Learn how to talk with your partner about personal space in your relationship without being hurt
I am the weirdest person to be writing about the importance of personal space in a relationship because, if I could, I would be physically squished up against my husband and talking his ear off 24/7, never giving him any personal space. Ever.
Or maybe that makes me the perfect person to be writing personal space because I had to discover the awkward “it’s not you, it’s me” way that some people really do need physical and relational personal space in order for there to keep the relationship healthy.
Before I met my husband, I turned everything into a social experience! A quiet night at home sounded like torture and I wouldn’t even eat a meal if it wasn’t with someone. In fact, this is exactly how I got to know my husband Eric. After working our Starbucks shift together (Eric was my supervisor. Scandalous, I know, right?), I needed food and he happened to be the one who made it the “social experience” I needed to nourish myself. And the rest is history!
Because I’m still pretty new to this whole “personal space in a relationship” idea, I’ve recruited the expertise of the Pastor who married us, Warren Higley, and his lovely wife Elizabeth who has a career in the mental health field.
Personal Space In A Relationship Q&A
I sat down with our pastor and his wife for a little Q&A on how much personal space is needed in a relationship. Sure, everyone is different and you might just find that person that needs exactly the same amount of space as you. It doesn’t happen that way for most of us and a lot of relationships that had the potential to be forever love have been shortened because one partner didn’t understand the other’s need for space.
Is personal space in a relationship really that important?
I’ll let Warren and Elizabeth answer that:
“Personal space in a relationship is always important. The amount of space does depend on the couple. Personal space is needed for individuals to be in touch with their own identity. This is a prerequisite to making a healthy contribution to a relationship and forming a healthy relationship identity.”
Guys, poker night is a go!
Ladies, get the girls together for mimosas and a mani-pedi!
Is Your Partner Suffocating You? Talk it out.
If you’re feeling suffocated in your relationship, it’s not completely the other person’s fault if you’re not clearly communicating your needs to them before you feel like the walls are closing in around you.
You wouldn’t expect your car to live very long if you waited until all the indicator lights screamed at you before getting a tune up, would you? The same is just as true with personal space in relationships.
“Tell your partner that you need space.” Say the Higleys, “You can’t protect your partner from being offended; you can’t control the other person’s experience. But you can and should be careful “how” you tell your partner. Be considerate of their feelings and how your message might come across.”
They continue, “Be aware that offense and displeasure can be used as powerful relational weapons. If this is occurring, it is an indicator that there are issues below the surface that need addressing.”
If you continuously allow your personal space needs to be ignored, you’re not just hurting yourself, but the future of the relationship, and eventually the person you care about.
Does Personal Space Mean Keeping Track of Someone?
Does your partner have the right to ask what you do with your ‘free time’?
According to the Higleys, “The answer is: absolutely, yes, of course. Truth in relationship means you get to know what the other person is doing. If this is an issue, you will need to talk about what the level of trust is in the relationship.”
My husband and I do communicate our “where & with whom” to each other out of consideration. But if it’s a new relationship, you might still be building trust. For example, it took Eric several months to admit that he was playing a Dungeons & Dragons-like game with the guys, and not poker as he led me to believe.
Control and manipulation in a relationship are another matter. If you’re experiencing any kind of emotional abuse in your relationship, please seek help. If you’re unsure if you should be concerned, see our 13 Relationship Deal-Breakers To Watch Out For post.
Remember your Needs for Space?
You’re giving them space. Now what do you do with all this space you didn’t want in the first place?
Early in our dating, I couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to hang out every single day. In fact, some days we wouldn’t even talk on the phone unless I called him! I couldn’t understand this! It turns out, it had nothing to do with his feelings for me or the future of our relationship, but that this handsome guy I was in love with needed alone time in order to not feel emotionally exhausted.
Editor’s Note: It can be tough understanding your partner’s emotional needs, especially the ones that differ so much from your own. It’s easy to misinterpret their need for personal space as a sign they don’t care but some people get emotionally-claustrophobic.
The best thing you can do is just sit down and talk honestly about how you are and ask about their needs. Don’t approach the conversation as something you want or that one of you needs to change, use it as an opportunity to get to know each other. Later in the relationship, you may give and take a little on your needs for personal space but take the pressure off your early conversations by just trying to understand each other.
How much personal space you want in a relationship is a factor in a lot of the questions on eHarmony. The depth of questions is one of the reasons I like the platform so much. It really leads to a better match for your emotional needs. Check out my experience on the site in this eHarmony review.
During the decade that we’ve been together, I’ve had to learn to give my husband his space. But even more challenging for me was that I’ve had to learn how to be by myself and I’ve taken up other, quieter interests.
I’ve been forced to discover who I am and what I enjoy apart from other people. And, though this has taken almost the entire decade, I found out that I even kind of like myself, and that having some personal space to myself can even be fun.
Final thoughts on Finding Personal Space in Your Relationship:
“The above questions reveal tension behind this topic of personal space in relationship. It raises questions that are important for people in relationship to ask:
- Do you agree that both people have needs?
- What do people need in relationship?
- Is it safe to tell the truth about what we need?
- Are we committed to having an honest, positive relationship?
- Are we willing to risk being misunderstood and risk the displeasure of the other person?
- Is our commitment the same or are we only willing to have it our own way?
A “Warren-ism” that we have used in the healthy formation of our relationship is that “There are 3 people in this relationship: you, me and we.” We have asked the questions:
- ”What do I need to be healthy”
- “What do you need to be healthy”
- “What do we need to be healthy”
A healthy relationship requires that we ask all three questions and carefully and respectfully attend to the answers.”
Do you see why I chose to pick their brains?
I read a thread this week by a guy who felt suffocated in his relationship and wanted out. From how he described his honey, I imagine this breakup was going to absolutely crush her. I wondered if the whole thing could have been avoided if he’d just been honest with her, asking her to help him have some personal space, instead of jumping ship. (Though, if jumping ship is necessary, find out “How Not To Break Up With A Man“).
It’s taken time to figure out how much space my husband needs, versus how much time with him I need. The important thing is that we do try and then we come back to re-evaluate how it’s going. We’re not awesome at it yet. Awesome takes practice, and we have the rest of our lives for trial and error.
But through all of this, something pretty amazing happened:
I discovered me.
Have you ever had a “personal space” issue in a relationship?
How was it dealt with?
Genevieve West is a professional Matchmaker and personal consultant for marriage-minded singles in Portland, Oregon. Genevieve has been called a ‘prolific’ blogger and speaker, perpetual manuscript writer, wine-drinking, coffee-chugging, sometimes irreverent, often overwhelmed housewife, and home-school mom of three, redeemed by God’s grace. I wish I had read her post on personal space in a relationship years ago but I’m glad we could share it with you here.