Oh no! If you’re here, it’s likely because someone asked you for some space, and you’re not sure what to do next, or you’re wondering if your relationship could use some space. Otherwise, maybe you’re exploring how to strengthen your relationship.
In this article, we’ll look at the signs to watch for when your relationship needs space, the benefits of creating breathing room, and 12 tips and strategies to give someone space and form healthy boundaries.
What Does it Mean When Someone Says “I Need Some Space”?
When someone says, “I need some space,” they often come from a place of feeling emotional fatigue or stress from the relationship, or they are so overwhelmed in another area of their life that they need to simplify. This may cause a desire to set boundaries to regain their sense of self.
A need for space may result from one or both parties exhibiting behaviors of clinginess, codependency, or realizing their lack of interest in other activities or people outside of the relationship.
It’s easy to take someone’s need for space personally, but it’s not necessarily a negative. By respecting someone’s need for space and developing healthy boundaries, you may form a deeper bond in the long run as you encourage each other’s uniqueness. This could be an opportunity to grow!
But how do you know if your relationship could use some breathing room when neither one of you expresses a need for space? Even if someone doesn’t explicitly say, “I need some space,” you may be able to pick up on the signs by paying attention to a few behaviors and cues.
5 Signs Your Relationship Needs Space
The signs to watch for when your relationship could use some breathing room include:
When someone is clingy in a relationship, it is often the result of a high dependence on emotional support or a sense of security from the other person. Clinginess looks like constantly asking for reassurance, frequent communication throughout the day, obsessive worry about what someone thinks of you, panic when someone doesn’t respond, etc.
When the person who is clingy is apart from the other, they may also experience separation anxiety1https://dictionary.apa.org/separation-anxiety stemming from unresolved fears from their past.
Your relationship may need some space when you have become excessively reliant on the other for constant approval and support. In codependent relationships like this, you might enable unhealthy behavior, often resulting in poor mental health or addiction.
For example, someone in the relationship might feel the need to come to the rescue when the other person needs money or someone to take care of their “needs” (often an addiction like alcohol, etc.).
Codependency can also occur in a professional relationship. For example, when a boss feels the need to “rescue” their subordinate from their mistakes, they may jump in to save the day, often taking on an unnatural motherly or fatherly role at work.
Some of the first clues that your relationship needs some space might be how easily you become annoyed by the other’s behavior or how easily annoyed they get with you.
Often, the behavior wouldn’t usually be bothersome if someone else were doing it. For example, their breathing, chewing, how they walk, the shows they watch, etc. might annoy you.
Feelings of agitation are often a sign of an underlying issue that may have nothing to do with the behavior that’s annoying you. It could indicate that you either feel a loss of agency or a sense of responsibility for someone else’s feelings due to a codependent or clingy relationship.
Lack of interest outside of the relationship
Do you have hobbies or connections outside of your relationship? If the answer is no, pay attention to this red flag. If everything you do is with each other, it could be harder to understand where they start and you begin.
This is not to say that having interests together is terrible, but when your relationship looks like enmeshment2https://dictionary.apa.org/enmeshment or excessive attachment, it might be time for some space.
The relationship is the primary source of self-esteem
If you, your partner, or someone you’re friends with rely solely on the relationship to satisfy your sense of well-being or even your identity, it might be time for some space. This is not to say that you can’t gain fulfillment and enjoyment from your relationship.
Still, when you start to notice it’s the primary source of your self-esteem, you get into problem territory and, unfortunately, put a lot of pressure on the relationship.
What Are the Positives of Giving Someone Space?
The positives of giving someone represent activities that form a deeper bond. While this may feel counterintuitive to someone with separation anxiety or a fear of loneliness, when you each regain your sense of self and build trust, your relationship ultimately grows.
The positives of giving someone space include:
The foundation of a good relationship is trust. When you respect someone’s need for space to have their own hobbies apart from you, enjoy other friends, or make their own decisions, you exhibit trust in the relationship. You ultimately show someone that you believe in them to the point of being willing to be vulnerable to the potential risk of being hurt.
When you give someone space to do their own thing apart from you, you provide them with the freedom for self-discovery and being themselves. You simultaneously empower freedom in the relationship to be with you because they want to be, not out of obligation or to satisfy their self-esteem.
Setting boundaries is one of the best things you can do for your relationship and is often an antidote to codependency. When you honor someone’s desire for space, you respect their boundaries and allow each of you to discover who you are outside of the relationship. Edges give each of you a sense of agency to be yourself while also learning to love and be loved for who you are without needing to appease the other constantly.
When you give someone space, you celebrate their individuality. For example, the freedom they feel and the trust you exhibit in them allows them to be themselves. In a relationship with little space where someone might feel smothered or clinged to, there is often little opportunity to fully express themself or do the things they want to do.
It might seem counterintuitive, but when a relationship has breathing room, you can develop a stronger bond. Why? As each person in the relationship creates a stronger sense of their own identity, and there is less pressure to be each other’s primary source of self-esteem, they can give back to the relationship in a more significant way and celebrate each other’s unique contribution.
