“A busy, vibrant, goal-oriented woman is so much more attractive than a woman who waits around for a man to validate her existence.”
~ Mandy Hale
“Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.” ~ Heraclitus
There is a natural ebb and flow to relationships. Sometimes you will feel closer to your partner and other times distant. A natural rhythm exists in relationships and the sooner you begin to accept this, the better you’ll cope with distance when it occurs.
Relationships always “feel good” when we are close and connected.
It reinforces are need for comfort, security and validation. In close encounters, our “feel good” hormones (oxytocin) kick in which help us feel happy and satisfied.
But once there is any distance, suddenly we may feel something is wrong – like there is a bear lurking.
Similar to the fight-or-flight response, the stress hormone (cortisol) is released and we are ready to attack or retreat.
Our fear tells that our security has been taken away and that we must take control.
The only problem is, often it is not a bear at all. Maybe it’s just a rabbit, hopping around and sometimes it has gone too far.
Inherent in close relationships is the desire for closeness and distance.
Being able to negotiate this is a challenge for all couples. In a pursuer-distancer relationship (an unhealthy relationship dynamic), one individual is primarily the “pursuer” in the relationship and the other the “distancer.”
The pursuer-distancer dance can wreak havoc on a relationship if the couple doesn’t understand what’s happening or what each individual is trying to avoid and how to correct it.
But, in a healthy relationship both people are coming from a grounded place. Each are being vulnerable and authentic, and allowing intimacy to occur.
If you are struggling with space in your relationship and want to learn how to navigate distance in your relationship, here are specific ways you can allow for this and also have peace of mind.
1. View space as positive
Keep in mind, anytime there is attachment there is a potential for loss. There is no way around this. But focusing on the fear of loss only exacerbates that fear. Instead, begin to view space in your relationship as positive; an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to reconnect, not necessarily to lose. If you can change your mindset, you can open up vastly to your relationship possibilities.
2. Ask for clarification
It is easy to react when you don’t have all the information. Refrain from making assumptions or accusations when there is distance in your relationship. Instead, express how you feel and ask for what you need. If there is something you don’t understand, ask for clarification.
One way to let your partner know how you feel is, “I notice there is distance in our relationship and I’ve been feeling this___.” And, “Is there anything I need to know?”
3. Discuss your differences
Individuals have different “space needs.” Couples will have to regulate their needs for closeness and distance. An introvert will need more space to recharge and reconnect, while an extrovert may need to vent or talk to feel more connected.
Discuss with your partner what your needs are. Respect each other’s needs. Just this conversation alone will help you feel more close.
The immediate sign of distance can trigger fear that something is wrong. The fight-flight response kicks in and interferes with the natural rhythm of the relationship.
In this situation, practice the following steps:
- Recognize when fear is taking over;
- Learn to tolerate discomfort when your partner wants/requests space;
- Practice relaxation techniques (deep breathing, visualization);
- Reassure yourself that there is nothing to be afraid of;
- Ground yourself and practice being in your “center.”
Trust that your partner will reconnect with you. Look at all the times in the past that he has.
5. Let go of expectations
When you get in a routine about what your partner will do or how you will both connect (i.e., weekly date nights, daily phone calls/texts etc.) you get used to how things will be. When the flow changes or is interrupted (often due to the normal course of life), you can hardly cope because you feel something must be wrong.
This is because, how you feel has been continually reinforced by someone else’s behavior; i.e., “I am happy only because he called,” vs. “I am happy.”
Try to appreciate what is happening at the moment, but let go of the expectation that it should happen or you’ll only be happy if it does. Let your partner know that you like it when he calls/texts and connects with you. Reinforce what behavior you like, but don’t hold on to what you expect.
6. Enjoy time for yourself
When your partner needs space or when schedules don’t allow for as much connection, spend time doing something for yourself. Do something you enjoy. Practice solitude. Sit quietly and take in the quiet time. Remember that when you take time to rejuvenate, you’ll be refreshed and more appreciative of the time together.
The challenge in all relationships is how to balance being an individual while being a couple.
