Only child adult challenges in relationships:
2. Dealing with the need for space and intimacy
3. Dealing with conflict
4. Dealing with one’s own parents
This is my second post on ‘Are only children difficult partners?’
All human beings have a need for both intimacy and space. However many adult only children have often been brought up enjoying a lot of personal space, because they have not had to share with this siblings. However experiencing periods of time alone or at least without play mates may mean they and have found important ways to be on there own and use time in ways that does not necessitate people. A lot of only children enjoy their own company (see Trooper and Arianna’s stories). So much so they may choose not to have partners themselves. However those of us who do, may find it hard at times to share space with a partner.
Living alone can seem a preferred alternative if, when you are with someone, they seem to be impinging on your ‘space’, real or imagined. This is not just physical space but mental and emotional space. In a previous post I said only child adults find it hard to deal with conflict, but many also find dealing with all emotions difficult, as they have not had as many opportunities to experience emotional dialogue and negotiation. I believe this is one of the reasons that I need space so as to be able to return to that part of me, who often feels quite independent from others. It is this sense of ‘apartness’ that many only child adults experience. I often wish I did not have this feeling -as when I do feel overwhelmed through mixing with people, I need to re-trench as it were, and be alone.
The need for space can be described as a requirement to be un-engaged from another.
On the other hand, many of the people whose life-stories I have read, long for intimacy, which is in contrast to their need for space. The tension between being with people and having enough space is particularly difficult to negotiate in relationships and exacerbated by onlies’ lack of sharing experience of both physical and emotional space. This dilemma makes it difficult for partners, who may be needed one moment and then not. This ‘Blowing hot and cold’ is something I have been accused of, but to me it demonstrates my need for time out.
If you are a partner of an only – how do you cope with this?
Of course if you are married to an only, as I am, we understand these types of needs, although I can find it frustrating when ‘his’ need for space does not match my own! I do receive a lot of e-mails that are from non-onlies who find it difficult to cope with the way their partners dis-engage, for what to them are quite long periods of time. This is often when things are difficult in a relationship, there are stresses at work or the other perennial problem: outside family pressures.
When, as an only, you have always separated yourself to sort out problems, or disengaged with people when things have got problematic; it can be difficult to learn to behave in another way, once you are in a partnership. Similarly many onlies are not good at asking for help. They tend to go it alone, but this leaves their partners feeling left out at best, or discounted at worst.
So what should we do? Well I think it is useful to recognise the impact our styles of coping have on our partners and ask ourselves can we do it in amore inclusive way? In particular when working with couples when one is an only, the partner often says a variations on this:
“If only he would share what is going on with him; so I don’t feel so excluded. If I know I could then at least understand – but this way I just feel left out and furious he wont share what the problem is” or
” She seems to close down, it’s as if I was not there! I ask her what’s wrong, but she says its okay, she will work it out – it is so frustrating!”
Clearly the partners are trying to help – but we onlies do not always see this, and can experience it as interference rather than a plea to be involved! We need to learn to let others in and share what is going on for us.
Next time I will write about Dealing with conflict.