In Esther Perel’s famous TED talk, she suggests that space can even make sex more exciting in a romantic relationship.
How to Give Someone Space: 12 Tips & Strategies
Giving someone space may cause you some anxiety because it may feel like you might lose the other person in the process. However, if done in the relationship’s best interest, you can learn how to give someone space without losing them.
Let’s look at tips and strategies to explore how long to give someone space, what to do when you’re not with each other, and how to form healthy boundaries.
Define what space looks like
When someone asks for space, it’s essential to understand what that means. Space might look different depending on the context. For example, is the space needed related to time, emotional boundaries, or physical distance? Start with that level of baseline clarity, then dive deeper into the specifics.
Here are some questions to consider for each area:
- How often do you communicate every day? What is an appropriate amount? Can you stay within these boundaries?
- How often do you see each other each week? Is it sustainable as you manage other relationships, hobbies, and responsibilities? Can you add structure to your schedule?
- Is it time to take a time-bound break apart for some self-reflection? How long might this take? What are the expectations at the end of this break?
- Do you have a tendency to want to fix all your partner’s problems? What might it look like to practice listening instead of stepping in for the rescue?
- Is your partner your primary emotional punching bag or source of self-esteem? What might it look like to process some of your anxieties with a counselor or therapist?
- At parties or social gatherings, are you glued to your partner’s hip? What might it look like to mingle with others as well?
- Do you have activities you enjoy apart from your partner? What might it look like to do some activities on your own or with others?
Add structure to your communication habits
For relationships recovering from clingy behavior or codependency, defining what your interpersonal communication patterns will be can provide mutual understanding and even a sense of security. Start with determining how often you will communicate each day, each week, and if there are any discussions for which you need to find the proper context.
Here are some ideas to consider adding structure to your communication habits:
- Limit texting (or calling) to once or twice a day, especially if you are prone to text all day even at inappropriate times, like during the workday. Check your big emotions before texting, too. Getting an emotional text in the middle of a meeting is rarely good timing unless there is an emergency.
- Set daily check-ins for logistical topics. Understanding the expectation of when you’ll discuss logistical topics (especially in a serious relationship like a marriage) can be a good way to set a boundary between emotional topics and logistics. It’s rarely helpful to discuss toilet paper needs when your partner is trying to be romantic!
- Set a weekly or bi-weekly date night for big topics and deeper connection. Setting aside a special time each week specifically dedicated to your relationship can add excitement and anticipation for your time together. You also give space to your relationship for your partner to have other hobbies and friendships outside the relationship.
Get a hobby and encourage theirs
In a codependent or clingy relationship, branching out to find a hobby can feel intimidating, especially if you’ve relied solely on the relationship as your source of fulfillment. However, doing things you enjoy is a great way to rediscover your sense of self-identity outside of the relationship. And by encouraging your partner to pursue their own interests and hobbies, you can empower their freedom and simultaneously celebrate their uniqueness as well.
Spend time with other friends
Developing friendships is a great way to increase your happiness3https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/. Having friendships outside your exclusive partnership is also a great way to reduce the pressure on your relationship to be the primary source of fulfillment or self-esteem. Warning: be careful not to form new codependent relationships, though! Remember to set boundaries for healthy friendships.
If you don’t have many friends outside of your relationship, it might be time to build some!
Not sure what to do? Here are some ideas:
- Start a book club
- Join a gaming league or group (bowling, board games, pickleball, etc.)
- Get a workout buddy
- Take a class in an activity you’ve always wanted to try
- Attend your local church’s community events
For more ideas, check out our video on how to make friends as an adult:
Avoid your desire to “fix” them
If you have a fixer mentality, you likely have good intentions, but it may be having a detrimental effect on your relationship. You may unintentionally be making the other person feel defective or broken by trying to fulfill your need to feel useful and valuable. People are typically not receptive to unwelcome help or feeling like a project. This is why they may push you away or ask for space.
To avoid “fixing” learn how to be a good listener:
- Give eye contact
- Use open body language
- Avoid interrupting
- Ask open-ended questions
- Encourage sharing with phrases like, “Tell me more about that…” or “How did that make you feel?”
- Restate what you understand about what they said, “It sounds like you’re saying X, am I understanding that right?”
Listen to and respect their needs
As you become a better listener, you will gain a better understanding of another’s needs, including their need for space. It’s important to acknowledge these needs as you build the foundation of a strong relationship.
Here are some do’s and don’ts when respecting someone’s needs:
- Be dismissive. Being vulnerable enough to express a need can be challenging. By dismissing their need, you undermine their feelings.
- Gaslight. Confusing your partner into believing they don’t know what they’re talking about is manipulative behavior that has no place in a healthy relationship.
- Make it about you. When someone shares their needs with you, your reaction to say, “What about me? What about all the things I’ve done for you?” is rarely helpful.
- Say, “What would be helpful to you?” Let them define what support looks like.
- Thank them for sharing. Sharing our needs is often vulnerable. Saying thank you for sharing helps build a sense of security and safety in the relationship.
- Clarify what they shared. Restating what they shared with you makes them feel like you listened and understood. “I understand you need X because you feel X, right?”
