If you're someone who doesn't need much time alone, nothing will feel more vague, cryptic, or haunting than when a partner asks for "space." "It is so easy to panic and think you have done something wrong," Jacqueline Shlain, MA, AMFT, a registered associate marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "But the truth is a little bit of space is healthy in a relationship."
When a partner needs time to themselves, it doesn't necessarily mean they're mad or that the relationship is plummeting downhill. It may, however, mean things have gotten a bit out of whack. "Sometimes we spend too much time with a partner, or we miss our friends, we just aren't feeling like ourselves, or a combination of all three — and space can help us reset the balance," Shlain says.
The trick, though, is in figuring out how long to give your partner space. Should you back away for an hour? A day? A week? Does it mean no texting? Or just no hanging out in person? "If you do it right, chances are you will find having a little distance makes you feel more grateful for each other," Shlain says, "and even bring you closer together." So, let's talk about how long you should spend apart.
How Long To Give Your Partner Space
Since the situation will be unique to your relationship — as well as whatever's going on in your partner's life — the first thing you'll want to do is have them explain what they mean by "space," and then follow up by asking how you can help them get it. "Sometimes it's as easy as they want more time to pursue a hobby or go to a gym class," Shlain says. So all you'll have to do is chat about scheduling — like, when the gym class is — and agree to part ways during those blocks of time each week.
Get all your questions answered so that you aren't left feeling confused. If your partner just wants an evening alone to decompress after a tough experience, for instance, ask how you'll know when they are ready to talk again. You could say, "I'll do my own thing for the evening. Text when in the morning." That way, you'll both know what's expected of you.
However, trouble arises when a partner "wants space" but can't really define what they mean. "If they say something like, 'I need more alone time,' you will need to ask them to be a little more specific about how you can help them achieve that," Shlain says. Come up with a few rules — such as "not texting during work hours" or "we'll only hang out every other night this week" — and stick to them.
Of course, if a partner's request for space seems completely ridiculous, you don't have to go along with it. Should they waltz up one day and say they want to travel the world alone for a year, "you should put your foot down," Shlain says. The same is true if they say they want to "take a break" or if the time apart seems super lengthy. Giving space isn't about agreeing to whatever one person wants but reaching a compromise that makes everyone happy.
How To Give Your Partner Space If You Live Together
Another tricky situation? Giving a partner space when you live together. Not only is it tough to spend time alone when you share an apartment, but it can also become second-nature to do everything together. But that's all the more reason to ensure you both get to bask in solo moments.
"You might leave every morning to grab a coffee, walk outside alone, run some errands on your own, or ask a friend to meet you for lunch or dinner," Shlain says. "You could even plan a solo getaway for the weekend or with a friend — that way, you both get the space you need and come back feeling recharged."
So the next time your partner asks for time alone, don't panic. Instead, get answers. Talk it out until you land on the best way to give your partner space, respect each other's boundaries, and create a more positive relationship.
Jacqueline Shlain, MA,AMFT, registered associate marriage and family therapist