There are some phrases that can send a chill down your spine when you hear them from your partner—and if “We need to talk” is as bad as it gets, “I need some space” isn’t far behind. But the truth is, space isn’t a bad thing, even in a romantic relationship. It may make you feel a little panicky if your partner says that they need some breathing room, but space can be a positive force in a relationship. In fact, it can be a great thing.
What Is Personal Space in a Relationship?
Personal space in a relationship means you're taking time to put yourself first and do things that are just for you—choices that will make you feel great about yourself, putting you in a better mindset to take care of your relationship.
The trick is to get the balance right. If your partner says they need space in your relationship, something has gone a little wrong—either with the partnership or just in their own life. So, whether you’ve been together for two months or 20 years, you need to take it seriously. The good news is that it’s an easy enough problem to fix—as long as you can balance giving them space with making sure that you don’t drift apart. If you do it right, you may find that having a little distance makes you feel more grateful for each other and, ultimately, brings you closer together.
So how much space is too much? Here’s what you need to consider.
Why Do They Need Space?
The first thing to do is talk to your partner about why they need space. Even if you feel defensive or strange about it, remember that it’s a totally normal, reasonable request for them to make—so make sure that you question it with genuine curiosity rather than getting defensive. It may be that they’re really stressed at work, or feel like they haven’t had enough time with their friends, or maybe they’re just feeling claustrophobic. When you understand what the root of the problem is, it will be easier to know how much space to give—and how to give it.
How Much Space Do They Want?
Once you talk to your partner about why they need space, try to get them to explain how you can give that to them. If they want more time to go to the gym or pursue a hobby, that’s an easy one to negotiate—you can find out how many times a week they want to do that. If they want something more nebulous, like “more alone time,” you may need to ask them to be a little more specific about how you can help them with that.
In general, you should do your best to make it happen—within reason. If they’re saying they want to go travel the world for six months and leave you with two kids at home, you obviously have the right to put your foot down. But, in most cases, you should be able to find a compromise. If it doesn’t feel like a huge shift in your lives or something that will draw a wedge between you, it’s probably OK.
How Can You Check In While Still Giving Them Space?
How do you make sure you give your partner enough space without feeling like you’re drifting away from each other? The key is to make sure that you check in regularly. Space between you doesn't have to feel like distance between you—if you do it right. So tell your partner that you're sorry that they’re struggling and you want to be able to give them the space they need but suggest that you check in every Sunday or every other week. It’s just a chance to touch base, see how things are progressing, and if your partner is feeling any better. It’s also an opportunity to air any concerns you have and talk about how it’s affecting the relationship—positively or negatively. Even if your partner needs space, you still have your own needs that should be considered, so explain that you’ll feel better if you two can stay connected that way. Communication is key.
Just make sure that you find a way to stay connected and touch base with each other as to not drift apart.
How Does It Fit Into Your Relationship as a Whole?
Although most requests for space will be totally reasonable, you do need to consider your relationship as a whole. If your partner has a history of cheating, lying, or refusing to be tied down or take your needs into account, then asking for space may actually just be a way of manipulating or gaslighting you. You know your partner. If they are normally good to you and you have a strong relationship, asking for space is probably a genuine request. But if your relationship is tumultuous or toxic, you may need to be a little more suspicious about what it means. Normally, though, it’s nothing to worry about.
If your partner says they need space, it’s easy to panic and think you’ve done something wrong—but the truth is, a little bit of space is healthy in a relationship. Sometimes we start spending too much time together or we miss our friends or we just aren’t feeling like ourselves—and space can help reset the balance. So if your partner says they need some time or some breathing room, trust their instincts and do your best to make it happen. But if you get it right, a little space and a little perspective can make your relationship stronger than ever.