Avoid defensive or threatening language
When someone asks for some space, it can be easy to take it personally and react defensively. It can often bring about feelings of shame and make you say things you don’t mean, almost reinforcing someone’s desire for space altogether. Your threatening language might make them stick around out of fear, but it won’t lay a foundation for a solid and trusting relationship.
Positive-thinking relationship mantras like these may be helpful to repeat to yourself when someone asks you for space:
- I trust my partner.
- I’m grateful for my partner’s honesty and courage.
- Freedom in a relationship means freedom for true love.
- I want what’s best for my partner enough to let go.
- I honor my partner’s needs.
- I encourage my partner’s self-discovery.
Learn how to enjoy being alone with yourself
There’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in being alone! (To clarify, it’s not loneliness we’re talking about, which is completely different.) Being alone gives you time to self-reflect, learn more about what you enjoy, and process your thoughts and feelings.
If you have a fear of being alone, there are some simple steps you can take to start enjoying yourself more.
- Plan awesome things to do in your alone time, like blast your favorite music or take time for your hobbies.
- Take yourself on a date to a local coffee shop or restaurant you’ve wanted to try.
- Spend time in reflection by going for a walk or writing in your journal.
Rediscover your self-worth
In many codependent relationships, people gain their sense of self-worth from the other person and often abandon their self-care along the way. By taking time in this space to rediscover your self-worth, you build your own sense of self-esteem and strengthen your relationships with others as you become more self-aware.
Here are a few self-worth-building ideas to get you started:
- Find your anthem. What song builds your confidence?
- Tell someone how amazing they are. Boosting someone else’s confidence can boost yours!
- Make a learning bucket list. Learning new things builds confidence.
- Breathe and meditate. These activities are known to reduce stress and negativity.
Learn how to become a better partner
One of the best things you can do for your relationship is to learn how to become a better partner. If you’re on a break or in a season of space, this is a great time to reevaluate how you’re showing up in your relationships and how you can improve.
Here are some skills you can build to become a better partner:
- Gratitude. Start with writing in a gratitude journal.
- Forgiveness. Start with noticing where you’re quick to judge.
- Openness. Start with expressing your feelings and needs with someone you trust.
- Listening. Start with asking open-ended questions and making eye contact.
- Humility. Start with recognizing when you’re wrong about something.
- Honesty. Start with acknowledging how you really feel.
- Trust. Start with honoring your commitments.
Want to become a better friend or partner? Check out this helpful resource:
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Explore the freedom of setting healthy boundaries
Setting boundaries in a codependent relationship is one of the best things you can do for yourself and others. Ultimately, you will find greater fulfillment and happiness by setting boundaries.
Here are five steps to set boundaries outlined in our article:
- Visualize and name your limits. Reflect on areas of your life that drain you or bring you energy to start to clarify where you need to set some limits.
- Openly communicate your boundaries. If your boundaries are not known, they will be hard for others to follow or understand. No one is a mind reader!
- Reiterate and uphold your boundaries. It’s ok to remind someone of your boundaries.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. Remember, you get to decide how to spend your energy.
- Take time for yourself. Schedule some “me-time” on the calendar.
Express your care and apologize if needed
When someone shares that they need space, it’s often a courageous step to communicate their needs or acknowledge that something isn’t right in the relationship. If you care about the person, it’s important to honor the courage they took to share their concerns with you.
In some cases, what they share might come as a surprise to you. Maybe you were not aware that something had gone wrong in the relationship. That’s ok. Take this time to listen, learn, and understand where they’re coming from. You may realize somewhere you went wrong, and you can take this opportunity to apologize. It may not change their desire to have space, but by being a good listener at this moment and having the humility to admit where you went wrong, you can build trust in the long run.
To apologize sincerely, take these steps:
- Say “I’m sorry”
- Acknowledge what you did wrong
- Express regret for your actions
- Take responsibility for your actions
- Declare your intention to change future behavior
- Offer to make things right
- Request forgiveness
Talk to a therapist
One of the best things you can do for yourself and your relationships is to talk to a therapist or a counselor to help you process what might have happened that led to a need for space, and what you can learn from it.
We are so honored to help you find authentic connections! If you are struggling to find the help you need, please note that all content on this website should not be considered professional medical advice. It is always best to consult a doctor or licensed therapist with any questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health. For a good resource for therapists, you can check out Mental Health America’s helpful list.
Key Takeaways for Giving Your Relationship Breathing Room
In summary, take note of these tips to help you give someone space and build a stronger relationship in the long run:
- Define what space looks like
- Add structure to your communication habits
- Get a hobby and encourage theirs
- Spend time with other friends
- Avoid your desire to “fix” them
- Listen to and respect their needs
- Avoid defensive or threatening language
- Learn how to enjoy being alone with yourself
- Rediscover your self-worth
- Learn how to become a better partner
- Explore the freedom of setting healthy boundaries
- Express your care and apologize if needed
- Talk to a therapist
For more tips on how to strengthen your relationship, check out our article How to Be Happy in a Relationship: The Ultimate Guide.
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