Most can agree that the past year and a half has challenged many couples’ personal boundaries. With time indoors being the new norm and many relationships (both romantic and platonic) confined to close quarters, time to oneself may seem like a distant memory. That said, there are still ways to carve out this time — in fact it might be more important than ever. The truth is needs and boundaries can be delicate undertakings as you risk hurting your significant other’s feelings and you risk your own emotional well-being if you never take that time for yourself. But why do so many find it hard to ask for space in a relationship? Why is that often considered a mark of selfishness or negativity?
For some, these questions may bring up that famous Sex and the City episode (appropriately titled “The Good Fight”), in which Carrie Bradshaw finds herself craving some time and space to herself amidst the move-in with boyfriend Aidan Shaw. While Shaw seemingly tolerates and even enjoys the close quarters, Bradshaw slowly simmers in her discomfort and suffocation until she eventually explodes on her lover with a line familiar to most SATC fans: “Don’t you ever just shut up?” The episode ends with a sweet and authentic reconciliation in which the writer calmly requests an hour to herself without talking or interaction.
The thing is, taking space in a relationship is actually a form of self-care in that in that it allows one to recharge in a setting and way that is best for them specifically. And, the initial and crucial step of simply asking for it can be therapeutic in itself.
No one understands this better than Carol Winner, founder of Give Space, which assists in showing people how to communicate their personal space needs in a kind and peaceful way. The company has adopted the peach symbol to signal one's need for a minute (or several) to themselves. And while Give Space was birthed after Winner witnessed her mother's own need for physical distance from people as she battled cancer and the subsequent recovery process, the public health specialist says the conversation around personal space has shifted. "People immediately started sharing their stories with me," says Winner of Give Space's early days in an interview with The Zoe Report. "And those stories started evolving to be more about emotional space. The symbol is for everyone. Everyone should have peach."
And while Winner encourages people to use the brand's symbol as their voice, what about those who need to use their actual words and have that tough conversation with a loved one? "Many people take it personally when you ask them for personal space," says Jonathan Bennett, certified life and relationship coach, published author, and co-founder of Double Trust Dating in an email to The Zoe Report. "It can cause them to feel unworthy or rejected and will often lead to arguments. As a result, many people are reluctant to bring up their own needs for fear of hurting their partner’s feelings."
That said, this important self-preserving conversation can be done. Ahead, read some practical tips for seeking alone time from your significant other, straight from Winner as well as other relationship experts. The last thing you want to do is go the Carrie Bradshaw route and learn this lesson the hard way.
Start With Revealing Small Sensitivities
If you're not well-versed in setting personal boundaries, starting with a major one can be a tough undertaking. Winner suggests tackling smaller requests and slowly moving into deeper, more emotionally based needs from there. "The one place I like to start is asking 'What are your sensitivities?'" says the Give Space founder. "For me, for example, I have a certain friend who I avoid using scented candles around when she comes to visit." Verbalizing these small requests are a good way to start the conversation and get comfortable with being open with each other about more vulnerable subject matter.
Make Sure You're In A Calm & Reasonable Mindset
This rule applies for any argument or point of conflict with a significant other, but it's especially important when dealing with a sensitive topic like request for distance or personal space. "If you feel suffocated by your partner and you’re losing your patience, the request for personal space can sometimes turn into an emotional argument," says Bennett. "I would wait to discuss the need for space when you’re thinking clearly and able to articulate your reasons logically. If you blurt out the need for space in the midst of a fight, your partner will be more likely to see it as a personal rejection."
Make Your Partner Feel Secure Amidst Your Request
For some, a request from for alone time from a loved one might cause them to worry about the health of the relationship as a whole or make them feel like they've done something wrong. How you address your need for space is going to be crucial in making them feel safe with you and the relationship. "I'm not a fan of coddling unhealthy feelings," Jim Fleckenstein, sexologist, researcher, educator, and author of Love That Works: 38 Awesome Hacks for Amazing Relationships, in an email to The Zoe Report. "That said, there's no place for callousness in a loving relationship, either. [...] Offer reassurance, if needed, that your need for [personal space] does not represent any shortcoming on your partner's part, nor any threat to the relationship. Be sure to emphasize that your partner has the same right to enjoy their own preferred way of creating personal space."
Be Direct In Your Conversation (But Still Loving)
While it's important to be kind when discussing personal space within an intimate relationship, it's also important to be direct. Passive aggression has no place here. "One of the biggest mistakes I see couples make is being passive aggressive rather then practicing open communication," says couples therapist Noam Dinovitz in an email to The Zoe Report. "People sometimes have the tendency to think that if they subtly show their partner what they want then they'll ultimately get the message. However, this can result in damage to the relationship — especially when it comes to the arena of personal space. The last thing you want to do is alienate your partner by shutting them out without explaining yourself."
Discuss The Details Of Your Personal Space Needs With Your Partner
What you do in your private time is, well private, but if you are comfortable with sharing what your "personal space" specifically entails with your partner, it might help them feel more secure and connected with you even when you're not together. "Tell your partner how you're going to spend your personal space time so that they cannot feel rejected, neglected, or uninformed," says psychotherapist Rachel Brandoff in an email to The Zoe Report. "Tell them what you want to do or share when you come back together. For example, 'I am going to go out with my best friend for a few hours — I need some me time — but I really look forward to being with you tonight and having a nice dinner.' The more your partner knows about your needs, how your behavior serves you, and what your personal space goals and agenda are, the less likely it is to hurt and offend them."
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