Our interdependence requires a delicate balancing act; knowing that we can remain ourselves and walk our path, and trust that our partner is not that far away.
Kavita A. Hatten, MS, LPC, NCC- www.phoenixcounseling.net
Our first counseling session had hardly begun when Janie burst into tears, telling me about her broken heart suffered at the hands of her latest boyfriend, Carl.
“He’s just like all the others,” she said, wiping away her tears. “Why does this keep happening to me?” she said.
“Can you tell me about your relationship with Carl?”
I asked, handing her a box of tissues.
Janie told me that after a couple of weeks into the relationship, she felt an overwhelming, kind of panicky need to spend as much time as possible with Carl and prematurely broached the subject of moving in together.
She said she texted him numerous times a day and was upset if he didn’t respond immediately, additionally expressing disappointment if their evening phone calls didn’t last for several hours.
She was intensely jealous, questioning his interactions with female co-workers and friends.
Janie was afraid of losing Carl if she gave him any space at all, admitting, “I was scared if I didn’t push in hard, he would forget about me.”
But Carl felt overwhelmed by Janie.
The next time they met, he told her, “Janie, it feels like our relationship is going too fast and I think we ought to pull back a bit.” Carl became less available and eventually stopped calling and returning texts completely. It was over.
I asked Janie to tell me about other relationships and all of them played out the same way—she smothered the men with too much attention, they retreated and then disappeared, just as Carl had done.
I concluded she had what is called an anxious attachment style.
This particular type of relational style, rooted in childhood, is characterized by tremendous preoccupation with the relationship, the need for constant reassurance, and perceived feelings of abandonment.
During the course of our therapy, I helped Janie understand what was fueling her anxiety in relationships by inviting her to examine her childhood.
She realized her parents never attended to her emotional needs and, as an adult, was expecting her boyfriends to take on the responsibility.
We also worked on self-esteem and confidence by examining her thoughts about herself and others.
Janie learned how to be more independent and less reliant on boyfriends for her emotional contentment. As a result, she was able to maintain a healthier balance of togetherness and space with her next love interest and she reported being happier, calmer and more satisfied.
If you find you are repeating similar types of behaviors in relationships, the following could help:
- Educate yourself on attachment styles. There is a multitude of helpful information online.
- Ask for feedback from trusted people who will be kind, firm and honest with you about what they have noticed. Take their feedback to heart.
- If you find yourself still struggling, seek the counsel of a qualified therapist experienced in helping people understand relationships.
Susan Tschudi, MA, LMFT – www.therapybysusan.com
1. Love him—as things are!
It starts with you, as you are all that you can control. By this, I mean, stop, and take an inventory of what you want.
Re-evaluate your expectations, especially any hidden agenda as to what ‘should’ be.
Where is your focus? Is it on your interest in him or how he is interested in you?
Be interested in him!
Everyone’s needs are individual, as there is no cookie cutter relationship dynamic. Observe how he manages all his relationships, listen for his expectations, and celebrate him!
2. Be interesting by having a life outside of him
No doubt one of the original attractions your guy had for you was that you had a life.
Remember his adoring focus as you shared with him your life experiences about family, friends, work, and passions.
When he is away, engage with your life, collect the stories you can share with him later to catch his spark that was a catalyst to the courting from day one.
3. Personal growth—he and you are more than your relationship
There are also the elements that attracted your attention to your guy, as he to you. Stop and remind yourself what magnetized you to him, in how he lives and how he sees life.
- Are you stifling his growth by interfering with his need for personal time to continue investing in the things he loves, keeping up with his rituals and significant others outside of you or not respecting his need for space to regenerate?
If so regroup and encourage, then celebrate his investment in his personal growth. Then, check within and hold yourself accountable for your personal pursuits. Preserving one another’s individuality is a worthy investment for a healthy future together.
4. Reflect on where your self-confidence lies
What is your belief in you?
If you are defining your Self based on your relationship, you may want to take a step back and use the time he is away to take an inventory of who you know you to be.
Or is your identity tied into his attention and time focused on you?
Get to know yourself and see what he sees in you, change what you do not want, and seek to grow to become all that you would most like to accentuate your being. Like you as your man likes you!
