Even though we have heard of the expression, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”, we feel awfully scared of the concept of space in a relationship. The importance of personal space in a relationship is often overlooked because spending time together is talked about much more positively and frequently than time spent apart. But it is two individuals that make a couple.
Some people say, “I need a lot of space in a relationship.” Others say, “There is too much space in the relationship and I don’t like it.” Often, these two different types of people end up finding each other. And thus begins the tricky business of figuring out the right amount of personal space in a relationship.
Being in a romantic relationship does not mean that you must stay joined at the hip all the time. When handled correctly, space can work wonders in bringing a couple closer together and cementing their bond. To help you understand the right way to navigate space in a relationship, we spoke to consultant psychologist Jaseena Backer (MS Psychology), who is a gender and relationship management expert
Is Space In A Relationship A Good Thing?
Post Covid-19 pandemic, when couples were forced into physical proximity with each other with fewer distractions than ever, the concept of space in a relationship came to the fore and took centerstage. There was the question of “frustration of having too much of each other” vs “happiness on finding more quality time”. Research shows there was an equal response for both on how the pandemic influenced couples’ marital satisfaction during the pandemic.
So, what to believe in? Is space good for a relationship? Is space in a relationship healthy? Does space make a relationship breathe and flourish? Or is it all a myth and the more intertwined you are with your partner, the better? A long-term US study of marriage called The Early Years of Marriage Project, which has been following the same 373 married couples for over 25 years revealed that 29% of spouses said they did not get “privacy or time for self” in their relationship. Of those who reported being unhappy, 11.5% blamed lack of privacy or time for the self against 6% who said they were unhappy with their sex lives.
The answer is clear. More couples rated the need for personal space and privacy than sexual unfulfillment as being a bigger bone of contention with their partners. It is no surprise that experts believe space is not just good for a romantic relationship, it is essential for it to thrive and blossom. Here are a few quick and glaring benefits of maintaining space for a healthy relationship:
- Space helps nurture individuality and fosters independence
- It indicates that a couple has established healthy boundaries
- Having uninterrupted time to ourselves makes us more attuned to our mental health by paying close attention to our emotions and feelings and makes us better prepared to handle the world
- Allowing ourselves space also reduces the chances of lashing out at our partners. This is especially true during times of conflict in the relationship as well as inner conflicts
- A sense of mystery about your partner and their life separate from you creates excitement and alleviates relationship boredom
- It reduces the chances of the relationship becoming codependent and toxic
We are not trying to take away from the importance of constant communication and togetherness. “Togetherness is great as long as it makes you happy but if you start feeling claustrophobic in your togetherness then there is something really wrong,” says Jaseena. This could be a sign that you are heading for a failed relationship. At the same time, growing distant from your partner could be the other edge of this double-edged sword. That’s why how much space in a relationship is normal should naturally be your next question.
Related Reading: 5 Reasons Why Space In A Relationship Is Not An Ominous Sign
How Much Space In A Relationship Is Normal?
As long as two people get to do the things that they enjoy doing but also make it a point to spend quality time together, space in a relationship is normal. For instance, one partner might enjoy reading, and the other might like watching football, and both may find each other’s interest intolerably boring. What are the two possible outcomes?
- One way is for each to plow through the other person’s interest in the name of doing everything together, and curse the other under their breath while the other partner is ridden with guilt
- The other could be to not insist on doing everything together. They may choose to do a third thing they both enjoy such as watching a film outdoors and leave the reading and the football viewing as personal me-time activities
Wouldn’t the second choice lead to far less resentment and more personal fulfillment? We hope that answers the question, “Is space good for a relationship?” But does that mean that a couple should not want to share their life, passions, and desires? Is it wrong to expect your partner to be a witness to your life? Of course not. The answer to how much space in a relationship is normal lies somewhere in the middle. Like everything in this world, balance is key! Presenting to you a few extreme binaries to help you catch our drift:
|Too much space||Too little space|
|You hang out in separate friend groups all the time and don’t know each other’s friends||You have no friends. When you and your partner fight, you have no one you can approach to vent/share/spend time with|
|You two have nothing in common. You have separate interests, food choices, and holiday choices. You and your partner don’t have anything to talk about||You do everything together. There is nothing new to share with your partner that they do not already know|
|You two don’t have any shared goals for the future. You have not talked about it in a long time||You two don’t have any individual goals and purpose in life to look up to or to support your partner with|
|You and your partner are growing apart. You hardly see each other||You and your partner have no personal boundaries|
|You and your partner are not interested in each other any more||You and your partner are growing bored of each other|
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What Is Considered Healthy Space In A Relationship?
