Space is something that people request from us at times. Perhaps a friend asks for space after getting into a huge fight. Maybe your partner requests space so that they can focus on recharging themselves or figure something out on their own. Wanting space is actually a pretty normal need. Almost everyone needs space in some way. However, there is no one size fits all when it comes to space. Personally there are times when I do need space from a friend or partner, but usually that means that I just need a couple of days to myself. Other people might need a full week of space. Some people need physical space (i.e., not wanting to hang out in person) but are fine if you call or text them in the interim. Other people might want full no contact kind of space. These people don’t want a text, call or anything, unless it’s an emergency. Again, there is nothing wrong with needing space. Having space from people is very normal. One of the issues with needing space is that are so many misunderstandings on what a person’s request for space means and how to appropriately give space.
For instance, I was dating a guy in college who I had repeatedly asked for space from. I was dealing with depression and felt suffocated by him constantly checking up on me. From his perspective, he wanted to be there for me and he felt the best way to be there for me was by calling and texting me constantly. I felt pressure from this situation because I didn’t want him to take my space personally, but when dealing with depression, I just needed to be alone and work through my thoughts without having to communicate that to him or anyone else. By him constantly checking up on me made me feel like I was a child who could not attend to my own needs without his support. I know he did not mean for me to feel that way, but by him not giving me the space I was asking for, I felt suffocated.
Below are some typical ways that misunderstandings can occur when a request for space is made.
- Your partner asks for space. Your first inclination may be to think your partner wants to break up with you. However, often times space may mean the complete opposite. Space allows an opportunity for a relationship to strengthen. Your partner may just need space to get back into the things that make them an individual person. Perhaps she needs time to hang out with the girls, catch a movie she knows you dislike or invest more time in a passion that requires solitude. Giving space also can allow your partner to miss you which can heighten the feelings of romance again. Some relationships need to reignite the passion and getting space can be a great start to rediscovering why you fell in love with someone in the first place.
- A friend asks for space during a difficult time. Maybe you and your friend had a fight. Maybe your friend is going through a tough time like a job loss and just wants some time to himself. Due to this request of space from our friends, we may feel hurt, insulted or lost as to how we can help the situation. Often times when our friends are going through tough times, we want to invest more energy into making things better. After a bad fight, you may want to hang out and create new memories straight away. When your friend is going through a tough time, you may want to be around to cheer them up and give support. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but often times, people need space just to sort themselves out on their own. This doesn’t mean they don’t value your support nor want it in the future. It just means that for now they need some time to cool off or resolve things on their own.
- A parent needs space for themselves. Perhaps you are very close with your parents or your parent is living with you and slightly depends on you for housing, food, support and so on. When a parent close to us, demands for space, it can take us a bit off guard. However, our parents are still independent people and are entitled to living their own life and pursuing their passions without you being involved. This dynamic can also happen with parents and their own children. A child wants space to do their own thing while a parent wants to be involved. Again, asking for space in this dynamic can be hurtful and elicit fears that the relationship may be changing. However, a child needs space to grow and develop their own independence.
Space really isn’t a bad thing. The issue with space is not understanding why a person needs space and how to give space to someone properly. Here are 5 steps to take when a loved one requests space.
- Recognize and respect that the desire for space is normal. There are many misconceptions that suggest that space is unhealthy or wrong. Everyone desires space at some level. There’s nothing unhealthy or wrong about needing space. Once you understand that needing space in any kind of relationship is normal, you’ll be less likely to panic or become upset when a loved one requests space. Respect the need for space. Often times, someone asking us for space can hurt our feelings even if we know that it is normal and okay for a loved one to need space. There’s nothing wrong with you or anyone needing space in any kind of relationship. These are normal desires so respect if anyone is requesting some space.
- Define the kind of space you want and the kind of space they want. Asking for space is different for everyone. Some people want financial space. They need the space to shop, spend their money and handle their own expenses without their partner or caregiver always checking in on them. Other people need space to work. Perhaps you are in a relationship where you text frequently while your loved one is at work. This may be distracting your partner and negatively influencing their work. Some people may need emotional space. I know someone who was contemplating dating her long-term friend. The spark wasn’t really there for her, but she was feeling romantic attraction to him. However, the guy kept texting, calling, arranging dates and was unintentionally placing pressure on her. Ultimately she needed space to figure out her feelings and allow psychological space for her feelings to grow. In other words, she needed to miss him and be alone in her head to allow her feelings to grow organically. When someone in your life requests space, try to not jump to the worst conclusion. Ask your loved one what kind of space they need from you.
- Keep yourself busy. Giving your loved ones space doesn’t mean that your life comes to a screeching halt. Take this as an opportunity to invest more energy into things that are meaningful to you. When your partner is out with the guys, arrange a night out with the girls. Join a class, get a massage, and invest more energy into a hobby you love or go out and catch a movie. When a close friend needs space, take this as an opportunity to catch up with different friends. Arrange a get together with other friends or catch up with someone you haven’t spoken with in a while. If a child or parent needs more space for themselves, use this as an opportunity to catch up on things you have been neglecting for yourself.
- Be open with feelings of insecurity. Personally I have issues with feelings of abandonment or feeling guilt for not respecting someone’s space. The request for space can often hurt people who don’t feel a need for space. That’s perfectly normal, and it can be normal to feel face to face with feelings of insecurity when someone close to you demands space. Use this as an opportunity to talk to your loved one about your feelings. You must respect their need for space but also make sure they are aware of any negative consequences from having too much space. For instance, getting too much space from a friend may make you feel like your friend isn’t as interested in the friendship anymore. Too much space from a partner can make you feel neglected and like your relationship is falling apart. By being open with your feelings, you can allow room for compromise. For instance, maybe you can give your partner space but dedicate a couple of nights per week for romantic dates and sleep overs. Maybe a friend needs some space, but you guys can still text and meet up every so often. Perhaps your relatives need some space but you can still call them and keep in touch. Work on a fair compromise so that your loved ones need for space is respected but you also aren’t destroying the relationship in the process.
- Work on your own independence. Giving space can be tough when we are used to doing things with our partner, best friend or people who we are close to. Stepping away from that dynamic can be really hard. However, you can use this as an opportunity to work on your own independence and build a life where you pursue your own interest and can manage other relationships with people. You don’t have to rely on your loved one for everything. Learn to reach out to the other people in your life who may miss your company. Invest more energy into the things that have always made you happy. This can be a great time to really work on your career, finish the book you’ve been writing, meet new friends or get a degree.
Giving space can be a great opportunity to focus more on yourself. Not only will you strengthen your relationships by giving just the right amount of space, but you will also continue investing into your own happiness. What are ways that you have given space? What works for you? For tips on how to ask someone for space see this article here