There are few scarier sentences to hear your partner utter than, “I need some space.” (Except maybe, “We need to talk.”) Chances are, if this is said to you, you’ll fear the worst: your partner is questioning your relationship and wants to take some time to see what life would be like without you as part of it—a little like testing the waters before an inevitable breakup.
This may be the case, but it isn’t always. To find out for sure—and to hopefully get your relationship back on track and stronger than ever—here’s exactly what to do if you’re on the receiving end of this dreaded statement.
Ask the Tough Question
Before anything else, you have to get to the bottom of what sparked this need for space— specifically, whether or not your partner’s request is really just a gradual way of breaking up with you. (Ouch.) Ask him or her why exactly space is needed, if there was an inciting incident or event that set off this new need for space, and what exactly it might mean for the future of your relationship. Sure, you may hear some hard truths about your union (or that you won’t be united for very much longer), but in this case it’s better to rip the proverbial Band-Aid off quickly than to slowly peel it away while your partner tests out being single in the interim.
Listen to His or Her Concerns
If the need for space really is a temporary request, hear your partner out regarding why he or she feels the need to pull back from you. Perhaps your relationship is moving too quickly, or maybe he or she really has to focus on work or a family situation that requires complete attention right now. Whatever it is that’s sparking this new need, try to be open and curious about what your partner is requesting of you. While it may be hard to understand, your ability to empathize may be critical to the future of your relationship.
Take Stock of Your Behavior
Naturally, you shouldn’t blame yourself for your partner’s sudden need for space. Take a vacation from your relationship for a while. Have you become overly emotionally dependent on your significant other? Would you describe yourself as clingy? Have you two been fighting or arguing a lot recently over issues that never seem to get resolved? Understanding your part in this is crucial for moving forward.
Set Parameters of What “Space” Looks Like
Having some ground rules regarding your partner’s need for space is very important so that you two are on the same page as far as your expectations are concerned. For instance, it’s important to understand if “needing space” constitutes a “break” in your relationship. (And if so, are you each allowed to see other people?) Or does needing space really mean exactly that—you’ll spend less time together for the time being. If it’s the latter, answer these questions together: How much less time? How will you deal with social engagements you’ve already committed to? What about hanging out with your group of friends? Having a candid conversation will allow you to be sure that you’re on the same page.
Check in with Each Other
Also have a game plan regarding how often you should expect to check in with each other and communicate. Do you think it’s sufficient to send a daily text? Or should you connect weekly? What about discussions regarding your relationship—are you going to have a talk once the need for space subsides? Answer these key questions together before parting ways temporarily. You’ll both likely feel the need to remain connected in some shape or form, but you may have differing ideas of what that looks like.