elasticThere is something about the summer that makes us crave extra space. Maybe it’s the heat or the interest in outdoor camping and your partner is not so into it. I am still pondering why the summer triggers the; “I need space” call out. While I continue to brainstorm, I would like to address the issue of space in relationships.

People need their own space. They need space for activities, they need space for thinking, they need space for personal growth, and they need space just to take a breath and recharge. Unfortunately, when people begin a relationship they forgo their need for space. In the honeymoon phase of the relationship, no one wants space. Both partners are so excited to eat, sleep, breath, and be together 24/7. When the honeymoon ends, and the couple lands from their ecstasy, one partner begins to itch for a little more space.

Every person satisfies his or her need for space differently. For some, a few hours at work is enough, for others, work is not considered time alone. Since asking for ‘space’ is seen as the devil, couples fail to communicate with each other their need for space. The unspoken need for space unintentionally causes a negative and toxic cycle.

As one partner inches toward his/her own space, the other partner follows right behind, closing the gap. The cycle begins. As one partner moves toward individuality and time alone, the other partner reacts by chasing. If this cycle escalates, the partner who is craving space will continue to distance him or her self, and the partner who is pursuing will become even more nagy, clingy, or needy. Partners begin to hurt each other without intent. The pursuing partner thinks, “He does not like me, he keeps trying to get away from me.” The distancing partner thinks, “All I want is some space to breath and be alone.” Fights break out, partners begin to resent one another, and the gap between the couple grows wider and wider.

Love and passion need space. A relationship is not meant to sap out your own individuality. You do not, and should not, give up your own personal identity to be in a relationship. A healthy relationship is based on two individuals who are growing and flourishing; together, they make up the relationship. Pursuing goals fosters self-esteem, self-esteem nurtures personal satisfaction, personal satisfaction enhances self-confidence, and self-confidence ignites passion in the relationship. When couples make room for independence and growth they have more to offer and more to give back into the relationship. Think of something as simple as conversations.

When partners are exploring their own interests (activities, friends, books, movies), they have more to share with one another when they reconvene.

Many couples resist giving each other space because they fear giving space means the relationship will end. Letting go of your partner can be scary. Yet, holding on to your partner can have the detrimental ending you fear. When partners do not give each other the space to unwind after a long day at work, they begin to feel suffocated. The relationship begins to fester with feelings of guilt and resentment. The distancer experiences guilt about needing space and resentment toward the partner for not giving the space needed. Staying close to his/her partner becomes a chore. The pursuer feels resentment and self-doubt as he/she attempts to close the gap. Some people emotionally distance themselves when they cannot achieve the physical space they need. Feeling suffocated in a relationship does not benefit either partner, or the relationship.


Let’s talk about you: Asking for your needs

A request for space can tap into your partner’s deepest fears of being left alone, not being good enough, or being unloved. Therefore, the reaction to your request will be met with an expression of hurt and rejection. You convince your self all will be okay. The need to protect your partner outweighs your need for breathing room. Suppressing your need will not end well. Don’t wait for the bust! At that point asking for space will be asked in a hurtful and harmful tone.

As we have established, asking for space is a delicate discussion. When you ask for space focus on your needs and avoid pointing fingers. State clearly the needs of your partner, this shows your partner that you understand and recognize their struggle. Then follow up with your request by explaining why you are asking for space, identify for how long the space will last, and how it will benefit you. “I understand you like talking to me as soon as I walk through the door, I guess this is your way of reconnecting with me. But, I find it difficult to talk to you as soon as I come home because I am still trying to decompress from a long workday. I would like to have 30 minutes when I come home. This will give me time to re-charge and get my energy going again. Additionally, I wont feel like I have to run to the room and hide in order to get my space.” It is a good idea to share with your partner what you will be doing in this time.

Make space-taking and space-giving a routine. If you build it into the relationship then both partners can get their needs met without experiencing space as a form of rejection. The routine will eliminate the push and pull between you and your partner. It will also allow both partners to enjoy their time together because they are not distracted by thinking of what alone-time would look like.

Having space is critical for the longevity of a relationship. When you give your partner physical space, you are giving him/her the mental space to become close to you. I like to refer to this as the Rubber Band Effect. When you put tension on a rubber band by pulling in one direction, letting go, causes the rubber band to jump forward. Stretch in a relationship helps for the jump forward (think bonding and connection).  At times, I will hear the following; “I will give my partner space when our relationship is closer” Remember, too much tension on a rubber band causes it to snap! The clincher, being in each other’s face all the time can get boring. Healthy, positive, and loving space is what keeps the spark alive.

Sara Schapiro-Halberstam, MHC-LP, CASAC is a psychotherapist in New York City where she practices individual therapy, couples counseling, and sex counseling. You can contact Sara at [email protected] and read more blog posts at www.mwr.nyc

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