5. Step back and observe the relationship, is it what you want?
Sometimes, a relationship is not progressing and not working, and you may be deflecting by attempting to control something within the dynamic versus address the dysfunction straight on.
Or are you trying to pound a square peg in a round hole, to make it something it is not? Use this time to look in the mirror and re-evaluate, do you need a change after all?
If not, smile and say, Wow, I am one lucky gal and likewise, for him! And feel the love!
Cheri McDonald, PhD, LMFT – www.aplace2turn.com
“I need space,” aren’t always words you hear from your mate directly, but the message is often implied.
You start receiving fewer calls and texts from him. He checks out on his laptop after he comes home from work. He seems busier with friends, work and other activities that don’t include you.
If you’re married, the scenario may be somewhat different, but the feeling is the same. You feel disconnected and distant.
You may be left to assume what his behavior might mean, if he hasn’t told you directly.
Do you remember the old adage, “To assume makes and ASS out of U and ME?”
When we assume, we make guesses about someone’s motives, actions, emotions, wants or needs.
It can cause us to shift to “what if” thinking. Getting stuck in this kind of thinking can rapidly lead to escalating worry and fear about the relationship.
Before emotions take over your rational mind, have a conversation with him.
Yes, it might be really uncomfortable to ask him about the subject, but talking will give you real information that you can do something with instead of leaving you in a tail spin of assumptions and anxiety.
One way to start the conversation might be to tell him how you’re feeling about what’s been going on.
Address the facts directly, but kindly, so the truth can be openly discussed. Let him know you’re open to having a chat about making some changes so that your relationship can be a place where you’re both getting your needs met.
If your partner asks you for space, ask him what that looks like.
Then, take some space for yourself! When boundaries are unhealthy, we may feel like clinging to or pursuing a partner even more when he asks for space.
The fear of losing the relationship or being replaced or abandoned can become overwhelming.
If these feelings arise in you at the thought of giving your mate space, maybe it would be helpful to check in with a therapist to explore what your reaction to the situation means for you.
Talking about your emotional response to your partner’s request might help you understand yourself better and help you create a healthier self and relationship.
The best thing you can do for you, your partner and the relationship is to give your partner space and find a way to give yourself the same gift.
- Have you always wanted to learn French?
- Would you like to get back to the gym on a more regular basis?
- Is there a friend you would like to reconnect with?
Determine the smallest step in achieving one of these goals and commit to it.
Go to one yoga class. Do a search for language lessons. Reach out to your friend. Then, while he is spending time on himself, you can be spending time on yourself.
Emotionally, physically, relationally, spiritually and professionally healthy people are more likely to have healthy relationships with others who are also equally healthy.
Give your mate the freedom to take space and become the best version of himself that he can be. Then you go do the same!
Amy Dunniway, MA, LMFT – www.sctherapist.com
When in a relationship, it can be challenging to find balance between your wants and needs and his wants and needs.
When people start dating, they are excited about the possibilities of what the relationship could bring.
With that excitement comes more time together and the next thing you know you’ve missed your last three workouts, dinner with friends, and never got around to reading the end of a new book.
A person’s identity is at risk of being defined by the relationship rather than being recognized as someone who is in a relationship.
With the gradual loss of identity may come resentment and eventually the need to remove oneself from the relationship. Below are some helpful tips for giving space to your man without losing him.
Who were you and what were you doing before you started dating him?
In considering my own routine of working out in the mornings, meeting up with my girlfriends, having the occasional night out, and enjoying the other self-care rituals like hair, nails, lashes and whatever else, there is no reason you need to give these things up just because you are in a relationship?
You should get to continue to take care of yourself and do the things you enjoy.
It’s important to keep who you were at your core present as to not become enmeshed in the relationship.
You can keep your interests and your partner have his and blend some of them together.
While I am encouraging you to keep your routine, I am also asking you to encourage him to do the same and give him the time to do it.
Who was he and what did he enjoy before you started dating him?
Chances are he had his own interests and hobbies before he met you.
It’s important to establish trust and mutual respect in any relationship therefore allowing each other to have separateness and togetherness.
