“As an introvert myself, I love to be alone but I’m sometimes misunderstood.”
That’s what a Wise Introvert newsletter subscriber wrote to me, expressing her desire to take a solo trip in the near future.
She described how she’s a wife and a stay-at-home mom who finds it hard to get away (like many of you, I’m sure) for her much needed solitude.
She went on to say that,
“My husband thinks I want to escape him, or thinks it’s about him. But, I just simply enjoy to capture and experience things alone, objectively, sometimes! Can you perhaps write a blog post about this?”
I’m grateful for the request, and am happy to share my thoughts. I’ve been traveling solo for years and encourage other introverted women to gather the courage to do the same. But I haven’t addressed the issue from the perspective of how to encourage our partners to support our choices.
For this post, I consulted with my own hubby – an extrovert – who has been supporting me as I’ve gone off on my own (or stayed home alone) at various times over the past twelve years. The first time was a weekend at a lakeside cottage when my daughter was about a year old and I had hit a rock bottom.
LET ME START BY SAYING THAT YOU DON’T NEED PERMISSION, APPROVAL, OR EVEN UNDERSTANDING TO DO WHAT YOU NEED TO DO TO CARE FOR YOURSELF.
That said, I know that it feels easier to take that time for ourselves when our partner acknowledges and respects that we know what’s best for us and offers support (ideally creating space for us with his/her blessing).
The truth is, introverts need solitude for self-care and to regain our energy, but we’re not intentionally trying to cause disruption in our families. It’s about loving ourselves as much as we love the people we share our lives with.
Maybe it comes down to appreciating difference – and embracing each other – knowing that it’s part of what makes us who we are. Therefore, what we need for our own well-being has nothing to do with what our partner is or is not providing us.
For example, my hubby NEEDS to stay physically active specifically by playing in competitive team sports. Solo physical activities are not enough. Sport without competition is not enough. I don’t understand it (and admit that I think he’s wanting to re-live his glory days as an athlete at times), but I trust that he knows himself best, I honour his needs and believe that his choices will keep him happy and healthy (and therefore more pleasant to live with). So he plays with his team a couple times a week plus solo runs & weight training on non-team days, and he comes back with positive energy that is good for our entire family.
It’s the same thing with an introvert’s need for solitude. He fills up by training and playing competitive team sports. I fill up by spending time alone – at home or through solo travel.
WE CAN’T BE EVERYTHING TO OUR PARTNER (OR KIDS FOR THAT MATTER). AND WE CAN’T EXPECT THEM TO BE EVERYTHING FOR US. IT’S AN IMPOSSIBLE EXPECTATION.
In terms of helping your partner to support you in claiming your solitude (whether through solo travel or something else), make it easier for him by understanding how he makes decisions and then by sharing your intention in a way that he will be more open to hearing it.
It’s important to address any feelings of fear and inadequacy that your partner might be experiencing. My hubby put it this way:
“It’s like a loss. Your partner is leaving you for a reason. It can make you wonder, What am I doing wrong that makes you want to leave? What haven’t I given you? Maybe there are trust and jealousy issues too.”
You are not responsible for making these fears and feelings of inadequacy go away. But if you anticipate that they exist, you can to do your best to acknowledge them and offer reassurance.
Whether it’s in a quiet conversation, a letter you’ve written, or some other creative way, express how you feel, why you need to have some time to yourself, how this links to your ENERGY, and what positive impact you believe taking this time for yourself will have.
For me, I don’t think I’ve felt a more powerful demonstration of love and acceptance than when my hubby defends my solitude, personal boundaries, and time away – even when few people really understand the importance (including him sometimes).
It’s like the chorus of that Dixie Chicks song, Easy Silence – that makes me cry every time I hear it: “I’ve come to find a refuge in the easy silence that you make for me…and the peaceful quiet you create for me, and the way you keep the world at bay for me.”
This feels like a deep knowing within him that says, I see you – and you matter. Married to him for 25 years, this attentive man has my heart. I need my time alone & to do things that fuel ME (outside of my roles) – and I ALWAYS want to come home to HIM. That’s his reassurance, and he feels it at every ‘welcome home’.
