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Relationship Myth: There's no "i" in team
Getting more of what you need
This is the first post in a series called Relationship Myths Busted: Increase the Depth of Your Intimacy and Improve Your Sex Life.
In this series I will explore some of the most rampant, but subtle, myths that pervade our relationships. These myths keep us from getting our needs met, keep us disconnected and in conflict, and can even lead to break up or divorce. Once you’ve examined each myth you will have a greater understanding of what you need to be completely fulfilled in your relationship and how to ask for it. You’ll have a better understanding of the needs of your partner and how to help them meet those needs. You’ll have a better sex life, and more.
The majority of my readers are men, so I often speak directly to them. With that being said, I believe that these concepts can be helpful to anyone in an intimate partnership and encourage you to share this with your partner if it resonates with you.
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Many people feel a shitload of guilt whenever they take space from their partners. On a recent Soul Searching Adventure, a couple of the guys felt guilty just for being there.
I was reminded of a relationship advice thread I once read, where someone said “There’s no “I” in team.” That struck me as misleading, at the very least, and maybe harmful.
Too many people believe they’re supposed to give up their individuality for the sake of the relationship—that there’s no space for them to be individuals.
If they ask for space for themselves, then they think that makes them selfish.
The right attitude
The most evolved relationships I know of are interdependent. There are 2 completely sovereign individuals who have their own thoughts, feelings, interests, and experiences that come together in a relationship. They’re completely independent. As The Way of the Superior Man author David Deida says, they create a deeper sense of love and wellbeing in life through their mutual gifting.
The truth is that BOTH space and closeness are important.
Too much intimacy without space can lead to…
Both people losing themselves to the relationship
Things feeling mundane and boring
Both feeling smothered
Too much familiarity and feeling like siblings/roommates… and very few people want to bone their siblings (this may not apply to you if you’re from the backwoods of Tennessee).
Too much space without intimacy can lead to…
Lack of feeling truly “seen” by the other
One or both seeking to have other people meet their intimacy needs, like with a new training partner at the gym. One second you’re spotting each other… and next thing you know, you discover she left her panties at your house, so you flush them down the toilet.
One of the very first concepts my wife, Adee, and I got from our relationship coach Annie Lalla was that in most couples, there is an I-centered person and a We-centered person. The I-centered person is often a man, and the We-centered person is often a woman, but not always!
Better at taking care of his or her personal needs
More connected to his or her innate desires
More likely to crave and require more space in life and in conflict (more often)
Comes across as selfish sometimes
More aware of and better at taking care of the needs of the relationship
More willing to do what the other wants to do
More likely to crave and require closeness in life and physical touch in conflict
Comes across as needy sometimes
When we got together, I essentially hired Adee to train me to be a better team player. To think of the group before myself more often. To be more present with others.
In return, she hired me to train her how to "self." How to think about her own desires more often. How to identify and cultivate her own passions—so that when she had space, she knew how she wanted to use it.
We learned that space wasn't just for me. Even though I craved it more than her, it was something that we both needed.
Both for Both
Both people overvalue their own needs and undervalue those of their partner, or they assume that their partner has the same exact needs. So, each person bitches and complains and then thinks that they need to give the other what they want and that it’s just for the other.
This is wrong.
When Adee says she feels disconnected from me and needs more us-time, it’s not that SHE needs more us-time. WE need more we-time.
One of her gifts to me is bringing me back into a place of being deeply in love, which makes my whole life better. But I get so focused on what I want, on goals, and on the future, that I forget.
She is calling me to a higher level of existence in which I am not distracted. The fundamental reason for nearly all of my fights with her is that I’m not being fully present. And my being more present is actually more for me than it is her. Adee sees the highest version of me, and she reflects back to me how I fall short of what she knows I’m already capable of.
Annie says “Intimacy and Space are two sacred polarities” or “surrender and autonomy,” as Esther Perel, renowned relationship expert, puts it. One partner has a greater need for each, but they both need both.
Intimacy is about getting more…
Rhythm and harmony in the relationship
Space is about getting more…
Expansion and growth
Following curiosities and passions
Attention to yourself
Connection with self
Don’t those all sound like things we ALL want more of in our lives? Yes. And the I-person and We-person train each other to get those things that are not native for them to get for themselves. Sure, you can get them all by yourself, but part of partnership is like building a business. It’s about collaborating with others to create something greater than you could by yourself.
“Love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery. Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it. If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, eroticism is numbed by repetition. It thrives on the mysterious, the novel, and the unexpected. Love is about having; desire is about wanting. An expression of longing, desire requires ongoing elusiveness. It is less concerned with where it has already been than passionate about where it can still go. But too often, as couples settle into the comforts of love, they cease to fan the flame of desire. They forget that fire needs air.” -Esther Perel
We need intimacy to deepen our connection with each other. We need space to stay connected to ourselves.
