“Ten years from now, make sure you can say that you CHOSE your life, you didn’t SETTLE for it.”
~ Mandy Hale
He’s told you that he’s unsure about the relationship. He’s told you that he “loves you” but not “in love with you.” He’s told you he needs time to think about the relationship. He’s told you not to keep asking him the same questions over and over. He’s told you he needs space to figure things out.
If you’re faced with this, it can be an uncertain and confusing time.
Any number of factors can contribute to a relationship getting to this point. Here are some possibilities: lack of communication; partners having different ways they deal with emotions; partners not getting their needs met; an emotional or physical affair; partners feeling guilty that they can’t meet each other’s needs, etc. The factors are endless.
My point is you alone can’t figure out what happened that got the relationship to this point.
You can’t come to a clear understanding about your relationship until both of you are willing to have an open and honest conversation.
But until then, what can you do?
Stop focusing on the relationship and begin focusing on you.
No matter how complicated your situation is there are simple ways you can empower yourself when your partner tells you that he needs space.
1. Accept your situation
Begin by accepting that your situation is confusing and that you’re in limbo. Accept that you’re not responsible for figuring everything out and that it takes “two to tango.” When you accept your situation, you can take the next steps that are good for you.
2. Stop over-analyzing
The more you keep wondering and trying to figure out what happened, the more anxious you’ll feel. When you obsess, it will keep you stuck in a never ending cycle of worry, fear and doubt.
Stop the “analysis paralysis.” Instead focus on the facts.
Focus on what your partner has said to you that is clear and concise. Don’t make assumptions or jump to conclusions. Focus on what you have control over – which is you and your daily life.
3. Ask for clarification
As much as your partner may not want to discuss the issues, you have the right to ask questions or express how you feel. For example, “What does needing space mean?” or “I’m confused about where we stand.”
But at the same time, respect your partner’s need for space. Don’t keep pushing for an answer when he doesn’t want to talk.
List the items you need clarification or have questions on and share it with your partner. Some couples choose to do this with a therapist where they can feel emotionally safe to open up.
4. Identify your boundaries
When couples are in this type of situation, setting boundaries in the relationship is critical. Whether you’re married and unsure if you’ll separate, or living together or dating, knowing what is good for you is the first step in the process.
Make a list of your boundaries.
Examples are: how will you address sleeping arrangements; whether or not you’ll remain physically intimate; how will you communicate and how often; how will difficult issues be discussed – in a neutral place, outside the home, in the presence of a therapist etc.
5. Engage in self-care
Proper self-care is vital during stressful times. Make yourself a priority. Take time to get adequate sleep, eat healthy, engage in daily exercise, and reach out for support to family and friends.
And most importantly, stay in the moment. Remember that being in the moment will bring you clarity and peace.
6. Recognize the pursuer-distancer cycle
In a relationship when your partner is in conflict about the relationship, he may not know how he really feels, may be worried he’ll hurt your feelings, may feel guilty or want to avoid conflict altogether.
The best you may get in the beginning is mixed messages and “I don’t want to talk about it.”
This doesn’t at all mean that communication is not important, but it does mean how you cope with the lack of communication will set the tone for how you feel.
In a classic pursuer-distancer relationship, the pursuer keeps pursuing and the distancer keeps distancing. This dynamic is not only toxic but emotionally draining.
Recognize when you’re pursuing the relationship in unhealthy ways with little response from your partner.
Instead, change the dynamic and set boundaries, express your feelings and needs and let go of the outcome.
If you’ve told your partner that you love him and that you want to work on the relationship, constantly reminding him of that will only push him away.
Respect your partner’s needs and request to have space.
You’ll be glad you did and more likely receive the honest, less reactive side of him in the long run.
It’s never easy when relationships get to this point. The uncertainty is the most difficult part. But remember to focus on what you have control over.
Your communication, your boundaries, your self-care and “your truth” will set you free.
And trust that staying in the moment will guide you and give you the answers that you need.
Kavita A. Hatten, MS, LPC, NCC – www.phoenixcounseling.net
Dating can be complicated. You might find yourself wondering, “Is he really that into me?” Or “Is he interested in taking this relationship to the next level?” Or “Does he need space?”
Each are valid concerns, but let’s focus on that last question.
It may be hard to tell whether or not the person you’re dating just needs space or is actually ready to walk away from the relationship. If you aren’t quite sure, here are a few signs you might need to pay attention to:
If it’s just space he needs he is likely to do the following:
He will ask for space.
