The words “I need space” can be nerve-wracking in any relationship. Just seeing them pop up in a chat bubble could lead to worst-case scenarios, such as…
Have they fallen out of love?
Are they going to break up with me?
Am I suffocating them?
When a partner asks for “space” could also mean different things in different contexts. So the answer to the above questions will depend on factors like:
- How long you’ve been together
- Your partner’s temperament and personality
- Alignment of the couple’s values (or a lack thereof)
- The current state of the relationship
In one of our articles, we’ve mentioned how “even happy couples need personal space for individual pursuits, and to preserve a sense of self.” So the need for space isn’t always a bad omen.
In fact, a healthy amount of space is equivalent to healthy relationship boundaries. Still, you can’t know for sure until you assess your particular situation.
Before answering what to do when your partner drops the S-word on you, let’s understand some of the reasons why they might do it.
Here’s Why Your Partner Could Be Asking For Space
1. They Want to Reinforce Their Identity
Space isn’t always about time. It’s also about needs – which includes the need to reconnect with oneself.
Depending on the person, being in a relationship might take away their sense of self. They’ll start picking up their partner’s traits (say nothing of their values and perspectives), often losing themselves in the process. This may be the result of being in a codependent relationship.
Granted, the people closest to us will always influence us in some way. For this reason, stepping away for a while encourages us to strengthen our own identities.
2. They Feel Crowded
It’s natural to be a bit clingy, especially in new relationships. But for some people, certain behaviors can feel overwhelming.
To you, texting every hour sounds okay. But your partner might not feel the same way.
You might enjoy hanging out after work, while all they want to do is play videogames and do nothing. And that’s okay.
Before you turn this into a one-sided situation and blame yourself for “suffocating” them, consider their personality and their preferences. How much downtime do they need to unwind? And how much of it are you giving to them?
Getting to know your partner’s ins and outs will help you exercise empathy. So that instead of pointing fingers and being judgmental, you can start understanding them.
3. They Want to Re-evaluate the Relationship
Zooming out of a situation can help us think more clearly about it. Sometimes, all your partner means is that they want to zoom out for a bit.
Space is an opportunity for someone to examine their feelings and figure out what they really want. Out of this relationship. Out of life in general. Whether your goals are aligned. Or maybe just to see where all this is going.
“I want to sort out my issues by myself then come back later,” a Reddit user said.
The challenge is to figure out when “later” will be. We’ll discuss this point in the topic Ask What They Mean By Space below.
Any kind of relationship reevaluation is hard to swallow. However, their alternative would be leading you on – which you probably wouldn’t enjoy.
4. They Literally Just Want to Be Alone For a While
No one is entitled to their partner’s undivided attention. They need to do their own thing and be alone with their thoughts for a few hours each day. This is the only way they can give the best of themselves to your relationship.
The fact that they can’t spend all of their hours with you doesn’t mean they don’t love you. It just means they’re human! They’re your partner, but they’re an individual first.
5. They Might Be Thinking of Breaking Up
It’s not always the case and this shouldn’t be your first hunch, but we’d be lying if we said it couldn’t happen.
If your relationship has been turbulent for a while, a space could be the precursor to a breakup. Partners might even bring up a “break” in some situations, which could be their way of letting you down easily.
The best thing to do in this situation is to communicate openly. Honesty will uncover the root of the issue and help you both decide where to go from there.
5 Things To Do When Your Partner Asks For Space
It can be frustrating and you might feel hurt, but it will be best to be understanding about this for your partner. Having a healthy space in your relationship can also be beneficial in your marriage. Here are ways on how you can deal your partner asks for space:
1. Ask Them What They Mean By “Space”
You’re entitled to this answer. You can only meet their needs if you know what they mean.
Active listening plays a massive role here. It’s easy to jump to conclusions before your partner has a chance to open up. But before you stir any unnecessary emotions, listen to what they have to say. And only then draw conclusions from it.
2. Ask Them How Much Time They Need
Saying they need “time” is vague. It’s on them to manage expectations by giving you a specific timeframe.
Some people need more time than others because everyone has a unique set of needs. Depending on how much time they need, it can help remind you that they only need space for a short while.
However, it takes two to tango. If you’re not comfortable with the timeframe they set, both of you should reach a reasonable agreement through – you guessed it – open communication.
This is one of the pillars of The Sound Relationship House Theory (developed by Drs. John and Julie Gottman), which states:
“Create an atmosphere that encourages each person to talk honestly about his or her hopes, values, convictions and aspirations.”
3. Don’t Cling Harder
Repeatedly asking for validation may seem like the reasonable thing to do. You might even try to earn their love back by latching onto them.
But especially in a moment like this, clinging tighter could mean they’ll push harder away.
Figuring out what they need from you is a lot more productive. If they need some time to focus on their interests or personal issues, give them the space to do it within the timeframe you’ve set.
To be successful in this, you also need to master self-care or self-love. Married or not, your happiness shouldn’t always be dependent on your partner. This will make the relationship and marriage less suffocating for the both of you.
4. Support Them Through This Decision
In the meantime, encourage them to do their favorite things and pursue their favorite hobbies. Motivate them to spend more time with the friends they might have stopped seeing for a while.
Most importantly: let them know you’re there for them, and then release them into the space they need.
Whenever possible, let them be the one to reach out to you, either via text or in-person. This shows that you’ve minded their decision and want to make things work.
5. Know That It Isn’t Always About You
Asking for space doesn’t mean the other person doesn’t enjoy your company. Read that again.
We’ve already listed out a few reasons why someone might ask for space. As you’ve seen, a lot of them involve the other person’s issues rather than yours.
While it’s completely normal to feel rejected when this happens, this feeling can lead to defensiveness and a need to prod deeper into the “why.” This defeats the purpose of space entirely.
But rest assured that in many cases, the real reason will have nothing to do with you.
Should You Be Worried?
The short answer is: no. A little bit of space is always a healthy alternative for any couple. It’s an opportunity to see your own relationship from another angle, which keeps your bond fulfilling and refreshing for longer.
However, depending on the current state of your relationship, realize that a breakup could be a possibility. This could happen to any couple, whether they’ve been dating for 4 years or married for 40.
If you find yourself unable to cope or the anxiety becomes overpowering, talking to a Gottman-certified couples therapist will help you manage these complicated emotions. A professional will give both of you a clear direction while setting healthy expectations for your future; be it together or apart.