The Togetherness Quotient
by Andy Dappen
“Too much togetherness – it drives people apart.”
It’s what I tell people when they ask, “Why doesn’t your wife join you on more of your outdoor adventures?”
Early in our marriage, we did almost everything together. Our first decade together was one where Team Jandy was joined at the hip. If I wanted to climb 5.10 rock routes, Jan climbed them with me. If I wanted to spend several days skiing the Ptarmigan Traverse, Jan might lobby for the Wapta Traverse instead so we could ski hut-to-hut rather than snow camp. If I wanted to paddle Class IV rivers, neither of us paddled because whitewater was a terror Jan was unwilling to master.
All of it was a togetherness that worked. Which is not the same as saying that we didn’t occasionally frustrate each other, or that there weren’t occasions when we needed alone time to recharge. But we didn’t think to question the togetherness we had established until …
Kids brought about a clear chapter change as well as a change in priorities. With them we could continue pursuing some of our passions together, but kids also gave us space for pursuing passions independently without being critical of our partner. Jan could gracefully bow out of adventures that sounded stupidly unpleasant, truthfully stating she’d rather do things with the kids. And she could use some of that time for interests that brought her more rewards – reading, scrap booking, chronicling family history.
Over the years our interests evolved so that nowadays we require similar amounts of time fueling our independent yahoos. While I pursue some forms of outdoor fun that Jan no longer has an appetite for, she can pursue forms of fun that might drive me stir crazy. We come together to hike, canoe, car camp, downhill ski, travel, see friends, and visit family.
More by happenstance than design, we’ve learned we are not going to mold the other to our exact image of perfection and we should give up trying. We’ve learned our partnership is not weaker if we accommodate each other’s differences. We’ve learned we both benefit from time together and time apart. We’ve learned that distance (in proper proportion) allows our independent interests to bloom and makes the heart more fond.
Togetherness: Finding the Sweet Spot
Most couples can express their togetherness quotient with a Venn diagram. Some couples may overlap quite fully in how much ‘Us’ time they require (diagram A); others may overlap far less and need considerable ‘Me’ time (diagram B).
There’s no right or wrong overlap, but trouble arises when one partner needs large amounts of ‘Us’ time while the other needs much more ‘Me’ time. It’s an imbalance leaving half of the partnership under-appreciated, the other half smothered.
It’s an important relationship issue couples should tackle head on. It’s natural, however, to dance around honest discussion of how much you can stomach each other. The longer you dance the more frustration and the more hurt you’re likely to cause. That makes a mess of an issue that’s easier to address with cool heads rather than hot ones.
Imbalances where partners are badly out of synch on this issue can be deal breakers. A severe loner just may not be wired to deal with a severe clinger and vice versa. More often, discussion, an understanding of needs, and love of partner can plow middle ground where each partner gets enough and gives enough to find a sweet spot.