The table above can either tell you how easy it is to figure out how much space in a relationship is healthy, or it can leave you even more confused than before. Because there is no one-size-fits-all answer to “what is healthy space in a relationship”. The truth is how we handle space, how much or how little of it we need is subjective, depending on our attachment styles.
The more secure our attachment style, the easier it is for us to be alone and independent and to navigate the idea of personal space. Case in point: this study, which demonstrates that “attachment security is a major predictor of relationship quality during COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.”
Add to that, the demand for space often being used as a euphemism for ending a relationship or to talk about the loss of feelings in a relationship, and we have a ticking bomb in the shape of the “Listen I need to talk. I think I need some alone time” conversation. This makes “I need space” one of the most touchy subjects between couples.
Talking about healthy space in a relationship, Jaseena says, “Space is considered healthy as long as it is comfortable enough for the partners but not big enough for the entry of a third party.” Space in a relationship is healthy if:
- It allows you to nurture your sense of identity and self-confidence without feeling distant from your partner
- It has been helping you deal with the feelings of loss of purpose
- It has made you and your partner more interested in learning about each other’s hobbies
- You feel excited to introduce each other to your life, the activities, and the people in it
- It has increased emotional and physical intimacy between your partner
- It helps you cope with breaking up with someone as part of the no-contact rule
But if you wonder “Does space help a broken relationship”, our answer is no! If you are calling your relationship “broken” or you feel disconnected from your partner, your relationship might in fact be in need of extra TLC. Spending time with each other and putting your energy into trust-building exercises can be far more helpful than looking for ways to give or take space in a relationship.
How To Create And Foster Healthy Space In A Relationship
Dealing with space in a relationship is something a couple learns over time, as trust grows and communication strengthens. And it may take months and even years to finally figure out how much space works for them. Additionally, the needs of a relationship are ever-dynamic. It takes constant and deliberate thought and work to come to a healthy resolution and have realistic expectations in the relationship.
Regardless, we share with you a few tips that may help you, along with your partner, cultivate the right amount of space in your relationship and nurture it. Jaseena says, “To create a healthy amount of space, couples should begin by laying down some ground rules. These rules will prove beneficial when trying to communicate to your partner the importance of space in a relationship as well as trying to figure out how much of it works well for you as a couple.”
You know, there is no need to lose sleep over questions like, “Does he need space, or is he done?” or “She says she wants space, has she fallen out of love?”, when your partner tells you they need some time to themselves. Just read on to find the confidence to deal with space and make a killing from the rewards it has to offer.
1. Nurture personal hobbies and wishes
It is important for you to enjoy your me-time to make it a sustainable habit. You can not punish yourself and force yourself away from your partner to merely fulfill a random prerequisite to relationship happiness. So, when you take space in a relationship for yourself, utilize it in doing the things that bring you joy.
“Think of the things you have been meaning to do for a long time but couldn’t because your partner did not share your zeal for them. Allow your partner to pursue their hobby while you pursue yours,” says Jaseena. This will give you both something new to share, a side of each other you have never seen. You don’t have to be an open book, you know! A hint of mystery and enigma is attractive!
2. Encourage your partner to pursue their passions
Similarly, make conscious efforts to motivate your partner to pursue their passions and interests whatever these may be. By doing so, you are allowing them to take space in the relationship. After all, don’t you want your girlfriend or boyfriend on the same page as you regarding space in relationships, focusing on themselves and their personal growth and not start worrying about things to do when their boyfriend/girlfriend ignores them?
Related Reading: How Spending Time With Friends Helps Improve Your Relationship
3. Create a separate physical space for yourself, no matter how small
English writer Virginia Woolf, in her 1929 essay, A Room Of One’s Own, lays down the importance of a separate physical space to call your own. She speaks to women, students, and potential writers of her time but this advice holds true for each one of us across times. A room of our own is what we need. If you can’t afford one, due to scarcity of space or funds, think of a separate desk, or a corner of a desk. The idea is to have something that’s yours, that waits for you, that you go back to.