Encourage your man to spend time with his guy friends and take time for himself.
If you’re having anxiety about giving him space, ask yourself why?
Just because you may be feeling insecure or anxious doesn’t mean he doesn’t get to have a life or space.
The bottom line is, you both get to do things alone and with friends and also with each other.
Plan friend date nights, couples date nights and date night with just the two of you.
Maintain open communication about what your wants and needs are. This will help keep your intentions on the table and not lead to resentment.
Encourage each other and create safety and security in the relationship.
Use the Five Love Languages Quiz online to help establish what each partner needs are. You have worked very hard to become the woman you are today. The partner you choose to like may one day become the partner you choose to love.
As your heart expands to accept them, always leave plenty of room in your heart to love yourself.
Stephanie Savo, LMHC – www.caringtherapistsofbroward.com
One of the biggest mistakes we make in relationships is thinking that spending all of our time with our partners will strengthen our bond and create a sense of security in our partnerships.
In fact, needing to be in constant contact with our partners is a form of codependency and it usually backfires and can even push our men away and lead them to feel suffocated and trapped.
True security in a relationship can not only tolerate separation, but deep security and lasting relationships require a balance of space and togetherness to create a sense of magic, romance, and longing.
Tragically in our culture, codependency is the norm. We fuse our lives with our partners and often don’t leave any space for our own separate interests, friends, or time to ourselves.
When relationships become self-focused, they often implode because so much of what sustains the momentum of a healthy relationship is the energy that comes from each person’s separate life outside of the relationship.
Far from scaring men away, having our own separate life is vital to energize our relationships and create a sense of desire and excitement.
Certainly we need quality time with our partners to bond and feel safe but in order to get that spark of romance and transcendence, creating space for separation is absolutely key.
When we lack a robust sense of self, we use our relationships to fill the gaps within us and that leads to clinging behaviors.
This form of insecure attachment is usually a result of underlying, unaddressed issues in our own lives as individuals.
As a result, we use our relationships like a drug to numb these issues and create a diversion from looking at the pain we are trying to cover up.
This pain surfaces through the relationship one way or another, often in drama, misunderstandings, or push-pull relationship dynamics.
We learn this way of being as a result of how our parents related to us, each other, and other people in our lives growing up. We don’t even realize it, but we internalize these billions of micro-interactions we observe throughout our childhood by osmosis.
Codependency becomes the air we breathe––we often don’t even realize there’s another way––and if we do, we don’t know how to get there.
We’re told by friends and family not to be so “needy” so we try to hide or suppress the part of us that wants to cling. However, suppressing the behavior doesn’t solve the root issue. Instead, we end up playing games or trying to “play it cool,” which means we’re not behaving authentically and vulnerably.
Consciously or unconsciously, our partners pick on on this and it may cause them to play games or communicate indirectly in return.
When these dynamics occur, there is often so much brewing beneath the surface that it creates tension, resentment, and manipulative behaviors.
To give your man space and reignite the spark in your relationship calls for more than just spending time apart by suppressing these behaviors.
We need to actually deeply heal our relationship with ourselves and figure out what makes our lives meaningful outside of our relationships in order to truly bring back the magic and desire within our relationships.
We resort to codependency when we have not developed a deep sense of meaning, purpose, self-love, and fulfillment in our lives as individuals.
- What’s your higher purpose?
- What’s your life’s mission?
- What makes you tick?
- What are you passionate about that has nothing to do with your relationship?
- Do you know how to love yourself and your life even when you’re alone?
- What are your unique gifts and what were you put on this planet to do?
Until you know the answer to these questions, you’ll find yourself feeling stuck in push-pull dynamics and constantly wanting more, using your relationship to fill the void within yourself and pushing your man away in the process.
I myself have learned these lessons the hard way and know the rocky terrain well, which is why I developed My LA Therapy so that I can help people heal codependency by getting to the root cause of their issues and help them discover their purpose in life as individuals.
A partnership is only as strong as each individual person’s relationship with themselves.
