Made of just four little words, the sentence, “I need some space,” can create havoc between partners in a committed relationship. Couples coming to my San Diego marriage counseling offices conflict over this request. The husband (let’s say), will ask,” can you believe that she’s always saying, “I need space?” The wife then rolls her eyes, shrugging, and says, “I just need a little space. What’s so wrong about that?” It reminds me of the movie, Annie Hall, where a couple goes separately to counseling for the relationship and the therapist asks, “Well, how much do you have sex?” The man answers, “Rarely! Like three times a week!” In the woman’s counseling session, the therapist asks the same question and gets the reply, “Constantly! Like three times a week!” Individual differences in upbringing, values, and personalities turn “I need some space” into hurt feelings on the part of the hearer and resentments on the part of the one that asks for it.
Why the One Hearing “I need space” Reacts
When people don’t have information as to why something is happening they fill that black hole with their own interpretation. Unfortunately, that filler can be a “negative story.” Your withdrawal may trigger your partner’s unmet needs from childhood. In fact when we don’t have correct information, those we love may fill in the empty spot with their own stories linked to childhood wounds, a formula for disaster. For example, an individual may have felt shame or been embarrassed by their parents’ behavior. Possibly one or both parents often checked out and wasn’t there for them. Your similar behavior brings these past hurts into the present moment. Arguments can ensue, leaving, each of you feeling as though the other is being insensitive, rude and uncaring. It may even tap into your unmet childhood need to be loved. After all, you say, I just want some time to myself or just for the two of us without any interruptions. If he loves me he would understand.
When Intention and Impact Collide
Because of your different perspectives and life experiences, you and partner have two separate realities at every moment. As a result, a distinction between your intention and its impact can exist. Your intention was simply to get some space, but the impact was very different. That the partner knows or should know that we need some down time. You may also assume the partner should know what we are doing when we withdraw. Since our partner cannot read our minds, again these assumptions are disastrous. Withdrawing from your partner to take some down time can also trigger your partner. You might hear him or her ask: “where are you” or “are you okay”. They may feel worried that they have done something to hurt or upset you. If you’re down time happens while there are other people around, your partner may feel ashamed and even embarrassed by your behavior in front of your friends.
Words for the One Hurt by a Request for “Space”
There are ways to stop the words “I need some space” from becoming an arrow to your heart. First keep in mind that many of us have to be 100% present, paying full attention at work with very little opportunity to check out. Many become physically and emotionally fatigued, and they have learned, possibly even in the years before meeting you, that taking some space rejuvenates them, enabling them to become their best selves again. Needing this time has almost nothing to do with any need to be away from you. Introverts for example get energy from the alone time. They need significant solitude in order to build the stamina to interact regularly. Extroverts, on the other hand, become energized by interacting with others. Spending time alone actually saps their energy. It is a classic fact that introverts just cannot understand how extroverts feel energized by time in crowds and extroverts cannot understand how solitude energizes introverts. Our families, our businesses and the world need both types of people. When each understands the other, less conflict ensues.
Words for the one requesting space
First, one needing space is entitled to it. It’s critical to your mode of being . Therefore, when asking for space , do so with self-love and confidence, dismissing any guilt. The more we can open up to our partner and tell them how we feel and what we need, the easier it will be for you to “get some space.” The other half of the process includes, however, taking space moments carefully so that it is not taken at a time when you need to be present for another. For example, when your partner needs to depend on you for emotional support, push yourself to provide it even if you are feeling weary. Look for another way to get the space you need or tell your partner ahead of time when you’ll be taking some space in the future.Letting your partner know and checking to see if it’s a good time for you to have space apart sidesteps conflicts and hurt feelings . Openly discuss with your partner what your intentions are. Taking space without communicating it to your partner leads to unintended consequences.
What Is “Space” anyway?
Everybody takes “space” differently. Most often it’s an attempt to reserve your energy. The problem is that often when we check out in order to take some space we loose connection to the now or any deep appreciation of what’s going on in the moment. It’s very important to honor your space. The one that requests space can even help his or her partner learn the joys of alone time. After all, time apart creates space for the longing that reminds each partner of the value and necessity of the relationship.
Craig Lambert Couples Counseling in La Jolla and San Diego
If a request for “space” is coming between you and your romantic partner, know that coming in for couples counseling can help the two of you communicate and resolve the issues and often in a matter of weeks or months rather than years. Please don’t hesitate to call at 619-990-9032 or email to discuss how relationship counseling works.