Extend this to other parts of your life as well. See if you can have a separate wardrobe or a section of the wardrobe. We are not trying to get you to be self-centered and demand things for yourself at the cost of others, but more often than not we tend to preemptively sacrifice too much when there might not be a need to do so.
4. Create time-space for yourself, no matter how short
Think in the same vein, but with time. Even if you are too busy and your life is too tangled with your loved one/ones, create pockets of time that are your own. Take time apart for yourself and create rituals with yourself that are sacred to you. Here are a few examples:
- A thirty minute walk
- An afternoon nap
- A twenty minutes session of meditation in the morning
- Fifteen minutes of journaling in bed
- A half an hour bedtime bath ritual with a few stretches, hot shower, a calming tea
You can extend this thought to other ideas such as emotions and finances as well. Here are a few things Jaseena recommends:
- To give emotional space, do not talk when your spouse is at work
- If quiet space is the request, then when the spouse goes quiet, leave them alone till they come back to talk
- When the spouse is at their hobby, give them creative space
- Financial space can be created by having separate bank accounts and statements
Related Reading: 12 Things Women Do That Destroy Marriages
5. Create boundaries around phone communication
Couples unknowingly intrude into each other’s spaces too frequently due to unclear boundaries related to phones and other technology. We call each other for little things. We pick up the phone every time our partner calls or our message notification dings, no matter where we are and what we are doing. We don’t even give it a thought when doing so.
Enough has already been said about the effect of social media on relationships. Let us focus on what we can do. “Formulate rules with your partner about phone and social media communication,” Jaseena recommends. Decide to call at a certain time to rule away anxiety and avoid incessant back and forth over messages. Try not to keep a constant check on your partner and allow them and yourself to experience fully whatever it is that you are doing.
6. Address insecurities and anxieties when asking for space
Ruthlessly cutting your partner out all of a sudden is not what we are asking from you here. Just because one of you has felt the need to spend more time with yourself or with other people does not mean that your partner would automatically become aware of your feelings. It is essential that your partner is on the same page as you. “When responding to your partner’s demand for space or when asking them for space, discuss each other’s anxieties, fears, and insecurities,” says Jaseena. Pay attention to the following:
- Patiently respond to their doubts. Communication becomes easier as partners move into a better mindset
- Reassure them of your love and commitment
- Don’t just say, “I need space.” Share more. Tell them what you wish to do and why
- Ask your partner for their support. Offer your support. Thank them for their support
- Spending time together is talked about much more frequently and positively than time spent apart
- Space is essential for a successful relationship to thrive and blossom. It’s a clear indication of healthy boundaries. It helps nurture individuality and fosters independence
- Having ample space is different from growing apart, which may, in fact, be a dangerous sign of a failing relationship
- To foster healthy space in relationships, nurture your passions and encourage your partner to pursue theirs
- Deliberately create space and time for yourself
- Communicate to your partner your apprehensions and fears regarding space. Reassure each other of your love and commitment
If you or your partner find it hard to give each other enough space, your relationship might be suffering from lack of trust, codependency issues, insecure attachment styles, or the like, and can benefit from a session with a family therapist or relationship counselor. Should you need that help, Bonobology’s panel of experienced counselors is here to help you.
This article has been updated in December 2022.
There is no hard and fast rule about the exact amount of minutes or hours you should spend alone. But if we are talking about healthy space in a relationship it means you should be able to do what you enjoy doing – reading, watching football, spa visits or solo trips – even when your partner is around.
Yes. It does make your bond stronger as it makes the bond you have with yourself stronger. Better relationship with yourself helps low self esteem issues and makes you a happier person more equipped to deal with issues in the relationship. Every relationship therefore needs space.
You should take a break from a relationship when you need to process your feelings and you need to gain a perspective about where your relationship stands. Sometimes couples get back together stronger after staying apart for some time.
No. A broken relationship needs much more attention and care, and quality time too. Space may adversely affect a relationship where there already is a rift growing.
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