When your partner tells you that they have been unhappy for a while and need some space, it is scary. Is this need for space the first step towards breaking up? Maybe. Maybe not. Not giving your partner space when they ask for it is a sure way to make your partner feel even worse. Giving your partner the space they ask for can save your relationship.
Allowing your partner to move physically and emotionally away from you is not something you would choose. You may feel lonely, betrayed, anxious and afraid. If saving your relationship is important to you, you must make wise choices during this time. There are things that you can do that either take your partner further away from you or make them want to reconnect with you.
What not to do
- Pursue your partner: Drop the pursuit. The more you pursue, the more they will withdraw.
- Sulk: By making yourself unpleasant to be with, you will not make your partner want to spend time with you.
- Be angry: You are hurting and anxious. Getting angry at your partner for them needing space will make the little voice in their head that suggests they should end this relationship louder. Your partner needing space is not an insult. It is a healthy approach to dealing with a difficult situation. Just as you would not chastise another person for eating their vegetables, do not chastise your partner for trying to find contentment in life.
- Demand or beg attention and affection: It is difficult to be disconnected from your partner emotionally and physically. By asking your partner to focus on you, you are stopping them from using their time and energy to work on themselves. If you give them unwanted attention, hugs and kisses, they will resent you for not giving them the choice to engage with you or not. Take a step back.
- Set strict deadlines: Healing and recovery take time. You are asking the impossible when you ask your partner to do their inner work in a timeframe dictated by you. Best not to demand your partner to give you an exact date when they are ready to share their journey with you. They cannot know how much time they will need.
- Whine about how much you are struggling: Your partner is likely to be asking for space because they are in a bad place. By complaining about your struggles, you are making their struggle worse.
- Seek attention and affection elsewhere: Your partner has hit a bad spot in their life. That happens. There is no need for you to drop a bomb on your relationship and make it fall to pieces. Destruction is not healthy.
7 things you should do when your partner asks for space
- Agree with your partner how you can give them space.
What kind of space do they need? Solitude, quiet, reduced responsibilities at home, or something else? Find out what space means for your partner and be as agreeable and flexible as possible in giving your partner the gift of space.
- Bring out your best self.
Do things that make you happy and bring that positive energy into your communication with your partner.
- Connect with your support network.
Find people who are friends of your relationship. Go to them when you need to vent about your struggles. Choose these friends wisely. They should not be trying to drive you and your partner apart. They should be empathetic towards both of you and support you when you are low.
- Allow your partner to come to you.
Let them be in control of the amount of attention and affection they give you. When they have control over when they make the space between the two of you smaller, they will approach you when they genuinely want to be with you. And that, of course, is the only way anyone should be with a loved one.
- Set a loose timeline as to how long you can cope with your partner’s healing process.
Think in months or years, not in days or weeks. You do not have to live forever with someone who is emotionally disconnected from you. Think of the process as a marathon, not a sprint.
- Use this time to become the best person you can be.
Focus on making yourself an interesting and pleasant person to be with. You may need to practice taming your anger, getting fit, reconnecting with friends. Reboot your own life.
- Let your partner know if you are not coping.
If your ability to cope is gradually coming to an end, gently bring it up with your partner. Do not wait till the last minute but bring it up. As they have chosen to distance themselves from you, they should also be aware that you are starting to disconnect from them. Touch base every now and then to discuss the long-term prospects of your relationship.
A word of warning to the distancer
Though not ideal, sometimes we need to heal in solitude. The risk of creating emotional and physical distance is that the people we are distancing ourselves from may not be waiting for us at the other end. Hence, solitude should only be used as a last resort.
It is never ok to distance yourself from your partner because you have other romantic interests or if you are planning an exit from the relationship and do not want to discuss it with your partner. Your partner deserves to know where your affection lies. They also deserve a chance to make things better if you are unhappy with them.
If you recognize that you have some work today on yourself, then this article is a good place to start.
Matleena Vanhanen is a licensed Counselling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience working in Europe and the Middle East. She has a practice of couples and individual therapy at the MapleTree Center in Dubai.