“Ten years from now, make sure you can say that you CHOSE your life, you didn’t SETTLE for it.”
~ Mandy Hale
Relationships are hard. They are hard because we are immersing our life and independence with someone else’s whether that’s temporarily or permanently.
Finding a balance between togetherness and autonomy can be challenging.
Your own experiences and perspectives will influence your ability to establish a system that creates the space to be together and apart.
Here are some tips on how to create the space for a well balanced relationship.
1. Discuss expectations and boundaries
In a relationship it’s important to consider your expectations and limits for the relationship. “How do I see myself in relationships?” “What do I need from a relationship?” “What do I want this relationship to look like?” “What am I not okay with?” “What are my boundaries and where am I willing to compromise?”.
Ask your partner to consider these same questions and come together to discuss what you would like your relationship to look like. Now that you have discussed this, you have some knowledge on your partners views about relationships, but more importantly your own standards.
2. Be willing to compromise
Learning about your partner will help you understand their wants and needs. Once you have a good understanding of your own wants and needs as well as theirs, you will be able to move forward in compromising. “I can understand because of XYZ why this is important to you.”
Example of compromising conversation:
“I would like to spend X amount of time with you per week in order to feel valued in our relationship. You need to spend X amount of time with your friends per week to feel centered and grounded. How can we work together to get both of our needs met? How can we work together to find a compromise that works for both of us and we can move forward.”
For this example, maybe the compromise is spending some time with their friends together. You two will have to work to decide what works best for you. Remember in any relationship, communication is essential.
3. Engage in your own joy and self care (Be your own happiness)
Focusing on your own self care and happiness is a great way to focus less on the amount of time you are/aren’t spending with your partner and more on the things you are doing to fill your cup up.
When your partner is taking time for themselves, use that time to engage in something that brings you joy.
Whatever that may be: Dig into one of your past hobbies that you haven’t touched in a while, meet up or FaceTime with a friend. The list of activities is endless.
You are a person of value in your relationship too, your growth and needs are just as important as your partners, there is value in spending time apart and meeting each other’s needs.
Focus on your strengths, not necessarily what you think may go wrong in the relationship. Try out the steps listed above for a more well balanced relationship.
Stephanie McInelly, LMFT – www.mindfulmessagestherapy.com
If he verbalizes that he needs space:
Appreciate the communication from him: Be thankful that he is telling you what he wants. Honest and assertive communication are keys to happy relationships.
Ask clarifying questions: What does this practically look like? What does he need from you?
If he hasn’t verbalized that he needs space:
How do you know he wants space? What evidence are you using?
Also, if he hasn’t verbalized this, why not? If he’s just acting different, consider initiating the conversation yourself. You may also want to ask how you feel about a man who doesn’t explain his actions through a conversation.
If you’re left questioning if he’s actually ending the relationship:
Consider all of the facts: How is he acting overall? Has his affectionate behavior changed? Is he making future plans with you? A man who wants space still wants to be in the relationship but has some needs that aren’t being met. A man who is breaking up, will signal this in all areas of his behavior.
Examine the feelings coming up inside for you: You’ll likely feel nervous, afraid, sad, confused, or angry. Take some time to sort out how these feelings might be related to past situations you’ve been in so that you aren’t letting your past dictate your present.
Ask yourself: “Is he someone I trust? Do I think he’s hiding something? Is he lying to me? Is he lying to himself?” If you don’t trust him, there might be some underlying things going on – perhaps with your relationship, with him, or with you.
Use body-based grounding techniques such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, or mindfulness to calm your body down if you become activated. This will help to re-engage your higher-level thinking (the pre-frontal cortex), so that you will feel more in control of your decision making and less reactive.
Use negative thought stopping, examine cognitive distortions, and cognitive reframing to calm your mind when your thoughts begin to race and you are filled with internal messages about your worth. This will help your pre-frontal cortex to rewire away from the lies and replace those with the truths about your worth.
Lastly, what do you want?
- Have you considered asking yourself?
- Do you want more space also?
- Do you want less?
- Do you want to break up?
He can share his needs and you can share yours, then you can work together to find a solution that suits both of you.
Stacey Schwenker, MDiv, LMFT – www.gardencitycenter.org
Ideally, in healthy relationships there is a mix of togetherness and separateness.
That’s true for any relationship, no matter how many years you’ve been together.
What does that balance look like and why is it important?
If there’s too much togetherness the spark fizzles out.
There’s not enough new energy to share with each other and you run out of things to talk about… you’ve all seen those couples out at restaurants without anything to say to each other. Things have become boring.
If one partner wants to be together more than the other they come across as ‘needy’.
