How to Make Your Relationship Work as an Introvert Who Needs ‘Quality Time’

An introvert spends quality time with her partner on the couch

“Quality time” is one of the five love languages — but, as an introvert, I also need alone time. Here’s how to get both. 

Along with zodiac signs and Myers-Briggs Personality Types, you can know yourself better by knowing your love language. Yet, as an introvert who relies on spending time alone to recharge, my “quality time” love language means that maintaining relationships is often easier said than done. To top things off, my partner’s love language is also quality time. In other words, any transfer of affection between us is usually contingent upon spending a lot of time together.   

Luckily, I’ve spent the better part of three years practicing — and sometimes failing — with a partner patient enough to help me learn how to balance my relationship needs with my personal needs.

A Brief Debrief on Love Languages

The five love languages include physical touch, gift giving, acts of service, words of affirmation, and quality time. (Not sure what your love language is? Take the five-minute quiz.) 

You can have more than one love language, but there is usually a dominant one. For example, if you compliment me on something (words of affirmation), I will love you forever. But I find that I prefer to bond with close friends and partners by spending as much time with them as possible (quality time). My cat, too, can attest to this! Making room in my schedule for you is a sign that I am actively investing in our relationship. 

‘Quality Time’ — Separate but Together

As an introvert with quality time as your love language, you might enjoy “separate but together” activities where you spend time with someone without necessarily engaging in activities together. You also might find that your closest friends are ones that hardly even tire you out anymore, probably because you’ve spent years developing a relationship. So, now, their presence feels more natural than if they weren’t there. 

In a romantic relationship, though, expectations can hinder your usual way of doing things. Your opinionated friends — or even your new partner — can seem to constantly remind you that the social norm is to spend all day, every day with your partner. If that doesn’t work for you, you must be doing it “wrong.” Unless, of course, there was another way to think about relationships entirely. Here’s how I make my relationship work, for instance, as an introvert who needs “quality time.”

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5 Ways to Make Your Relationship Work as an Introvert Who Needs ‘Quality Time’

1. Take it slow — invest time, care, and loyalty.

You know how, when you move furniture in your house, the new setup is the first thing you notice each time you walk into the room? And how, after a few weeks, you forget that you moved the furniture at all? It can work the same way with people. Going out for a night with people you see every day, such as a coworker or roommate, usually feels less draining than spending time with a brand new person. This is something you can apply to your relationship.

As an introvert who expresses love through quality time, you already know that your best relationships in life are born from an investment of time, care, and loyalty. Your love isn’t just won in a second; It grows. When you spend time with your partner, pay attention to how long your social battery lasts with them. During the first few months, it could just be an hour or two. At first when dating my significant other, I felt conflicted that I returned home exhausted after dinner and a movie — even though I could easily spend 10 hours with my best friend every day.

With time, I guarantee you that your battery’s lifespan will grow, hopefully alongside your love for your partner. After three years, I can now spend days at a time with my partner. I swear, sometimes I even forget they’re there. So, as an introvert who needs both alone time and quality time, don’t pressure yourself. Accept your personality as a part of you that is capable of changing within guidelines. Then, give it time to adapt to a new person in your life.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for the time you need. 

Because it involves setting boundaries, this one was tough. When I tried to show as much quality time love as possible, I put my partner’s needs before my own. Approaching our situation this way left me feeling drained, cranky, and uncomfortably detached from myself. Yet asking for time alone — without knowing how to explain myself — left them feeling like something was wrong, especially when my partner also reciprocated their love by spending as much time with me as possible.

To learn from this situation, I communicated my needs and learned to express my love in more ways than one. I also learned to trust my own explanations for things, and to trust that my partner would know how to respond in a way that validated what I needed the most.

I started by explaining to my partner what I knew at the time about my personality — I struggle to hide my feelings in social situations, I love learning new things, and I need regular alone time in order to recharge my batteries. In the spirit of getting to know one another, my partner offered insights into their personality, and we entered into a normal, get-to-know-you conversation. Then, I explained that sometimes I need time alone — even if I might not necessarily want it. In this instance, I shared my schedule for the week and its distressingly miniscule chunks of “introvert time.”

