How to Deal With a Spouse Who "Needs Space"

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Some people call space the “final frontier.” For couples, though, it can feel more like the last straw. After all, if we’re taught to seek a “soul mate,” what could it possibly mean if that person needs some space…from us?

What Does it Mean to “Need Space”?

Of course, it means something different for everyone. Asking for space might mean:

  • Your spouse is feeling stifled in some way
  • They’ve lost perspective and can see better from a distance
  • They need to not see you or communicate with you for a while
  • Or they may wish to stay in touch — just not in person, for now
  • It could be a precursor to a break-up

Or, it could be the best thing that ever happened for your relationship

The key is to not fill in the blanks. Let’s say you hear some version of this: “I need some space,” or "I need a break." Your first reaction, understandably, will be some form of anxiety. However, the best thing you can do is set up a discussion — ASAP — to ask questions, get answers, and come to a full understanding of what’s going on.

How NOT to React When Your Spouse Needs Space

It may feel personal. Really personal. Really, really personal. But don’t take it personally, unless personal reasons were given. Even in an exclusive, long-term relationship, your partner must have her or his own perspectives, feelings, and independence. Asking for space is not automatically a judgment or attack. Nothing productive is accomplished by asking: “What did I do to make you do this?” It begins, as you’re about to see, with healthy and steady communication.

4 Ways to Give Your Spouse Space

1. Communicate

Your partner may ask for space but feel unable to explain why. Your partner may perfectly explain why but you find it hard to comprehend. This situation will force you to develop new communication skills — and that’s never a bad thing! Instead of reacting with alarm, react with curiosity, a genuine desire to understand.

2. Set Boundaries,Ground Rules and a Time Frame If Your Spouse Asks for a Break

This can be tricky ground. Once you’ve both agreed to a break and both agreed that the goal is to reunite, it’s essential to have a plan. Do we talk? If so, how often and will it be in person? Are we seeing other people during this break? Do we tell friends and family? What’s the specific time frame? Write it all down and sign it, like any agreement.

3. Use That Time to Work on Yourself

This space could be a gift for both of you. It’s common for committed couples to lose perspective. With some distance, you can learn a lot about yourself and who you are as both an individual and part of a couple.

5. Plan Something Special for the Reuniting!

If you both have agreed to reunite and when to reunite, make it amazing. Embrace the fresh start. Be ready to learn and grow and evolve in new ways.

There May Be More Going on Besides “Space”

In times of relationship struggle, we often can’t see the big picture. Every fight can feel like the end. Each word or gesture can convey a thousand meanings. A spouse asking for “space” equals, well, the end of life as we know it. It’s almost as if relationships require a translator.

Couples counseling, in fact, is a way of taking space — but doing so together. You and your spouse can find a safe space in your therapy sessions. There, you can unravel some of the mystery and confusion that inevitably arises with partners. You can speak your mind, air out grievances, and work on solutions — all with the guidance of an impartial and highly skilled facilitator.