In fact, if you’re always around and your partner needs their independence, they may start to feel suffocated. They may need to escape.
Many times when relationships begin you stop hanging out with friends or doing the things you loved in order to spend time with your partner.
Many friends go MIA when they start dating someone new.
Years into the relationship you might not even remember what you used to spend time doing without your partner. You don’t want to lose yourself by becoming one entity – the relationship.
If you think about balance, it means that two things are relatively of equal weight or significance.
That means your time apart should be just as valuable and significant as your time together. Sure, time apart might be while you’re working, but that also should mean your after work hours life as well.
When there’s balance in the relationship you have energy from outside sources to bring in to the relationship.
Meaning, the time you spend doing individual hobbies, activities or with friends separate from your partner is healthy for your relationship. You’re excited to see each other again after time away. You have engaging things to talk about which makes him more interested in you.
The time you do spend with your significant other becomes quality time.
You focus on your partner with more undivided attention. When you’re together you engage more with each other because you’ve had that time apart.
Just be sure that you don’t spark jealousy with your time away… whether that be due to another person, or the mere fact they feel left out of fun plans.
Invite your partner along when you can, but make plans regardless.
Make sure you remain connected to yourself… the person they chose to be with in the first place!!
Amy Sargent, MFT – www.amysargent.com
When we see a sudden change in our partner’s behavior it is likely to bring a sense of worry.
Has he gone from very attentive to barely present? He tells you he wants space. You are left wondering- What does this mean? This may be an indication that there is something going on in his world.
If you are honest with yourself, you likely may have noticed these kinds of behavior changes for a while and just didn’t say anything.
You may have feared the response. It may be worth a conversation regarding what expectations and support look like in the relationship.
After all, a relationship is a partnership, if one partner feels something is off or different there should be space in the relationship to explore this with each other.
Also, if one person in the relationship is going through something personally difficult we should let them know that they do not have to do it alone and we are there if they want to talk. Yes, there is still privacy even in an intimate relationship and we should grant each other that autonomy and emotional space.
At any rate, I would caution against making assumptions and instead try a direct approach with out blame.
You can very well ask, “Can you help me understand what having space means for our relationship?”
It is also completely likely that he may not be aware of how his ‘pulling away’ behavior is impacting you. He may be thinking that he need some time to handle other things in his life and may think he is respecting your emotional investment by letting you know he may be less available.
Remember, it is normal in relationships to have its ups and downs, times where things can be more intense and times where things are less intense- this can be very normal especially as you learn more about your partner and his needs.
Somethings to consider if you find yourself in this situation:
You do not have to wait forever; it’s fine to establish some boundaries and set a time frame where you can re-evaluate whether you want to stay in this relationship.
Giving someone space is fine and understandable if he is expressing he is evaluating his feelings or has some personal issues he needs to attend to; but taking long periods away with no explanation could be a sign he is trying to end things.
Are there other concerns you have about this relationship?
If he is controlling or trying to manipulate your feelings along with asking for time away, this may be a sign of an emotionally abusive relationship.
When you try to talk about things, is he argumentative and/or defensive?
This may be a sign that it is time for you to move on and find a more mutual dynamic. You should not have to ‘win back’ your partner.
If you are left feeling this way, it may be time to check and make sure you aren’t falling into a co-dependent pattern.
If your sense of self is dependent on how your partner feels this may be an opportunity for your own self-reflection and healing. Make sure you feel good about you and invest the time into your own happiness.
A partner should be a compliment to your personhood not a definition of your worth.
This may be a great opportunity for self- discovery; if you practice boundary setting, assertive communication and make sure that you check any co-dependent tendencies you will be in a great place regardless of where his heart lies.
Dana Hall, LCPC, MA, TF-CBT – www.danahalltherapy.com
Typically when I work with couples, or individuals navigating romantic relationships, and someone is asking to take a break or for space, I see it as a red flag.
Taking a break rarely leads to an improvement in a relationship because you are necessarily avoiding and not participating in improving things, which ultimately leads to nothing changing once you come back from the break: the same problems are still there.
That being said, sometimes we all need breathers or time-outs to process how we feel and then come back to the relationship or the conversation, refreshed.
- If he is asking for space in the first place, he may be ambivalent, anxious, avoidant, or unsure about whether he wants to straight up end things.
- If he gives a reason that sounds genuine and healthy, then you probably want to establish some parameters for the space.
- Ask what space means— how does he define it, and if once he does, are you okay with that definition?
- Make sure you have clarity to why he is seeking it now. Is it in reaction to something that happened? Is it seemingly out of the blue?
