In an article I read in the WSJ by Psychologist Maryanne Vandevere, she expanded on the notion of time together and time apart in an interesting way. She wrote about the role of parallel play in the life of retirees. She pointed out that, similar to small children, who play side by side and don’t always interact with the activity, successful retirees have a similar process when each learns something new, follows their own passion and their partner also does their “own thing.” Each develops their own interests and it enhances their relationship since both are happy, enjoying their own creativity and mastery. This can bring new energy and excitement to the relationship. It works for kids—why not give it a try in the second half of life?
Vandevere comments that “individuals who do almost everything together in later life—who are “joined at the hip” usually aren’t as satisfied or fulfilled as couples where spouses have their own interests and , ideally, are learning new skills. She points out that “the model of parallel play meets the needs “for both freedom and involvement.”
What are the benefits, you may be asking? Vandevere suggests a few, such as more interesting dinner conversations, confidence for each that you can function independently and “tonic for the soul” to have some time and space for separateness and self-reflection. She also points out that challenging oneself can bring both mastery and pride and, as the old adage says, “absence (often) makes the heart grow fonder.” I like her image that “parallel play gives you ‘roots and wings’ and allows you to grow.” She further states that “It promotes the major task for this stage of life: becoming as whole as you can be. “
My suggestion: talk together about your expectations about time together and apart and creatively think about the notion of parallel play in your life and relationship. In the process, you can challenge and develop yourself and have more to bring back to your partner. I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on this.