The homebody. The social butterfly. Introverted. Extroverted. We throw these words around when we are getting to know someone, especially on a date.
As we grow in a relationship, something that becomes really obvious really fast are the social needs of our partners. If both partners are the kinds of people eager to go out to the bar a few nights a week for drinks after work, there probably isn’t much of a problem.
But if one partner prefers to cozy up at home while the other parties it up night after night, there might be a bit of a compromise that needs to happen.
Has there been some tension in your relationship about after-work activities? If there are signs of unhappiness, the first thing to figure out is whether the issue is “communication or perception,” said Janet Zinn, a relationship therapist based in New York.
“For example, it could be that one partner feels trapped, but it can be that he or she never learned how to ask for what he or she needs,” she said. “So, once he or she asks, they find a new freedom that the relationship always allowed.
“Or, if it’s a perception issue, like, ‘what will people think if we go out with our respective friends rather than go on a date on a Saturday?’ Then you both get to assess how to have a relationship that works for the two of you rather than others determining what’s best for you.”
If a partner is resistant to compromise, or doesn’t “allow for deviations that are uncomfortable to him or her, then that is a red flag that there are deeper issues to delve,” Zinn said.
There’s a pretty simple place to start when it comes to figuring out what works best for both the social butterfly and the homebody, Zinn said.
It starts where most therapists might suggest to begin: communication. There is no reason to make unfair demands on the relationship before first talking openly about wants and needs, she said.
“When partners differ on their social needs, they must find a mutually agreeable solution if they’re going to avoid problems,” Rob Pascale and Lou Primavera wrote for Psychology Today. “Couples have to decide how often and which social gatherings they will attend so that both feel their needs are met, and adopt the right attitude.”
This is the “social balancing act,” Pascale and Primavera wrote, and it requires changing the way you think about your partner’s social needs. If partner A stays in one night for partner B, it’s important that partner A doesn’t think of the compromise as a punishment. The same goes for partner B on a night out.
Rebekah Montgomery, a Washington, D.C., psychologist, added that when couples talk about their needs, it’s important to also talk about why they need what they need.
“For example, ‘I need time alone to refuel and re-energize. It’s not that I don’t care about you or spending time with the people that are important to you,’” Montgomery said. “Or ‘It’s really important to me for the people I love to know you well and I feel so connected to you when I can share other important parts of my life with you.’”
Once you’re able to talk openly about your needs and why you have them, put some activities on the calendar. Every week, choose dates for going out, staying in and individual or friend time.
If you need to make a last-minute change of plans, the best thing to do is to be respectful but straightforward, Zinn said.
“‘I know you would prefer to go out tonight, but do you mind if we just go home after work, I’m exhausted?,’ Zinn suggested. “Or, ‘Jim is in from out of town, I’d love to get together while he’s here, are you okay if we switch our plans up?’
“Knowing that you’re thinking of your partner’s needs as you advocate for your needs gives the communication that he or she is relating to you.”
It’s not healthy for couples to spend all their time together, just as it’s not healthy to have unbalanced social needs, Montgomery said.
And one last thing, she said. The conversation is never really over.
“Check in about it. Our needs may change over time depending on stress, the needs of others, or what is going in our relationship.”
Hilary Weaver is a freelance writer in New York City, where she covers feminism, politics, celebrity and queer issues. You can find her byline at Vanity Fair, ELLE, Bustle and more.