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Dr. Bill Austin

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Professional Columns -
Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin


“We know that without silence
words lose their meaning,
that without listening,
speaking no longer heals,
that without distance,
closeness cannot cure.”

—Henri Nouwen

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Stress can harm our health and relationships. Being stressed has been compared to stretching a rubber band. We can stretch the rubber band beyond its normal size, but if we leave it there for too long or do it too many times, it will break. We human beings are like that. We can get overloaded and stretched too far. We have to find a way to release the tension. One way of handling stress is by making “alone time.” It is our quiet time for being still, resting the body and mind, reflecting and listening to our inner healthy voice.

One would think that making alone time would be something all of us would do, but many of us find it uncomfortable. Could this be why when we do have a moment for ourselves we fill it with the noise of television or we leave our cellular phone on?

When we do not make quiet time for ourselves,
we tend to run our lives on the surface
and, consequently, can be blindsided
by the emotions that are within us.

Many of the conflicts in our relationships are battles over the need for “alone time” or “breathing room.” We find ourselves saying, “I need space.” Unfortunately, it feels like rejection because by the time we ask for it, we are feeling smothered, overwhelmed and controlled.

When we do not make quiet time for ourselves, we tend to run our lives on the surface and, consequently, can be blindsided by the emotions that are within us. This reminds me of when my dad would take my brother and me fishing. Sometimes, walking by the lake, Dad would find a flat rock and skim it across the water. We would have a contest to see how many skips we could make before the rock sank. For many of us our lives are like this illustration. We bounce on the surface from one thing to another, not making time for reflection. Then some event happens and suddenly we are aware of the emotions that lie beneath the surface.

The power of silence or solitude is a wonderful way of getting to know ourselves and what goes on within us. Without quiet time for reflection, writes noted priest and author Henri Nouwen, “Our relationship with others easily becomes needy and greedy, sticky and clinging, dependent and sentimental, exploitative and parasitic, because without the solitude of heart, we cannot experience the others as different from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our own, often hidden needs.”

Recent studies have shown even more benefits of “alone time” including lower blood pressure, higher mental functioning, enhanced creativity, and a more positive attitude. A study of teenagers discovered that the most talented and gifted among them actually demand more alone time. Make some alone time for yourself to allow your sometimes over-stretched daily life to take on a more relaxed shape.

Dr. Austin has decades of experience dealing with relationships. He charges clients on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay. His first book, Creating Our Safe Place: Articles on Healthy Relationships, was published in 2004. His second book, Keeping It Safe, was published in 2009 and can be purchased through,, and at the Parrish Book Store in Virginia Beach.  He is also a sought-after speaker at meetings and seminars.

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