Answering your questions on mental health, relationships and life issues

Dear Barb,

I am concerned about my relationship with a very sweet man. After being single for a few years, it is very different to have someone intertwined in your world so much. I have expected that as a couple you would spend loads of time together but it sometimes feels like I am very necessary to have nearby. We enjoy each other’s company so much that we want to be together all the time. We do fun things, especially now that we are both retired. My concern is I sense I’ve lost my individuality. Somehow I unintentionally began adjusting my habits, time, needs, desires etc… We have common interests and are newly in love but I need to make sure this stays in balance before it becomes the norm. Please help me! Am I wrong to expect more alone time?

Smothered With Love

Dear Smothered,

I must tell you, and statistics also prove, that among unhappy couples, more people (11.5 percent) point to a lack of privacy or time for themselves as the reason for unhappiness than they do to their sex lives (6 percent). Many couples say that space, or giving each other plenty of time for self, is the single most important reason they think their relationship survived. Time alone gives partners those vital moments to process thoughts, pursue hobbies and develop new topics to talk about! Too much space or separateness isn’t good, but partners who pursue their own hobbies, interests and friends tend to be happier than those who depend on each other for everything. One solution would be to talk to your partner about the benefits of me-time, and point out that you still want couple time, too. Share with your partner some of the fun or funny things that happened during me-time. Couples who have been together for many years sometimes believe that they know everything about their partner. Unlike when they were first dating, they stop asking each other questions and learning more about each other. They become stagnant. Such loss of curiosity can be lethal. I call this the silent dining syndrome. Do you ever see the couples who go out together to a restaurant but then don’t talk? To stay happy in a relationship, partners need to talk to each other every single day, for at least 10 minutes, about anything other than the home, kids, work or their relationship. I know that takes effort with life’s obstacles in the mix. I must also emphasize that as a pleaser in the beginning of a relationship, a lot of couples sweep little annoyances and pet peeves under the rug. Over time though, these small everyday irritations can add up and put a relationship on life support. In my opinion it’s actually the small, everyday irritations that can accumulate if not dealt with and become big problems later on. Skipping me-time would be a small irritation to talk about or it will become the new normal very quickly and become a big problem. You can bring up any annoyances in a constructive way — pick the right time and situation to discuss things. Ditch all the other distractions, including your phone volume. Tips for conversations: use your “I” statements (I feel…) and avoid using the words “never” and “always.” You are still you, a very unique individual regardless of what man is in your life now or in the future. Be yourself!

Barb Rock is a mental health counselor for the House of Matthew Homeward Bound program in Tacoma, and the published author of “Run Your Own Race: Happiness after 50.” Send any questions related to mental health, relationships or life issues to her at


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