When you first get into a relationship, it’s passionate, intense, and all-consuming. You want to be with your new partner 24/7 and feel like you can’t breathe when they’re not around. However, as time passes and things settle down to a more relaxed pace, you should find a bit more balance. Taking time to yourself to relax and do your own thing is important, but how much space in a relationship is normal? Is it possible to be apart too much, and if so, when should you be concerned? Read on to find out the answer to these questions and more.
How much space in a relationship is normal?
There’s no one right answer for how much time apart and “space” a couple will need in a relationship. Nor is there an answer for what constitutes “normal” since everyone is different. Much of this depends on how individuals communicate and operate in relationships, otherwise known as your attachment style.
“As it pertains to space, it is normal for a couple to struggle in this area in their relationship. That’s because we all differ in the amount of autonomy, otherwise known as space, that is required,” explains relationship coach Saudia L. Twine, Ph.D., NCC, MFT, LPC. “This is based on our attachment style, which dictates, the amount of closeness and distance an individual needs. Think of one’s attachment style like your driver’s license, which acts as your identification. It explains how and why you love the way that you do, and also identifies your comfortability or discomfort with closeness (i.e. intimacy). Those that have difficulty with intimacy need more space. Those that are fine with intimacy need little space.”
What is the purpose of space in a relationship? In what ways is it a good thing?
You don’t have to know much about relationship psychology to know that it’s not healthy to spend 24/7 with your partner. It’s normal to want to be together a lot, particularly in the early stages of your relationship. However, it’s vital that you maintain your individuality and the life you had before you met. Having time and space apart will not only help you remain fulfilled as an individual but will also keep your relationship strong and healthy.
“In a healthy relationship, it is normal for both partners to have their own space and to spend time apart doing their own things. This can include spending time with friends, pursuing hobbies, or simply having some alone time,” Zachary Moody, founder of The Healthy Psyche, tells Bolde. “The purpose of having space in a relationship is to maintain a sense of independence and to give each partner the opportunity to grow and explore their interests. This can be a good thing as it allows for a more well-rounded and fulfilling relationship, where both partners have time to focus on themselves and their own needs.”
When can having your own space in a relationship become problematic?
- You’re spending more time apart than together. While space is normal in a relationship, if you’re getting more time to yourself than you are with your partner, you might question why you’re even together. If you’d rather be away from them, why not make it permanent?
- You’re using “space” to avoid ending a bad relationship. If you know things are over but you can’t bring yourself to cut the cord, you might be tempted to take “space” instead. This is usually a stopgap before an inevitable breakup. You’re better off acting now than putting it off.
- You use time apart to do things that hurt or betray your partner. If you tell your partner you need space when really you’re having an affair or doing something you know they wouldn’t approve of, that’s a serious problem. Requesting time apart to do your own thing or handle other commitments is cool. What’s not cool is lying, cheating, or doing other hurtful things behind their back.
- You start living as a single person again and never consider your partner. When “space” in a relationship becomes extreme, you may revert back to your single mindset. If you’re doing whatever you want whenever you want without considering your partner, you may need to stop and think about why that is. Are you wishing you were still single? Is the relationship in trouble? It may be time to face some hard truths.
How to ask your partner for space
- Be clear and direct about what you need. There’s no use beating around the bush. If you need space, ask for it. “If an individual believes they are being smothered by the other person, then they need to bite the bullet and have a conversation with their significant other, being honest about what they feel,” Twine says. “They simply need to tell their partner what they need from them moving forward. This allows them to be honest and accountable to themself, and allows their partner to help them fix the issue at hand.”
- Reassure them that this is about you, not about not wanting to be with them. If your request for space comes out of left field, it’s normal for your partner to worry that you’re questioning the relationship. While you shouldn’t have to offer constant reassurance, letting them know that you’re confident about being with them will go a long way toward softening the blow.
- Encourage them to take space for themself. You’re not the only one who needs space. If you notice your partner is codependent or requires less time to themselves by nature, explain the benefits of doing so with them. Time apart is healthy for both of you as people. It also helps your relationship. They may be more open to it when you explain it in these terms.
- Set terms and boundaries for how things will work. Having space could be as simple as going to another room of the house to chill for a few hours after work during which time your partner doesn’t interrupt. Or, it could mean taking a few days a week to do your own thing. However it looks for you, discuss how it will work and what you want to happen. Finding a happy medium will assure things go smoothly.
What can go wrong when you don’t get the space you need
- You become resentful of your partner. When you feel smothered by your partner and don’t get the space you desperately need, you’re going to start resenting your partner and the relationship as a whole. It makes you feel disrespected and unheard, leading to frustration and anger. This could become enough to end the relationship.
- You lose yourself in the relationship. While it’s normal to need space in any healthy relationship, when you don’t get it, your well-being begins to suffer. You start to feel like you don’t exist outside of the couple unit. Your other relationships as well as your hobbies and professional goals may fall by the wayside.
- You feel drained and exhausted. Time to yourself is a way to decompress and rebalance yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes even physically. Without that vital space, you start to pour from an empty couple. You may begin to feel run down, overwhelmed, and simply unable to carry on.
- The relationship can begin to feel unbalanced. If your partner feels fulfilled by spending the majority of their free time with you while you feel overwhelmed, it won’t be long before the balance in the relationship completely disappears. When that happens, it won’t be long before a breakup happens.