Despite what family or well-meaning friends might say, it's true that all
couples need space and time apart. It's important to have your own lives outside the relationship so you can retain individuality, miss each other, keep things feeling fresh — the list of benefits goes on and on.
But that doesn't mean it's always easy to know
when to give your partner space, or how to ask for space yourself. If you're used to hanging out 24/7, it might even feel scary or unnatural to make separate plans or do things on your own.
That's why, before we jump into the signs, let's remember that spending time apart doesn't necessarily mean you're unhappy or bored with each other, Dr. Racine Henry, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle. "We don’t stop being individual people when we enter a relationship," she says. "It is perfectly normal to maintain your individual interests and relationships while having a romantic partner."
If it does feel weird, however, or your partner seems to be acting out of the ordinary, make time to chat about it. "Talk about how you are both feeling and find a common ground that gives you both freedom to be who you are without jeopardizing your relationship," Henry says. Because again,
wanting and needing space is totally normal.
Here, a few signs your partner, in particular, could really
use some alone time — including how to talk about it. 1 You Sense Your Partner Getting Cranky
Usually, a dead giveaway that a person needs something — whether it's a snack, a nap, or space
— is if they start acting cranky, Susan Winter, an author and relationship expert, tells Bustle. So if your partner has been short-tempered lately, take it as a sign. How to effectively give them space? While it's never OK for a partner to snap or act rude, try not to take light crankiness personally, Winter says. Instead, use it as an excuse to focus on yourself for a while, so your partner can do the same. Then reconvene later on once the air has cleared. 2 Your Partner Starts Arguments For No Reason
If your partner needs space and doesn't realize it — or doesn't possess the communication skills necessary to ask for it — they might start pushing you away with anger or by picking fights for no reason, Winter says.
How to effectively give them space? Winter suggests taking this as your cue to back off, but not without calling them out first. Ask your partner if they're OK, and talk about why you think they've been argumentative.
By addressing the issue head-on you'll create an open dialogue, as well as a safe space to air grievances. From there, talk about how much space you both need in the relationship in order for it to feel balanced.
3 Your Partner Never Offers An Opinion
If your partner doesn't seem to have an opinion, Dr. Jill Murray, a licensed psychotherapist, tells Bustle, it's a sign they've gotten too used to relying on you and need to re-learn how to stand on their own two feet.
How to effectively give them space? Start off by encouraging them to make small decisions, like being the one to choose where to eat lunch, or where to go for coffee. This will not only take the pressure off of you as the sole decision-maker, it'll also remind them how to be their own person. 4 They Only Like What You Like
In a similar vein, your partner might need more space if they've completely assumed your personality and are now copying your every move.
How to effectively give them space? "It is important for a partner to encourage the other to take space for socialization and activities that lead to meaning and purpose," Dr. Kim Chronister, a clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. So go ahead and push them a bit.
While it's great to enjoy certain hobbies together, it's equally important to have your own lives outside the relationship. By subtly steering them towards their own hobbies and friends, you'll both retain your individuality — and have more space.
5 Their Body Language Is Closed Off
Take it as a sign if your partner turns away from you in bed, sits curled up on the far end of the couch, or doesn't kiss or hug you back. While there might be a deeper underlying reason, it might also mean they're a little burnt out and need some space.
How to effectively give them space? "Get out of the house if you live together," Winter says. "Go for a walk. Go to the gym. Remove yourself from [the] space. When you return you'll see a change in their mood for the better." 6 They've Developed Codependent Traits
In addition to going along with everything you say, another sign that your partner needs space is if they're codependent. Are they
unable anything without your approval? Constantly checking in? Attached to your hip? These are all clues, Chronister says. How to effectively give them space? According to Chronister, it all comes back to encouraging your partner to branch out and discover themselves. That might mean supporting them in a decision to attend therapy, suggesting they see friends more often, or asking them to make more decisions. 7 They've Changed Their Schedule
If your partner is getting up earlier than usual, or going to bed later, it may be their way of creating a little extra time for themselves. (This is especially true if they typically work long hours and spend a lot of time with you.)
How to effectively give them space? Recognize the reason for their changing schedule and honor the time they've carved out for themselves. If they're, say, staying up late with a book, kiss them on the head and go to bed. They'll breathe a sigh of relief knowing you're cool with them going solo for an hour. 8 They're Fiercely Guarding Their Hobbies
You might also notice your partner starts guarding their personal hobbies, TV shows, or friend groups, and doesn't seem to want to let you in.
While there are quite a few possible explanations for this type of behavior, it could be they just need a little space but aren't sure how to ask for it.
How to effectively give them space? If you notice that they exclude you from certain areas of their life, talk about it ASAP. If it turns out they're just feeling claustrophobic, assure them you're all about retaining individuality within the relationship.
Once you talk, they'll realize it's OK to ask for space, and that it isn't necessary to angrily shut you out or push you away.
9 They Have A Lot Going On Right Now
If your partner has a lot going on in their life — whether it's money issues, family problems, health concerns, etc. — they might need extra space while they sort it all out.
"It's hard to split one's attention and focus," Winter says. "As a partner they should pay attention to you, but as a person who's stressed they need to focus on [their personal concerns.]"