Each person and the way they relate to their own lives as individuals forms the foundation for a partnership. So the best way to create a stronger, deeper relationship with your partner is to focus on creating a stronger, deeper relationship with yourself.
Create your wildest dream life alone and you’ll never feel alone again, no matter what’s going on with your partner.
Cultivating your passions and knowing your life’s purpose are the secret keys to becoming irresistible to your partner and forging a powerful, magical, and lasting romance––not only with your partner, but with yourself.
Brooke Sprowl, LCSW, CNTS – www.mylatherapy.com
It can be difficult to find the right amount of “togetherness” and “separateness” in a relationship, especially when you suspect your partner wants more separateness than you do.
Maintaining a connection while also respecting each person’s independence is key to a relationship going the distance.
When you’re sensing that your relationship needs some space, there are a few important questions to answer before going any further.
Determining why your partner wants space (or why you think they need it) is crucial.
- Is it because they want more time to return to activities they’ve been neglecting or to spend time with friends they haven’t seen in some time? or
- Could it be because they need some time to think about if this relationship is what they want?
Ask your partner (or tell them) why taking space feels important at this time and be clear with what you each hope to accomplish by doing it.
- How long?
Set a deadline for how long space will be given. Is it being given for a couple days? A month? How much time is needed to accomplish the “why” question?
It may be possible that you and your partner don’t know at the outset how much time it may take for both of you to feel comfortable returning together as before, but at least determine a date in the future for when you will touch base.
Then you can determine if enough space has been given or if more time is needed (maybe this could also be the new normal for your relationship long-term).
- What does it look like?
For some people, space looks like no contact whereas for others it looks like less contact.
Get specific on what your communication and time spent together will be while space is being given.
Will you only talk every few days or is talking every day still okay? Will you see each other in-person at all? If so, how much?
If the two of you are on different pages for what your communication will look like, taking space can lead to more issues and hurt.
If you both agree to what the boundaries will be, the time apart will go much smoother.
Michelle Henderson, MA, LMHC – www.nextchapter-counseling.com
A roaring fire will sustainably burn as long as there is a healthy balance of fuel composed of tightly bonded atoms and oxygen surrounding the atmosphere.
If you build a fire too air-tight, lacking space for oxygen to flow, the fire will either not ignite or fail.
Healthy romantic relationships require this same balance of bondedness and space to keep the partnership hot and alive.
In the world BC (Before COVID-19), many partners unknowingly had automatic ways that gave one another the “oxygen” they needed for their relationship to breathe.
Activities like commuting to work; going to the gym or catching up with friends were built in space makers that helped partners maintain balance in their connection.
Since COVID-19, many couples have experienced a significant disruption in their natural balance of closeness and space. Most of those space giving activities are no longer available.
Our only option is to socialize, domesticate, parent, exercise and work all from home. The shelter in place advisories, forcing couples to constantly be in one another’s space, have suffocated or extinguished many romantic flames.
Additionally, romantic partners are typically mismatched in their desire for wanting more space or needing more closeness.
Significant misalignment in these desires often creates polarized roles where one partner becomes the pursuer and the other partner becomes the distancer.
The pursuer strives for more connectedness whereas the distancer seeks space.
Each role can cause significant conflict in a relationship if they are not balanced in a way that meets the needs of the partnership.
If you identify as the pursuer in your relationship, you may be stifling your partner’s physical and psychological space.
Letting your partner have the space they need, allows them to stay in tune with their sense of self and optimizes their well-being. Just like fire, only space will allow the relationship flame to burn.
Here are 3 ways to give your partner space and rebalance your connection during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond:
- Schedule Alone and Togetherness Time! Each week schedule time that you will take as individuals and time that you will have together.
- Honor the Beauty of your Individuality! During alone time, each partner has permission to do whatever they want with their time. If your partner enjoys gaming or cleaning that is their choice. Honor it.
- Find an Alone Time Hobby! Explore activities and pastimes that give you a sense of meaning and purpose.
Forcing your partner’s love by suffocating their space is a recipe for failure.
When you give your partner space, you give them freedom and the ability to choose to love you.
Barbara Steele Martin, MA, LMHC – www.barbarasteelemartin.com
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