- If you have some ideas for why he is asking for space: clarify. Don’t make assumptions.
- If you do not know why he is asking for space: ask, is he willing to be open and honest about why he is making this request?
- Also, maybe worth clarifying: what does he hope / expect for you to do (if anything) while he gets his needed space? It’s not that you need marching orders from him, but it might be interesting to see how he responds to this.
- Play fair (no ultimatums or threats),
- Practice self-validation
- Self-respect (don’t just go along with his request because you don’t want to “rock the boat”), and
- Establish parameters for the “space.”
Rachel Kitson, PhD — www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/rachel-kitson-charlotte-nc
When you’re dating, it’s natural for many anxieties and worries to creep in, particularly if your guy was once communicative and then becomes aloof. You may even ask yourself, “Does he want to be with me?”
Consider having an open and honest conversation with your guy to put your mind at ease.
Ask if there is anything worrying him and if you can help. Creating a safe space for your partner to open up and discuss his concerns can support you to share your insecurities too; communication is a two-way process.
Okay, so assuming your partner has decided he can (and will) open-up and share what’s on his mind, what if you don’t like what you hear?
No matter what your partner says, does, or how he reacts, it’s “not” personal, even if he tells you he feels trapped in the relationship, or he needs time with his friends!
As difficult as this may sound, particularly if you want a deeper connection with your partner and he wants the opposite (more distance), it is not about you, it’s about him.
How your partner behaves in a relationship is an established pattern of behavior he instinctively developed to manage his feelings and emotions. So, when he withdraws/avoids, he is reverting to a pattern of behavior he established in early childhood and it is nothing personal.
This being said, you may struggle to be in a relationship with a person who has an avoidant attachment style.
If you’re a person who needs to feel close to your partner, and you’re in a relationship with a person who withdraws from you, the more you will “need” to connect with him to feel safe.
You could become more anxious than usual in this relationship combination.
Before you know it, you establish this pattern of behavior: the more you pursue your partner, the more he will withdraw because he feels “smothered.” A negative spiral can quickly develop in this pursue-withdraw type relationship.
Do you keep ending up in the same relationships (with the same problems) repeatedly, regardless of partner?
If this is you, establishing your boundaries and relationship requirements at the start of any relationship will support you to change your patterns and behavior.
Your boundaries relationship requirements are your deal breakers; what you’re willing to accept and not accept in a relationship.
If you require a partner to communicate or reply within a timeframe because you become anxious, tell him. Maybe your partner fears progressing the relationship further and keeping you “dangling”? In this scenario, are you prioritizing your partner’s feelings over your own?
If your partner does not honor or respect your needs and feelings, is this the right person or relationship for you? You have the power to choose!
- Establishing your boundaries
- Identifying your requirements in a relationship
- Know what your needs are in a relationship
- Look at your relationship and dating patterns
Above all else, honor and respect you, know your worth!
Sharon Craig, Dating and Relationship Coach — www.coach2connect.co
- What did he say to you? Did he ask you for space, or tell you that it’s over and you are hoping that space that will be enough?
- What do you want?
- Is a relationship with “space” enough for you, or even if you love him do you need or want more?
- Your question revolves around what he needs, but what about your needs?
Having your own needs and wanting to meet them is not selfish, it’s necessary for a healthy, loving and committed partnership.
Otherwise, your relationship will be filled with imbalance, unmet needs, and likely resentment which will all present themselves in other unhealthy and uncomfortable ways in the relationship.
- Are you jealous and or controlling?
- Could it be that you are smothering him…or that he feels like you are?
You might want to take a look at your behavior in the relationship, and see if he just wants to breathe, or let go….
- What is more important to you?
- Having a loving, intimate and connected relationship with a man who not only loves you, but is ready and willing to commit?
- How long have you spent/invested in the relationship?
If it has been a significant amount of time, a year or more, and he wants to spend less time with you, not more, that is a big red flag!
Even, if he doesn’t want it over, you may want to think whether or not you do.
- Do you think space is another way to say “I want to back away slowly” or “have a backup plan or girlfriend before I cut the cord on this relationship completely”?
- Are you asking this question because you already know the answer and are hoping to be told something different, to be told that it is okay to stay or leave, or because just simply don’t know what to do?
If you don’t know what to do? Do nothing.
When it is time to do something, you will know it. At that time, when you do what your inner self /gut tells you to do, it will be just the right thing.
Remember that you are both in this relationship, and you both have the right and the responsibility to yourselves and each other, to have your needs respected and met.
Laura Streyffeler, PhD, LMHC, BCETS, CCDVC, CCFC – www.drlauracounseling.com
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