"I need space."
It can be very hard to hear those three little words from your boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse, or partner. They are of course not the three little words you want to be hearing. For many people, this tiny phrase triggers fear and insecurity, for others defensiveness or sadness. It might even lead you to worry the end is near.
There is no right or wrong way to feel, but by being careful with your response and yourself, you can be assured to walk away (whether together or separately) with your head held high. So what should you do? Try the suggestions below and let us know how it works for you in the comments section.
1. Take them at face value.
Your partner is telling you they need something, so it's time to listen carefully. They aren't making a personal attack — they're asking for something they need. Remember it's not about you but them. Do your best not to interpret this and take it personally. It will help you keep a level head through this time.
2. Get clear.
Ask them what they mean when they say "space?" Do they need 30 minutes or three weeks? Do they want to break up? What does this mean for your monogamous or open relationship agreements? How will you alter your living arrangements (if at all)? Do they want to communicate via text, phone, email, or not at all? Discuss any upcoming plans you have already made -- how does this change your plans? Is there anything they want from you during that time? Doing this will give you solace and answers that you need to feel more secure after those dreadful words are uttered.
3. Be clear.
It's also important to be clear on your end of the conversation. How are you feeling? What do you want? Tell your partner what is going on for you in an honest, direct way. What do you want them to know before you begin your time apart? How do you want them to remember you while they take some space? Honesty is the best policy in this situation.
4. Stay grounded.
Stay in touch with your core and be the best self you can be. Stay true to your integrity through being honest, kind, strong, and respectful. Remember that even if this causes you worry or sadness, you will get through this and the behavior you choose when times are difficult will heavily impact the future course of your relationship. If you begin to feel flooded take a few deep breaths and stay focused. You can also return to the conversation later.
5. Respect their boundaries.
When they say they don't want to text, don't text. If they need two weeks, respect their request for two weeks. Don't drive by their house late at night, or "accidentally" run into them at work. Set clear social media use parameters so you don't punish yourself with Facebook. Make a plan on your own to connect with friends who support you in doing something else when you have a hard time not reaching out to your partner during their space-time. This may be hard but it will only help.
6. Take care of yourself.
Take advantage of the free time and energy to invest in your other relationships, friendships, family, work, and play. In moments when you are lonely, be especially kind to yourself, take a long run or a hot bath, call a friend, watch a movie, eat something good for you. This can also be a great time to work with a therapist or coach to get clear about what you want on your own. Treat yourself with great kindness.
Taking space can be a very healthy thing for partners to do, even with some frequency. It is important to be compassionate, honest, and to act with high integrity in order to get through the time together. You can and will get through this time.
If you need help, I am happy to take your call, contact me here.