Before moving onto a sailboat Adam and I often wondered how people coped with spending too much time with their partner. We knew that we would be living in a very small space with each other, and rarely leave each others side.
It was a genuine worry of ours, and apparently a genuinely worry of all our well meaning friends and family. It was probably the number one thing we got asked in the beginning, and still get asked a lot now. ‘But how will you cope with spending all your time together?’
We had read a lot of horror stories about people simply not surviving their relationships (not literally, though at times I’m sure people have been close!) We understood that this was going to be a real test of our relationship, and if I’m honest I was pretty terrified. I loved Adam, and I was super happy with the way things were between us. I was about to risk everything just to go and live on a boat.
We came up with all sorts of schemes before we left for our new life on board our 38ft sailboat. We decided we would go for walks alone when we needed to, and that we would use the forward cabin as an escape zone where we could go if we needed to be on our own. We thought perhaps we could hire an air bnb for a night or two a month for some alone time. Or even go and camp on the beach to get away from each other.
Luckily, we haven’t needed to do any of those things. We do literally everything together and rarely have any time apart. We just haven’t really needed to, and I think it’s because we worked out some really good strategies early on. That’s not to say we don’t argue, because we do, way more than we thought we would. But the disagreements are usually very short and sorted out quickly, and we very rarely have the same argument more than once.
If you’re now faced with a situation where you’ll be spending 24/7 with your partner, and you’re having those same anxieties, then we have a few ideas (and some reassurance!) for you.
Learn To Communicate And Trust
I know it’s an obvious one but it’s honestly the most important. You’re about to get thrown onto a steep learning curve, and how you react to that will make all the difference. You can choose to carry on as you normally do, or you can choose to put aside any fears you have about being completely open with someone and potentially save your relationship.
The main reason Adam and I can spend literally every waking (and sleeping) hour together is because we have learnt to open up more than we’re really comfortable with, and the only way you’ll manage to do that is if you can trust them. Spending all your time with someone requires a whole new level of communication. I thought Adam and I had this sorted. We both thought our communication was great, and we had nothing more to learn.
I was very wrong. Within days we were learning we had to up our communication levels in ways we didn’t think possible. In the first few weeks of spending all day every day together we argued more than we ever have before. Sometimes those arguments lasted for days, because neither one of us could be honest about how we really felt, and neither one of us was properly listening without agenda.
We had to change quickly to make this lifestyle work, and we’ve learnt to be open and honest about how we’re feeling and why. At the same time, we’ve learnt it’s important to really listen and understand what the other is saying. It’s easy to make sympathetic noises and nod our heads, but this got us into trouble when we realised we didn’t really understand what the other was saying. We’ve learnt it’s ok to ask for clarification about how the other is feeling, and I know now that I can trust Adam to really understand what I’m saying, even if he doesn’t always agree with me.
Sometimes it’s been hurtful, but it’s always been productive, and we’ve put time into making it work for us both.
Learn More About Yourself
If you’re going to communicate well with the person you love then you really need to have a good understanding of yourself. We all have deep rooted insecurities or anxieties that we probably don’t even realise are there. Through this journey I have learnt so much about why I do the things I do, or react the way I react.
When doing work on the boat I started to notice that I’d really snap at Adam when he offered advice, and then lose interest in what I was doing and hand the job over to him. He was coming from a place of care – he wanted to help me. I felt belittled and patronised, which fed into a deep rooted insecurity that I was stupid and incapable.
It sounds extreme, and my reaction seemed extreme to Adam when he didn’t understand where it was coming from. How could he understand where it was coming from until I understood myself. It took a lot of thrown screwdrivers and tears to work out exactly where my frustration was coming from, but after I was able to communicate it all to Adam he was able to change his behaviour appropriately without changing his intentions.
If you can pick apart patterns in your reactions or behaviours, it’s likely that you’ll work out there is a little more to it than you first thought. Whether it’s justified or not, it’s how you feel, and you’re partner will work with you to help. Which brings me nicely onto the next idea!
Find A Compromise
If you’re struggling with something your partner is doing, and you’ve worked out why and talked about it, then see if you can compromise. You might still think they are being completely unreasonable – perhaps Adam couldn’t wrap his head around why offering up help would make me angry, and rightly so! But by ever so slightly changing the way he approaches me with that help I don’t feel insecure. Now when he has some helpful advice to give he just asks if I’d like some help, and I can refuse if I want to try and finish the job on my own. Something really simple that hasn’t made a difference to him at all, makes a massive difference to me.