On a regular basis, it’s helpful to have some daily contact, but to also have your own individual pursuits and experiences interspersed throughout the day.
It is also crucial that both people get significant time to be separate, apart, away from each other in the relationship – true separateness.
For me, my business gives me this big exhale where for a week at a time I don’t have to worry about the relationship (I take men on epic outdoor trips to help them get clarity around their work and build deeper relationships). When we re-connect, I’m filled with gratitude and I remember how much I love her and my family. A better way to say it might be that I FEEL how much I love them again.
Esther Perel, says that eroticism relies on uncertainty, mystery, separateness, and space. This is why some of the best sex happens when you’ve been apart for a long time. Even with my wife of 7 years, I get a few butterflies in my stomach after I haven't seen her in a week.
BOTH the more independent person and the less independent person need BOTH space and communion. Both are vital for them as individuals, not just for the relationship.
Both have both needs. Women sometimes think I need to give the man his space for him, but really the truth is that we both need space, and the space I give him is also a gift to me because it teaches me how to get that for myself. This is how you reach a more evolved version of yourselves.
The false view comes up with coaching clients and on Soul Searching Adventures all the time. People get this idea from everywhere. The common rhetoric is ‘ball and chain.’ Or ‘he’ll finally settle down when I get ahold of him.’
The “I” person doesn’t always see the value of communal time and the “We” person doesn’t always see the value of individuality. They both try to take more of what they want. They don’t have this language about the importance of both togetherness and space, so they’re each busy just trying to steal fragments of what they need wherever they can. Everything is “quid pro quo” and “what have you done for me lately?”
In quid-pro-quo mode both people are riddled with guilt. You feel it when you’re away from her and the family. She feels it when she feels like she’s nagging you to spend more time with her.
You’ll often feel disconnected, even though you spend so much time around each other.
She might not have many close girlfriends and might not maintain many interests outside the relationship. This creates a huge burden for the relationship to meet all of her needs in life.
When both people aren’t getting both intimacy AND space, your sex life may become bland, stale and/or nonexistent.
How do I get more space?
Maybe counterintuitively, start by asking, “How can I give her more of what she needs?”
6 months in with Adee, I realized I needed some space—but when I called her and told her this, she kinda panicked, catastrophized, and thought our relationship was drastically changing.
That’s the moment when Annie taught us about I vs We.
I realized that one of my gifts to the relationship (as the I-centered Person) was standing for both of us getting more freedom and autonomy.
However, the way I went about this at the beginning was making a bunch of plans without consulting her.
The image I conjured up with this was that I was taking the space. I made plans to hang out with friends or planned a trip alone. I made plans in my head to spend the night reading alone without talking to her first.
But the more I did that, the needier she became. What I learned to do instead is like a Chinese finger trap; sometimes you have to GIVE what is least intuitive to you before you can GET what you want.
The more I pulled away, the tighter she held on.
The more I planned creative date nights, or flirted with her, praised her, or came home and gave her 100% of my attention, the more she wanted to give me space.
When I did this, she was then almost desperate to give me the space I needed! Reciprocity is a core drive of humans.
When her cup is overflowing, she will want to fill yours by encouraging you to hang with the boys, to follow your dreams and interests, etc.
My friend Martha Heymans, founder of How We Get Along, told me, “When Anthony (her husband) is super present with me, takes interest and asks me questions and listens to what’s going on in my world, is playful, loving, etc. I feel like I am un-triggerable for a while afterwards 😂. It feels natural and good to encourage and support him taking space when I’m in that place (and ends up being good for me too).”
In the beginning it’s okay if she thinks it’s just for you and that she doesn’t need the space as well. Over time, as you become more and more alive due to you doing things that excite you, she will want some of that for herself, and she may come to you for guidance.
I vividly remember walking into a grocery store in San Marcos, TX, and Adee was in a breakdown.
“I have no friends and don’t know how to make friends,” she said.
On the surface, she was trying to make me feel bad for having my own friends and holding my boundary of having time that was just for me away from her. Underneath she was crying out for help in how to start making friends. I did my best to simply hear her in her pain and loneliness.
Then she asked me, “What should I do?”
That’s a topic for another day, but it’s something that has always come naturally to me and on which I had a lot of ideas for her. I’m sure that you also have things that come so naturally to you you don’t even think they’re a big deal that are completely foreign to your partner.
Ready, Set, WTF do I do with all of this information?
