THE BLOG

On The Importance Of Giving Your Partner Space

05/04/2015 12:40 pm ET | Updated May 04, 2016

My friend Leanne drove all the way up to Paso Robles last weekend to hear Antonio's band play. They were performing at a winery -- which sounds somewhat elegant, but if it were a bar, it would be the kind with hay on the floor and peanuts on the tables. I don't think I oversold the invitation, but because it was a winery, there may have appeared an air of "fancy" to it.

So Leanne and a friend of hers made a night out of it. They met another friend for a nice dinner, booked a quaint hotel. I wasn't sure she would actually come, so far a drive from where she lives, plus the expense. But she said she was there because she's now saying yes to everything. Every invitation, every evite, every casual suggestion -- yes. I tried that once. And didn't even get to the first "yes" which was simply coffee down the street with a friend. For whatever reason, maybe because my husband had recently died, I just couldn't bother that day.

But here was Leanne, some 300 miles up the coast from her home, where she left her husband and two teenage kids for the night. "I'm tired of a being a wife," she said over our first glass of Pinot Grigio as the band started to play. "I'm tired of being a mother. I need a break!"

I knew exactly what she meant.

When Joel was still alive, we would joke that my absolute favorite kind of night, was when he and our daughter had a "Daddy-Daughter Date Night." Don't even get me started on a "Daddy-Daughter Weekend." Those were the best! I wouldn't make plans of any kind. I would get in bed, not a care about dinner. Maybe it would be salad or cheese and crackers, or a handful of chocolate chips. It didn't matter. It was just me I was taking care of, and I needed that. I would cozy up with my Real Housewives -- New York, New Jersey, Beverly Hills. That didn't matter, either. Because my time was my own, melted chocolate on my fingers, not having to share the remote, the bed to myself. No one to answer or cater to... nirvana.

But now, being a widow, my nights alone aren't the luxury they used to be. I get bored. Lonely. Anxious. I can't tell you how many conversations I've suffered through with people complaining that their spouse is out of town for a night, a few days, a week or two. They're resentful as this leaves them to do everything: manage the house, the kids, the rides, the meals... but it's temporary. My husband isn't coming back. Ever.... which is why, in these particular conversations, I usually just stay quiet.

Leanne was glad that her husband was spending a weekend with the kids without her. "They all need that," she said. "He needs to be more involved, they need to know their dad a little better." I knew what this meant, too.

In my marriage, this was the division of labor: I handled our child, and inside the house -- meals, doctor appointments, school stuff. Joel got the animals, and outside the house -- the vet, the sprinklers, the pool. Joel was an involved dad, an active and conscientious dad. A loving dad, but still, I often felt like a single mom -- I felt like I did everything, and all he had to do was walk the dogs!

I was so wrong.

His presence alone, I realize now, was enough. Yes, I cooked, but he would do the dishes. I did the laundry, but he would fold. If our daughter was having a tough day, Joel would be the one to cheer her up. And no matter what, he took her to school every single morning, and even when she was too old for it, he tucked her in every night.

Joel and I were together for almost 20 years, so I understand that marriages have their ups and downs. To weather that fluctuation, we knew that love, trust, and respect had to prevail, even when patience ran short, and lack of appreciation ran high. Which is why we gave each other a lot of space. We both needed it. If Joel were alive today, I'd likely be the one leading the charge of the Girls Night Out Brigade. And he would encourage me to!

I don't feel that compulsion to get away now, and when I have that elusive free time, I want to spend it with Antonio. Our relationship is fairly new, and I hate being so cynical, but I can kind of predict, that maybe, someday, far into the future, I'll opt out, and not go to all of his gigs. Maybe I'll encourage Antonio to visit his son for a night without me, so I can stay home and watch bad TV. And maybe, I'll even drive up the coast with a friend, just because she asks me to.

Hard to imagine it now, so enthralled with each other as we are, but I do know that great relationships need space, and loving couples need time apart from each other. Which is exactly why Leanne poured herself another glass of Pinot, before she made her way to the dance floor.