If you have a romantic partner, you may have noticed that the two of you spend a significant amount of time together, and as a result, you may not see other people as often as you would like. Alternatively, if you are single while many of your friends are in relationships, you may feel a sense of emptiness, as if you woke up one day to find the world deserted. Where did everyone go?
This feeling is not just in your head. Kaisa Kuurne, a sociologist at the University of Helsinki, conducted a study in 2012 mapping the relationships of Finnish adults. She discovered that those who lived with a romantic partner tended to prioritize their relationship above all others. When asked to rate the closeness of their various relationships, subjects often gave the highest marks only to their partner and children, if they had any. Their social networks, such as friends, coworkers, and siblings, were often relegated to the outskirts. People outside the household were not integrated into their daily lives.
These patterns are not limited to Helsinki; researchers in the U.S. have made similar observations. Census Bureau data shows that the average couple spends more time together now than in 1965.
While being in a loving relationship is a wonderful thing, research suggests that spending too much time together can actually hinder personal growth and fulfilling other relationships. When your relationship becomes the centerpiece of your life, other connections and personal interests often take a backseat. Achieving a “love-life balance” is crucial for individual well-being, relationship satisfaction, and even societal harmony.
In a world where friendship is increasingly valued, and alternative relationship structures such as nonmonogamy and communal living are gaining popularity, it may seem surprising that partners are still highly interdependent. Many researchers assume that marriage has become more individualized, allowing spouses to pursue their own identities and goals. However, the reality is more complicated.
Partners today are often closely entwined, partly due to the time spent caring for children. Unlike in the past when parents would go about their own activities while the children played, parents now tend to engage together in child care. Additionally, couples spend more leisure time together compared to 1965. The COVID-19 pandemic further isolated couples from their social networks, especially for those with limited access to video-chatting platforms. Even after 18 months and the availability of vaccines, these connections have not fully recovered.
While quality time with your partner is important, the key question is how much and at what cost. Research on long-distance relationships suggests that partners who spend less time together in person can maintain strong relationships and benefit from pursuing their own interests, resulting in valuable experiences to share. More time together does not necessarily lead to greater happiness.
When couples lose a sense of love-life balance, they risk missing out on important support from their friends and relatives. Studies show that married individuals are typically less connected to their social networks than single people. This lack of connection can leave them vulnerable during times of need, such as when they have a child or when one partner experiences job loss or illness. No couple can handle everything on their own.
Beyond support and resources, family and friends provide different types of emotional care compared to partners. Studies suggest that individuals who fulfill their emotional needs with a variety of people in their life have better overall well-being than those who rely on a smaller subset of relationships. No single person can cater to all emotional needs or provide advice on every topic. However, experts believe that partners today are more likely to depend primarily on each other for psychological support. This can have negative consequences if the relationship ends and the individual is left without anyone to rely on.
Overemphasizing the couple unit can also negatively impact a person’s relationship with themselves. Lack of self-differentiation, or a clear sense of one’s own identity, can occur when individuals spend all their time as a couple. Partners may start to mirror each other’s negative moods and even cortisol levels when together. Personal interests and goals can become neglected, leading to a loss in personal fulfillment. Romanticizing the idea of merging into one entity disregards the importance of individual desires and can lead to an unawareness of whose self is disappearing.
Love-life balance is not only beneficial for individual partners but also their relationship as a whole. Relying solely on each other for everything creates excessive pressure and limits personal growth and excitement. Including others in couple activities can provide partners with new experiences, perspectives, and insights, making the relationship more interesting. Studies have shown that discussing personal topics with another couple on a double date can increase feelings of passionate love for each other. Striving for a healthy balance allows partners to fully understand and express themselves.
In order to have their needs met, both individually and as a couple, psychologists suggest finding a balance between spending time apart and together. This balance promotes personal growth, fosters deeper connections with others, and ultimately strengthens the relationship.
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