Most mature men know how to ask for what they need and space is no different. Instead of being upset by the request, consider it might be necessary and appreciate the honesty in the ask.
He will seem easily agitated but you’ll notice he’s still trying and showing up.
Certain behaviors are easy to spot. Take note of whether or not he seems easily agitated lately and recognize space could be a really good thing for the both of you. You might notice he’s a little short with you or tends to nitpick small things more often than usual.
If he’s ready to call it quits, here’s some common behaviors:
He has no interest in anything regarding you.
If what you’re wearing, where you’ve been, where you’re going, or what you need is no longer his concern, he is likely ready to walk away. Even those who are frustrated in their relationship, but still interested in saving it, will surely care about you and the things that are important to you.
He is not available anymore.
When he turns down your invitations for dates or outings with friends, and isn’t interested in talking about what’s going on in the relationship he is likely considering if there is a future for the two of you. People who want to make it work, will do what is necessary to make it work.
He stops communicating with you.
Additional signs he’d like to call it quits are if you don’t know where he is or if he doesn’t return your calls. He has likely checked out of the relationship. If it feels like you’re going in two separate directions and he seems unbothered it’s time to consider having that tough conversation.
Again, relationships can be challenging. It’s so important to be aware in your relationship, communicate and pay attention to the signs.
Tiya Cunningham-Sumter, Certified Relationship Coach – www.thelifeandlovecoach.com
So your man’s become aloof, distracted, or appears less interested in spending time with you. Or perhaps he seems moody or emotionally distant when he is with you.
Pretty disconcerting stuff for sure. I’m not surprised that you’re confused about where you stand with him and that you wonder if he wants out or simply needs some time apart to figure things out.
Of course, there are many ways you could interpret his behavior.
However, there is really only one reliable way to determine if he’s in or out (unless you’re an accomplished mind reader) — and that is to ask him.
A scary? Sure. But some ways are better than others to approach such a discussion. Here is one approach. See what you think.
Opening up an honest dialogue
What you want to do is to open up an honest dialogue with your man. For that to happen, you need to create a space where a respectful yet truthful discussion can occur.
Here are some suggestions to guide you.
1. Begin your conversation with what you’ve observed about his behavior.
Don’t make it angry or accusatory. Just focus on the facts – what you see and hear. You could say something like, “I notice that you seem distracted when we’re together. And so I’m wondering what’s going on for you. Are you okay? Are we okay?”
2. Listen carefully to his words and at the same time note his manner.
That will tell a lot about whether he’s leveling with you or not.
3. Now could be a good time to be honest about your concerns about your relationship.
Use an even yet caring tone, because in that way he is more likely to be receptive to you. Planning your words ahead of time is helpful.
4. Invite him to be totally candid about any concerns he has about your relationship.
It’s better to know the truth than to live in some fantasy world about you, him and your future together.
5. Now may also be the time to get into the nitty-gritty of things.
You can judge if this is the right time by the quality and content of the discussion you’ve had so far. So if it feels okay, tell him what you need from him in terms of your relationship. Remember that, while it’s acceptable to express your needs, it doesn’t mean that he is obliged to meet them. It’s his right to say no.
6. Invite him to tell you what he needs or would like from you in terms of your relationship.
Again, listening to what someone needs doesn’t mean that you have to meet those needs if you feel you can’t deliver for any reason. So you too have the right to say no. Or you could say that you need time to consider what he’s asked.
7. Importantly, be prepared for answers that you may not want to hear.
Keep in mind that you’re after the truth. It’s better to face reality and deal with it than live in an illusion. You want to know if this relationship boat is going to float or not, before you invest more of yourself into it.
If he wants space, give it to him.
At the end of your conversation, if he says he needs space or time out for whatever reason, then step back and let him have it.
And while he’s having his space, create some space of your own to get to know yourself, including your needs and desires in a relationship.
After this period of self-discovery and taking into consideration the discussion you’ve already had with your man, you should know if this relationship is worth your time and care or not.
And if this relationship can’t deliver what you need, then be prepared to move on.
You should not to be left guessing
Bottom line. You don’t need to accept less than what you’re worth and what you need. And you shouldn’t have to be left guessing if you are wanted, loved and respected in any relationship.
Be your own best friend and advocate when it comes to relationships – or really any aspect of life. No one else can do that job better than you.
Mary Rizk, Transformative Coach – www.maryrizk.com
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
You may not, except with express written permission, distribute or commercially exploit the content. Nor may you transmit it or store it in any other website or other form of electronic retrieval system.