Some partners will benefit from learning more about the physiological aspects of introversion as a way to make your need for solitude feel less personal. Introverts can push themselves to do what they need to do in order to accomplish daily tasks, but only for so long. Eventually, you will feel like you’ve hit a wall and your energy is drained. You feel empty.
“But protractedly acting out of character can extract a cost, including increased activity of the fight-flight reaction in the sympathetic nervous system and potential burnout…The costs of acting out of character can be mitigated by the availability of restorative niches in which one’s first nature can be indulged on occasion.” Dr. Brian Little
Valuable resources about introversion include Susan Cain’s book, Quiet (or her TedX video), Sophia Dembling (author of Introverts in Love), Laurie Helgoe (author of Introvert Power), and Marti Olsen Laney (author of The Introvert Advantage, seen with Dr. Brian Little in this informative CBC feature about introversion).
Bottom line: Introversion is an innate temperament, not a defective personality characteristic that developed as a result of other people’s actions or that can be unlearned. Introverts must have regular periods of time ‘away’ to be their best selves (in alignment with our first nature).
Over time, introverts learn (sometimes the hard way) that being proactive about creating this space (restorative niches) can prevent the burn-out and fight-flight reaction which signify that you’ve neglected yourself for too long. As part of this proactive planning, your partner can play a significant role in your success and well-being.
Out of respect for your partner, you don’t want to make it seem like you’re going to dump everything and run away. Imagining what the daily routine will look like without you in the picture can create a feeling of overwhelm for your partner (and let’s assume that he has enough going on without having to take on double).
Make it easier by taking the lead in discussing and working out the details together in advance (budgeting, child care, meals, scheduling, carpooling etc. – this is more detailed if kids are involved or you have a business together). Leave a detailed schedule of what you have organized to reduce the pressure for daily decision making when you’re gone.
And don’t forget safety. For both of your sakes, anticipate how you will stay in touch while you’re gone, make sure you have important contact information, copies of government documents and emergency contacts etc. before you leave. I take one copy for myself and email a copy to my hubby (so he knows where to find it).
Anticipating and addressing all the little details is important in increasing comfort levels amongst change. For us, this step helps to reinforce the core belief that we operate as a team that respects and supports each other.
ANSWERING WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOUR PARTNER?
What’s in it for me is a natural question in a person’s thought process. So identify the benefits of you getting the solitude you need.
When you come back happier and more energized – your partner benefits in many ways. Talk about it.
There are also potential benefits your partner gains from being home alone to run things solo. Discuss them.
Don’t forget the power of leading by example. When you are true to yourself and invest in your self-care, you are declaring your self-worth. And it makes it easier for your partner (or children) to do the same when it’s his/her turn.
Time to yourself is not about straying or abandoning. It’s about grounding and strengthening. Focus on the benefits.
I believe that the people who love us want the best for us. For introverts, that simply must include solitude and time to do our own things.
Don’t over-complicate and over-think this – what is it that your partner really needs to know in order to be more accepting of your need for solitude with love and trust in his heart and a supportive YES?
Getting the solitude you need is ultimately about your well-being, and making this commitment, especially if it means change for your family, isn’t always easy.
HELP YOUR PARTNER TO EMBRACE AND TRUST YOU, NOT NECESSARILY TO UNDERSTAND THE DECISION YOU’RE MAKING.
Most importantly, trust yourself.
When you trust your intuition and feel confident that this is the right action for you to take now – and you approach the conversation with intention rather than permission-seeking – you will find it easier to get your partner on board.
I’m taking this solo trip to take care of myself, with love for you, not to escape you (and the kids). When I get back, I’ll be more myself again.
In the end, while your actions will impact your partner, it’s really not about them – it’s about deciding that you’re worth it. For many of us, THAT is the toughest part.
So, I’ll close with the same comment I shared with the wonderful Wise Introvert who requested this post:
With a gentle nudge, I’ll remind you that it will come down to when you are ready to take action without permission or approval. Yes, that’s scary. Yes, that takes courage. And, yes, you can do it – in your own way, when you’re ready (well, as ready as you can be – uncertainty and fear will remain).
Be Brave. Be Seen. Be True.