need not only out of this relationship but out of life. There is not the appreciation for what you usually have until you no longer have it, and then you can see pretty clearly whether this is a person that you want to keep as a part of your life. I think that until we can take that step back it is hard to get the clarity that we need.

  • tristan

    July 30th, 2016 at 11:23 AM

    I don’t think that I could leave to go do my own thing.
    It would make me feel too guilty

  • Smugg B

    November 8th, 2016 at 2:38 AM

    I need to thank you for the exhortation on when to leave your relationship. It really gave me a premise to follow up on. Your recommendation was extremely useful. Much obliged to You

  • Mike J.

    August 4th, 2017 at 5:31 AM

    Simply a Great and real advice. I just Loved it. Its good to be your own boss and live your own life to get out of a bad relationship. Thanks for showing the path to happiness.

  • Myrelationships Center

    July 27th, 2018 at 1:45 AM

    your post showing that, Its good to be your own boss and live your own life to get out of a bad relationship. but when you are good relationship, must be a collaborate with good vibes from both side.

  • David

    July 28th, 2023 at 4:54 AM

    the success of this approach depends on the individuals involved and their willingness to put in the effort to work on themselves and the relationship. If both partners are committed to growth and genuine connection, taking a break and coming back might offer a chance for a more profound and fulfilling relationship. Thanks, Emily for this awesome knowledge!

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