We love to think that if we really love someone–a friend, a partner, a relative–we won’t ever need space away from them. This idea is especially prominent within romantic relationships, though the idea can be applied to any close relationship. But loving someone doesn’t mean we’re able to–or should even want to–spend every waking moment with them! 

A year into the pandemic, we probably see this need for space more clearly than we did before. However, we can still feel some reluctance when it comes to actually letting our loved ones know that we need some time and space to ourselves. Even though in our heads we can know that it’s about us and our own needs, it can feel like we’re delivering an insult. 

But asking for time and space to yourself isn’t a reflection on how you feel about your loved ones.

Remember, you’re not telling your loved ones “I want to spend less time with you,” you’re telling them “I want to fully enjoy the time we spend together, so I need space to myself to rest and recharge so that I can do that.” Asking for space is actually a great way to honor that relationship, and to treat the time you spend together as special. 

Asking for time to yourself is not: 

  • A reflection of your attachment to the other person
  • A “hint” that you’re sick of them 
  • Selfish 
  • A reflection on the strength of your relationship

Strong, healthy relationships don’t just happen! They are the result of people recognizing and communicating their own needs clearly, and supporting their loved ones as they do the same. In order to be able to do that we have to spend time with ourselves to really understand our own needs and desires. 

Taking time and space for yourself is crucial for your own mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, and for the health of your relationships!  With space to yourself you can:

Take time for rest

Most of us don’t get enough rest. We’re all juggling a lot–whether it’s work, school, family responsibilities, community roles, etc.–most of us have at least a few balls up in the air at all times, which makes not only prioritizing time for rest, but even finding it in the first place. If all of your non-scheduled time is then being spent with your partner or other loved ones, you’re still not leaving yourself enough time for rest. While being with people we love isn’t work, it takes a lot of energy to be social! And if you don’t have time to rest and recharge, that energy is going to burn out. 

Give yourself space to process big emotions

This last year especially, I’m sure we’ve all seen an increase in how often we’re feeling big emotions. And they can feel overwhelming and maybe a little scary–whether it’s anger, sadness, grief, frustration, etc. When we’re overwhelmed by those big feelings it is really beneficial to take some time to yourself to sit with them, explore them, and let yourself feel them before acting on those emotions. This doesn’t mean that every time you’re emotional you have to isolate yourself! But taking time by yourself to understand your feelings without the pressure to explain or express them to someone else before you even understand them yourself can add pressure and frustration to a situation that doesn’t need it! Having some time to yourself to walk through your feelings, meditate, or journal about them can help you recognize what triggered them and why, and you can come back to the relationship space knowing more about yourself. 

Give yourself a cooling off period for instances of conflict 

We can say things in anger that we don’t mean. If we’re worked up and tired and burned out and frustrated and feeling vulnerable, we don’t always remember to fight fair. But usually, when we take some time to ourselves, we can find healthy ways to get that anger and frustration out (going for a jog, painting, yelling along to some music, writing a letter we’ll never send, etc.). Those feelings of anger will get released in a healthy way, instead of exploding over your partner or friend or other loved one.

Get to know yourself better

We have better relationships when we show up in them as our authentic selves. But, if you’re always with others, you might not have the space to explore who your authentic self is. Other’s opinions and expectations can muddy the waters a bit, and you can find yourself making choices based on what you think others want instead of what is right for you. Taking time by yourself to really get to know yourself helps you figure out what you want, what makes you feel fulfilled, what gives you energy, what excites you, what intrigues you, what upsets you, what comforts you, etc. And when you know those things about yourself, you get to share them with others! 

So how can you communicate a need for space?

If you haven’t talked to your partner or loved one about a need for space, it can feel uncomfortable. But you’re not just asking for space alone for yourself–time alone helps them in all the same ways it helps you! Some simple ways you could open the conversation are: 

  • “I love spending time with you, but lately everything I’m juggling has me feeling overwhelmed. I don’t like feeling burned out when we spend time together because I can’t really enjoy it. I think I need more alone time than I’m currently getting, do you find yourself feeling that way too?”
  • “I’m feeling overwhelmed emotionally and I think I need some space to process how I’m feeling before I know how to ask you for support.” 
  • “I know this conversation is an important one for us to have, but in order for me to have it, I’m going to need space to work through how I’m feeling so that I can be as calm and clear as possible while we talk about this.” 
  • “I feel like I’ve been getting overwhelmed a lot more easily lately. I think I could benefit from some time alone, how are you feeling?”

Remember, your partner has a need for time alone too! Together you can work out a way to honor your need for space while still valuing the time you spend together. 

If you’re looking for more help communicating your need for space with your partner, couples therapy can give you a space to have those conversations safely. Get in touch today to book your session.

-Lindsay N Sanner, LSCSW, RPT