When uttered within a romantic relationship, the words “I need space” are usually not followed by anything good. But what if more space is just what we need for happier, healthier relationships?
In fact, almost a third of us wish we had more of it: Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, has been studying 373 married couples for the past 25 years. When she asked the couples if they felt they had enough “privacy or time for self,”, 29% of them said no. And of those participants who said they were unhappy in their marriages, 11.5% said the reason for their unhappiness was lack of privacy or time for themselves.
Of course, just like anything else in a relationship, any two people’s needs for space are sometimes mismatched, leading to hurt feelings. But Vondie Lozano, a marriage and family therapist in California, tells the Wall Street Journal that it’s not personal—people have different needs, but “underneath, both individuals want love.” Not only that, but leaving time for your own friends, interests, and hobbies means you bring novelty and excitement into the routine of a relationship—always a good thing.
So how do you give yourself more space and privacy without distancing yourself from the relationship? Try this:
- Don’t actually say “I need space.” Regardless of what you mean, that statement by itself is a loaded one—it implies general distance from the relationship, not alone time.
- Instead, frame it as something you both might need/want. Sit down with your partner and a calendar, and explain that you want to figure out how both of you can take a load off and when.
- Get specific. Taking action when you make a general statement like “I want more time for myself” is hard. Instead, have a plan, like turning the spare bedroom into a (wo)man-cave, going to a weekly yoga class, scheduling a girls’ night with friends once a month, or penciling in a half-hour walk on a weekend afternoon.
- Don’t forget to have couple time too. Reboot during your alone time in the afternoon, and reconnect over dinner to keep your connection strong. Spend a weekend by yourself; schedule a date night for when you get back.