First, it really helps to have a shared language around this stuff. It helps for both of you to see each other’s needs as sacred and also to understand how uncomfortable it is for your partner to give you what you need, especially in times of stress.
So you already know not to go and start taking space without consulting your woman.
I also do NOT advise you to go to her and say you just realized that “independence is really important for both of us,” and “we need some space from each other.”
Ideally for a conversation like this, you ask her if she has time to talk about something you just learned/relearned that could help you love each other more. If she’s busy, then ask when would be a good time. You could share this article with her.
Whenever that time comes, you might start by saying something like “I read this article that said togetherness and space are sacred polarities in a relationship. One of the things I realized by reading the article was that I haven’t been appreciating the value that you bring to the relationship with the communal part of you. I’d love to hear how I could better meet your needs for togetherness.”
Look her in the eyes, letting go of all other distractions when you are with her
Ask her about her day, how she’s really doing, how she’s feeling, what hopes and dreams she has
When she says “How was your day?” say more than “It was good.”
Creatively look for ways to get alone time with her
When possible be willing to plan and make all of the decisions for what to do with the alone time
Praise and appreciate her an absurd amount. Don’t make shit up, but do whatever you have to do to remember what you love about her and why you’re grateful for her
Be patient as hell. If you choose to share this with her, don’t expect her to be just as excited about this new information as you are. It is your responsibility to help her be excited about it through your consistency and action.
Just make plans to “take some space” without consulting her unless it fits within existing agreements and boundaries within your relationship
Think that just because you see her every day after work and on weekends that you are really meeting her needs. If you’re distracted, working on projects, taking care of the kids, or simply zoning out then you ain’t doin shit.
Say that she’s a clingy bitch and needs to give you space. That may be true, but if there’s one way to make a bitch clingier, it’s to tell them they’re clingy. (I use bitch in the most positive sense possible. I sometimes call my wife of 7 years who birthed my two beautiful children and with whom I would rate my relationship as a 10/10 bitch in a joking way. And she doesn’t hate it. And if you’re offended by my use of a female term in a negative connotation please know that I also use dick in a much more derogatory way). SO. Instead of saying that, you say “I love you. This is hands down the best relationship I’ve ever been in, and I intend to spend the rest of my life with you (if that’s all true), AND I need more time to hang out with my friends and do other things I’m passionate about. On top of that I think that that will have me be even more grateful for our relationship and be more present when we are together.”
The more you both lean into generously giving the other person what they need, you can experience guilt-free pursuit of individual interests and passions. In this dynamic, you become “the steward of each other’s dreams” (as my friend Bryan Franklin says) or as Rilke says “the guardian of each other’s solitude” instead of quid pro quo.
Now my wife encourages me to take a trip or a course that I’m excited about or do something else that doesn’t directly immediately benefit her or our family, and I do the same for her. When we’re at our best, we have a pattern of generously looking for ways to help the other LOVE their life without keeping score.
My friend Blair Jones says that in the past when her husband would be gone for a week for work he’d sometimes come home drained. She remembers one time in particular. Despite her yearning for attention after not seeing him for a week they sat in silence because he was tired and just felt like he needed space.
So she started trying something different. She told her husband that now when he gets home, the first 2 days are 100% for him. She gets him a massage and tells him he has no household or baby responsibilities. He can catch up on other stuff and do whatever he needs for the first 48 hours after coming home.
“On day 3, he’s all mine.” She told him that after those 48 hours, she wants deep connection and conversation with zero distractions. “I want all of my husband,” she says. In this way she feels like she’s created a win-win where both of them feel nurtured and loved.
The We-person will get clearer about their own desires and needs in life and they’ll start following their own curiosities. The two of you will have more to talk about and will become more interested in what the other person is interested about because you feel grateful for the encouragement you are receiving from them. Your relationship will organically grow stronger by the simple nature of you asking less of each other.
With more space, separation and unknown about each other you will regain the feeling of courting each other and your sex life will be revitalized.
Rilke also said, “...once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.”
Your need for intimacy is akin to your need for the safety of your mother’s loving arms. You are each other’s sanctuary. As humans we have a deep desire to be fully seen by others. Ultimately we wish someone, anyone, could understand our experience of life completely. Although we can only ever know a fraction at best, allow yourself to be seen by your partner as with no other, and you will remember that you belong in this world.
When you set aside everything to be fully present with her, you are participating in life more fully.
And place space up on the altar next to intimacy. See the need for space like the need for air. Explore and maintain separate interests and adventures. This creates a sense of unknown in the other which tends to the fire of passion. You cannot make or maintain a fire without air. Removing air "smothers" it.
Thanks to Ellen Fishbein, Adee Cazayoux and Annie Lalla for reading drafts of this.