A relationship, especially a long-term relationship, can be a tricky balance. You spend time together, you build a life together, but you still need to maintain a separate existence. It’s not unusual to have a moment when you realize that you need to take a step back—and in some cases, you need to take a whole leap back.
It might be because your partner asks you for space, which isn’t a sign that they aren’t head over heels for you or that your relationship isn’t amazing. Needing space is totally natural. But sometimes, your significant other might not always ask for it—even when they need it. Maybe they’re shy or awkward, or maybe they just don’t know where to start. So it's not only good to be able to spot the signs, but also to know how to take a step back from a relationship. Because no matter how much you love someone, you never want to suffocate them.
Here are some surefire red flags to look out for in your own behavior. Be mindful of your actions and your partner's reaction, whether they verbalize it or non-vocally provide you with some clues to their feelings.
You’re Too Involved in Their Professional Life
No matter how close of a couple you are, you should have separate domains and work is often a private domain between romantic partners. Sure, you may swap stories of your day and ask each other for advice, but there’s a level of separation. If you find yourself trying to drive or control their professional trajectory, asking incessant questions about their job and having a lot of opinions on their coworkers and office, consider taking a step back. Allow them to have a bit of a sanctuary that is entirely their own, where they make the decisions and create their own goals and motivations, without you being the driving force of their success.
You Only Socialize as a Couple
Socializing as a couple is great, but if it’s your only form of socialization then it may be that you’ve gotten a little too connected. There should still be room for both of your passions, hobbies, and friends—and that requires spending some time apart now and again. If your calendars line up perfectly, make sure you try to shake things up and get some space.
You Tag Along Uninvited
Even more of a problem than only socializing as a couple is socializing as a couple when you weren't invited as a couple. Some people assume that everywhere their other half is invited also includes them because they're married or they've been together for so long. But, and there’s no way to say this delicately, they're wrong. Look around at social events; if it wasn’t clearly built for couples then assume it was only meant for your SO.
Instead of joining in, focus on growing your personal experiences and checking in with your own friends solo.
You Speak for Your Partner
Some people really love being a “we”—and let’s be honest, there’s a lot to love about it. But if you’re constantly jumping in with “we” this and “we” that, make sure you and your better half are getting some “I” time, as well. If someone asks your S.O. a question, they should be able to answer it, even if it’s about something that involved you, too. Just because you do things together doesn’t mean you lose your individual identities and experiences; your partner should feel free to share their own without automatically linking it to your shared persona as a set.
Your Partner Is Getting Annoyed by Little Things
When someone is a little too hands-on, no matter how much you love them, it’s normal to reach a place where you just can’t take it anymore. If your SO is touchy or seems stressed with you, it may be that they need some space and don’t know how to ask for it. See if giving them some room improves the relationship.
You Call All of the Shots
From where to go out for dinner to where to go on vacation, relationships are often a series of little compromises. If you find that you’re always making the choices, big and small, then you may have a bit of an overbearing hand in the relationship. Try to take a step back and give your partner a chance to be on equal footing or else resentment can build in the long term.
You Can’t Imagine Your Life Without Them
A lot of people say that they “can’t imagine” their lives without their partner, but it’s usually just used as a figure of speech. In a healthy relationship, no matter how much you love your other half, no matter how devoted you are, no matter how strong your relationship is, you should still be able to imagine your life without them. It may be horrible or scary or even make you feel a bit sick, but you should have a sense that eventually, if something happened in your relationship, you’d be okay and that your survival is not linked to someone's presence in your life. If you really feel like you need this person, you’re too dependent. You can exist without them. If they don't feel that, it might panic them. You need to take a step back to give your S.O. some space and also do some soul-searching to find ways that you can be that person for yourself.
If you are madly in love with someone, it's easy to see how you can want to be involved in every part of that person's life. But your partner needs to feel independent, and they need to feel that you're independent as well. So sometimes, taking a more hands-off approach is the best thing you can do for your relationship. It might even save it.