If your partner's current emoji usage (so many crying faces) is anything to go by, it's clear they're having a tough day. Your first instinct might be to text back and insist that you go out for food and watch a movie — anything that would help take their minds off things. And while nine times out of 10, that plan would totally work, sometimes it's best to give your partner space when they're stressed instead.
Depending on the situation, they might need an hour to cool off, or several. “How much space a person needs will depend on the individual,” Anjani Amladi, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist, tells Bustle. “If you’re not sure how best to support your partner, ask them.”
Confirm how long they’ll need, but also define what “space means. “For some, space may mean disconnecting from technology and focusing on the present,” Meredith Prescott, LCSW, a psychotherapist in NYC, tells Bustle. For others, space could be physical. So start by finding out what your partner needs.
Is It OK That My Partner Needs Space?
As long as they talk about it first — and don’t just ignore you or leave you hanging — it’s more than OK to go with your partner’s request to spend time apart, relax separately, not text for a few hours, etc. “Providing your partner with space shows them that you respect their boundaries and allows them to feel safe in the relationship,” Amladi says.
If your partner is someone who always tends to turn inward instead of reaching out for support, then it’ll be even more necessary to have this conversation. “If it bothers you, say so,” Amladi says. “But also let your partner explain how they feel, so you both can come to an understanding as to what they need space for, is so important.”
And remember, giving each other space is actually healthy, whether it’s due to stress or not. “Your partner needs to take care of themselves, just as you need to take care of yourself,” Prescott says. “Sometimes this is done as a pair, other times it has to be done [alone]. Remember that you are allowed to ask for space when you need it, too.”
How To Give Your Partner Space When They're Stressed
Figuring out how to give your partner space will depend on their individual needs, as well as your living situation. So again, it’ll all start with an honest conversation that includes coming up with a plan. If you share an apartment, “giving them space” might look like hanging out in separate rooms, running errands alone — whatever would literally create physical space.
It could also help to set up designated “de-stress” areas, even if it’s just a lawn chair out on the balcony. “Having a safe space to relax and unwind for a few minutes can be immensely therapeutic,” Amladi says, “especially after a stressful day.”
If there isn’t much room to spread out, establishing “quiet times” — like maybe first thing in the morning or right when you finish work — could also do the trick. “Sometimes having a general rule of thumb that each of you gets 20 or 30 minutes to yourselves before getting into a conversation,” Amladi says, can make all the difference in your partner de-stressing versus feeling more stressed because their needs aren’t being met.
Check In Later
Whether you’re giving each other physical space, not texting for an afternoon, or both, check back in after the designated time has passed and find out where they’re at mentally, Ben Fineman, MA, AMFT, a marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. Reach out via text, or regroup in the kitchen, and have a convo.
As their partner, you have a right to know what’s wrong and to try to help. And it should never feel like they’re pushing you away. That said, try not to rush the process along. “The last thing you want is for your de-stressing partner to feel stressed about not going at a fast enough pace,” Fineman says.
If they still need a bit more time, start from square one in defining what the “space” will look like, how long it’ll last, etc. And hopefully, you’ll both be stress-free soon.
Anjani Amladi, MD, board-certified psychiatrist
Meredith Prescott, LCSW, psychotherapist
Ben Fineman, MA, AMFT, marriage and family therapist