Sometimes compromising won’t be that easy, and it will involve a sacrifice on both parts. Work out what you’re willing to compromise on and why, and make sure you communicate it to your partner. Sometimes a simple scale can be enough to help. For example, you want pasta for dinner and they want something else. How much do you want pasta on a scale of 1-10 and how much do they not want pasta? Be honest! If you want pasta 7 out of 10 and they don’t want it 10 out of 10 then looks like you’re stuck with something else! Obviously that’s a silly example, I’m hoping you can make basic decisions about what you want for dinner without a huge fall out, but hopefully you get the idea!
Appreciate The Little Stuff
When you spend all your time with one person it’s so easy to take them for granted. Adam and I do it all the time. It would impossible to appreciate every single moment you spend with each other, and an unreasonable request. Staring into Adam’s eyes lovingly as he climbs out of the greasy bilge is not going to do either of us any favours.
What’s important is that you appreciate the little things. Say thank you when they make you a cup of tea, and really mean it. Hold hands when you walk to the shops and notice when they help you put away the groceries. The little things that you sort of just forget they do for you every day are actually really big. Remember that the next time they really do your head in!
Don’t Hold Grudges
I’m not very good at this one, sorry Adam!
When you’re together constantly there’s no time for holding grudges, the only way to get through the day is to either spill or let it go. I have to constantly remind myself to let go of things that really aren’t important. Those little things that start to get on your nerves, like when they tell the same awful joke every day for two weeks. Or is that just Adam? Sometimes though, those little things start to grate, and then the best thing to do is just let the other person know (but be reasonable here, we can’t change everything!)
Make Time For Each Other
Sounds silly when you’re spending every single day with them, doesn’t it. But we’ve found that we actually spend a lot less quality time together when we’re together 24/7. We have to plan time together to do things that aren’t just daily life. We go for a walk, or play a game of scrabble, or we even plan a ‘date night’ once in a while. It’s during these times that we actually have the chance to be a bit more of a normal couple. It’s good to spend time relaxing with each other when we spend so much time working with each other!
Don’t Be Afraid To Admit You’re Just Fed Up
We have bad days on the boat, probably more often than we should. If Adam snaps at me for no reason it’s far too easy to be offended and snap back. Sometimes this still happens, but most of the time we’re quick to admit that we’re in a bad mood. That way, the other person knows to tread carefully and be a little more sensitive, and they know not to take it to heart if the other is a bit more bristly than usual.
If you’re partner was upset and crying, you’d be the first to offer comfort. We don’t see bad moods as being any different. You still need to be treated a little more carefully, you need to be made cups of tea and have hugs, or given space to work through it on your own.
Dance A Different Dance
I was on a teacher training course about bullying when I first heard this, and I think it’s so true and relevant for all our relationships. We’ve all been in that place with someone where no matter what we say or do it has the same outcome. Your other half raises their voice so you raise you voice back and then they slam the door and walk out and the problem never gets talked about (or solved).
If you find yourself stuck in a pattern of behaviour like that while you’re spending 24 hours a day with someone it can feel impossible to break out and resolve the problems. But you could try simply changing the steps of the dance and seeing what happens. Instead of shouting back try talking calmly and see what happens. Because you’ve changed the steps of the dance, your partner might well follow in your footsteps. It’s worth a try right!?
If the worst comes to the worst, and you’ve had too much of each other, then the best thing to do is zone out. Obviously, communication is still key here! Don’t just start ignoring what your partner is saying to you, we all know how that will end! Tell them you need a little alone time, and take it. If you can get away by going for a walk or to the other side of the house, then great. Take as long as you need to reset. If you can’t escape, like we can’t when we’re out sailing or stuck at anchor somewhere, then just grab a pair of headphones (an absolutely essential item for couples spending too much time together!) and tune out.
Adam had recently re-discovered computer games, I tune into a movie or an audiobook. Even just listening to music instead of the noise of them sniffing and muttering can make you feel sane again when everything they do is annoying you! If they understand that you need some space then you should have several uninterrupted hours of you time, and by then they’re going to seem like the best person in the world again – especially if they’re making you that much needed cup of tea!
I’m no therapist, but after a year of living with someone 24/7 I hope there’s some things for you think about! If you’ve got any other great tactics for how to cope with spending too much time with your partner then let us know in the comments below – we would LOVE to hear from you! Anything to make life at sea that little bit easier!