How to effectively give them space? Assure them it's OK if they need to take time to focus on something outside the relationship. Do they need to go stay with their family? Fine. Do they need to work late to make extra money? Cool. 10 You've Noticed A Pattern
If they work really long hours, you might notice that they shut down on Friday nights. If they're introverted, you might notice they need Sundays to recover after being social on Saturdays. And so on and so forth.
How to effectively give them space? “Anticipate your partner's need for space,” Winter says. If you pick up on a pattern, let them know you'll be doing your own thing for a few hours, so that they can chill. 11 Your Partner Is Stressed More Than Usual
Stress can also push a person to require more space, Winters says, and the last thing you'll want to do is add to it by giving them a hard time.
How to effectively give them space? That said, sometimes people cope with stress by shutting out those closest to them. Remind your partner you're there to support them, if they need it. 12 Your Vibe Doesn't Feel Right
Although there are many reasons why your connection or vibe might feel a bit off — stress, depression, exhaustion, etc. — it could be that you're not giving each other enough space, and your relationship feels strained as a result.
How to effectively give them space? Talk about their change in mood and discuss ways to help each other out. Sometimes taking a little "break" is all you need to return to the relationship feeling rejuvenated — and excited to see each other. 13 They Say "I Need A Minute"
If your partner tells you what they need, even if it's in a roundabout way, listen to them.
"Take saying 'I need a moment' in the midst of a discussion or argument you are having as a sign that they recognize their limits and those limits are about to be reached,"
Chris Armstrong, a certified relationship coach, tells Bustle. "This is a mature thing to do." How to effectively give them space? The best way to respond is by saying, "'I want to honor your request for more time and let me know when you're ready to talk (again)'," Armstrong says. "This acknowledgement is important as it will create the opportunity for you two to come together again. It also erases any fear or doubt on their end that you're mad at them." 14 They Never Talk About Needing Space
Because you're close, you might be able to sense that your partner is secretly in need of space, even though they never say it.
Keep an eye out for subtle cues. It could be they don't even know they need space, but would benefit from it all the same.
How to effectively give them space? Take it upon yourself to step back for a bit, Armstrong says. Whether that means texting less, going a weekend without trying to make plans, or simply hanging out in another room for a couple hours, give them (and the relationship) space to breathe. 15 They Give You Short Answers
"If every question is responded to with a one-word answer or the ever-dreaded 'fine,' it is a sign your partner may not be wanting to communicate," Beth Ribarsky, PhD, a professor and relationship expert, tells Bustle.
How to effectively give them space? Again, you'll want to take the initiative and create space. "You might say something like, “You sound really worn out. Why don’t you relax, and if you want to talk later, I’ll be here,'" Ribarsky says. 16 They Run Ridiculous Errands
If your partner seems to be in a bad mood, and then suddenly wants to buy white cheddar popcorn at three in the afternoon, chances are they just need to clear their head — especially if you live together and don't get much time apart.
How to effectively give them space? "If your partner is doing this, then let them," Ribarsky says. "A healthy relationship [means having] time and space away from one another. And, perhaps you should initiate your own solo venture and give your partner a bit of time at home alone." 17 They Drop Subtle Hints
For example, "if you volunteer to go to the store with them, they might add on another task they know you hate," Ribarsky says. "If you respond with, 'Oh, I don’t mind' and they say, 'Well, it might take a while,' they might be trying to hint at needing some time away."
How to effectively give them space? Try to catch on to the subtle hint and agree to let them go shopping (or wherever) on their own.
"The key here is to remember that just because your partner needs space, it doesn’t mean that they love you any less or your relationship has taken a turn for the worse," Ribarsky says.
18 They Hide Where They're Going
If you ask where your partner they're going, and they don't give you a straight answer, take note. "When this happens, your partner is trying to take the space that they don’t feel you would give them willingly," Henry says.
How to effectively give them space? Let your partner know that it's fine if they need a little time by themselves to go to the gym, see some friends, or whatever else would help them feel refreshed. And while you're at it, talk about why they felt the need to lie or twist the truth, so that it doesn't happen again. 19 They're Quieter Than Usual
"Some people need to recharge and do so when retreating inward,"
Susan Trombetti, a matchmaker, tells Bustle. That's why, if you notice that your partner is quieter than usual, or slightly shut down, it could be a hint that they need a few minutes to themselves. How to effectively give them space? If they want to step out or chill by themselves, don't insist that you join, Trombetti says. Sometimes a quick drive around town, or a walk around the block, might be all they need to feel like themselves again. 20 They're Hanging Onto Negatives
If your partner has been focusing on only negatives lately — always pointing out your flaws, making you feel insecure, etc. — it could be that they're cranky and need some space, Kyle Elliott, MPA, CHES, a relationship expert and coach, tells Bustle. But it could also be a sign your relationship needs to end.
"You deserve a relationship with more positivity than negativity in it," he says, so if your partner is
constantly pushing you away, acting cranky, or being negative more often than not, consider if the relationship is still worth your time and energy.
OK to need space in a relationship," Elliott says. But if these signs are all you know, and you aren't happy, it's also OK to let go and move on. Sources: Dr. Racine Henry, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist Susan Winter, author and relationship expert Dr. Jill Murray, licensed psychotherapist Dr. Kim Chronister, clinical psychologist Chris Armstrong, certified relationship coach Beth Ribarsky, PhD, professor and relationship expert Susan Trombetti, matchmaker Kyle Elliott, MPA, CHES, relationship expert and coach
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This article was originally published on
November 20, 2017