Once I laid out my viewpoint, asking that we take a small break was easier than outright canceling plans. During the time we did see one another, I laid out space in my schedule for larger chunks of time or more engaging, introvert-friendly date ideas and activities. I learned to express my love in more “concentrated bursts” by ensuring that the time we spent together, if not abundant, was genuine quality time.

3. Make a “social battery safe word” to use.

This tip is one that my parents taught me — they started using it when they were dating, and they still use it after 35 years of marriage. As you begin to spend more time with your significant other, even after planning your alone time, you will mess up. It’s unavoidable. Establishing a “social battery safe word” between you and your partner can help prepare you to look out for one another’s needs when these instances do occur.

The safe word you establish will signify to your partner that your social battery has run out and you need time alone. Often, I find it so easy to pass off my draining energy as nothing, until —  *plunk* — I hit the bottom of my energy reserves. Then, I’ll turn from smiles and friendly conversation to involuntarily scowling and one-word answers, as if I can’t even muster the energy to appear like I’m having fun. 

The last thing I want is for my partner to feel like I suddenly hate them, but I know that the longer I push myself, the worse I will feel — which will result in the inevitable “introvert hangover.” In this instance, a safe word can accomplish two things: 1) It lets my partner in on what’s going on in my head, to avoid misinterpretations or blame; and 2) It prioritizes my urgent need for space. A safe word helps you and your partner be prepared for one another’s needs, and it helps you make sure that your individual needs are taken care of without accidentally hurting your partner’s feelings.

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

As an introvert, you actually have the ability to be an amazing conversationalist — even if you’re quiet and hate small talk. To learn how, we recommend this online course from our partner Michaela Chung. Click here to check out the Introvert Conversation Genius course.

4. Try separate-but-together activities.

When you do find yourself wanting to spend more time with your partner, but feel hindered by your social battery, trade your engaging date ideas for a night in. Specifically, a separate-but-together night in, where you spend physical time together without engaging socially.

If you’re an introvert with introverted friends, you’ve probably done something similar to this. Both of you hang out in the same room — if you like physical touch as your love language, you might even cuddle to get those serotonin (“feel-good”) hormones flowing. Instead of directing your energy at one another, though, allow yourselves some downtime. Maybe one of you watches TV while the other colors, or you both take some time to read your favorite books. 

This might bring your mind to the age-old image of a couple on their phones at a restaurant, who seem to have forgotten the importance of interacting with those they love. The truth is, spending time with your partner in whatever way you can at the moment is one of the highest forms of love. Not to mention, spending longer periods of time with your partner — without engaging 100 percent — can help you gradually increase your social battery lifespan. Date night is fun, but the time we spend with our significant other doesn’t always have to be something that would make the cut on a reality TV show.

5. Use your resources — try having a video call if you can’t spend time together in person.

So, what happens when you’re ready to invest more time emotionally, but maybe not mentally? One option: Use your phone. Calling my partner — or chatting with them on video — allowed us to share the meaningful time together we craved, but it also allowed my social battery to last longer because I didn’t need to worry about getting dressed up, going out, or remembering how I’m supposed to position my body when I’m listening to someone during a conversation (no, it’s not just you!).

When we were on the phone, I could spend time with my significant other while also spending time doing activities that recharge me, such as reading a book or coloring a picture. Additionally, it allowed me to take time between messages in a way I would never be able to in a conversation. Utilizing technology eliminated all the factors that typically cause anxiety and exhaust me in social situations, yet without eliminating the person I genuinely enjoy spending time with.

If you don’t want to spend time staring at a screen, there are other technological resources that can help you spend quality time with your significant other, too. Old-fashioned letter-writing, for example, lets you show love by hand-writing a letter to them. Doing this reminds your partner that you love them, even though you may be unable to spend time with them in person. For the letter-receiver, reading about your partner’s day can be almost like spending time with them in person, especially with the personal touch of their handwriting or illustrations in the margins.

Wherever you are in your relationship, the most important thing to remember is to communicate openly and be patient. If you share your time requirement with your partner from the start, it will feel more natural to the both of you when you eventually do need to ask for time alone.

And, even if the time you do need by yourself can feel frustrating at the beginning, you can be sure it will get better. You will come to understand your partner on a deeper level, just like they will understand your needs more completely, and maybe they will even begin to anticipate them before you do. For a person who shows love by devoting time to their partner, I know that one of the most overlooked signs of love between us is just in the time we spend trying to work it out.

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