Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

Why Relationships Need Personal Space

There’s a delicate balance between too much and not enough

Critically, every person has a different amount of personal space required to feel “normal” and feel as if they can, well, breathe. Sometimes a person you’re dating can be too much in your space. This is when you’re like, “Well, I’ve got things I’ve got to do today,” and they say, “I can come along,” and you try to figure out what will be a diplomatic way to communicate that you want… well, space.

It’s not that you never want to see them again. But you require some distance so that you’ll once again be looking forward to seeing them.

When it’s the right person, you won’t feel sad when they’re away from you. You’ll be able to give, and get “space” — and it won’t feel like a sacrifice to be away from them. You’ll feel that the person is sort of imbued around you. That person is in the air that you breathe even when they are not with you.

What you don’t want is that strangling feeling of, “Where are they? What are they doing right now?” and feeling as if you are silently screaming every moment of the day as you try to put on a normal-looking face so that everyone around you won’t ask you what’s wrong.

How manipulators play with your personal space

Social media has given manipulators an arsenal of tools with which to invade space. Whereas in the past, when you left the house, the answering machine was responsible to hold all of your incoming calls, and you were free to forget about everyone who wasn’t with you, now you are responsible to know who is trying to get a hold of you at every…single…moment.

And you are also considered responsible to know when they post on Instagram, and when they text you. The ease of adding memes and videos have layered in a whole new layer of responsibility: you’re expected to watch their video or watch their meme or see their YouTube video they linked to… ugh.

Photo by kevin laminto on Unsplash

A manipulator will leave you wondering if you should be feeling guilty for feeling this way. You will be second-guessing yourself at every turn, because they seem so nice/friendly/sexy/irresistible. There will be a little part of yourself that contains an alarm going off, signaling “But you were going to be writing today…painting…cleaning the basement…completing the project for Monday…” and you will, instead of realizing that your boundaries have been tested, are in fact being severely tested right now, this very minute, will probably turn this feeling around on yourself.

If the manipulator is advanced, he will have you breaking your own boundaries. It may take a while to step back and realize that you were suckered into doing things that you would have rather just… skipped. You would have rather been alone, or been in the company of other people than him.

Your form of personal space might mean working out at the gym… alone. Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

Should you have to “claim your space” in a relationship?

In my opinion, you shouldn’t “have to” claim your space, because the world should give it to you freely. However, there are times when you do have to assert your boundaries. The interesting thing about boundaries is that sometimes we don’t realize we have them, or we don’t realize exactly what our boundaries are until they are broken. And then we see, wow, my space was invaded, my boundaries were broken. The next step is reclaiming your space, which means you need to privately decide upon how your boundaries were broken.

The good thing about going through this process, which can be quite painful, is that you’ll come out of it with new self-knowledge, and likely, enhanced self-esteem.

You know who you are, and you know what you need. Now you just need to go about seeing to it that others understand, as well. Everyone will have a different way of doing this. I had to tell a guy I was dating one time that “I don’t really have the time to read texts though the day.” When I shared this information, he countered that he thought his day-long texting was cute, and that “most of the women he knew” enjoyed getting little memes and text messages throughout the day.

Which clued me in to the distinct possibility that I had been put on some sort of a group text list that he sent to those he was trying to wrap around his little finger. Which leads to…

Don’t compare your need for space to that of others

For me, I enjoy having my significant other around. And his sense of personal space is like mine: he seems fine with being around me every single second, as I am with him. However, he has low tolerance for being around other people who are not me. His sense of personal space is much bigger than mine is, and it incorporates, or should I say seeks to exclude, almost every person in the whole wide world.

How do you negotiate boundaries between a relationship made up of a person who needs more personal space and a person who needs less?

Communication is key. And speaking with kindness, “I” statements, and diplomacy. The last thing you want to do is make your significant other feel like you think you’re better than they are, or more “normal” than they are. Try not to judge, label, blame or shame.

Photo by Mirza Causevic on Unsplash

For some, constantly being “on” can be extremely draining, and set their nerves on edge when they haven’t gotten access to their much-needed restorative “space”.

What you should expect, and deserve: to not be compared to others, who have less of a need for personal space. To some people, personal space looks like “downtime”. It’s a time in which they don’t have to be saying anything to anyone, listening to anyone, or responding in any way to another being. It’s when they recharge their batteries, and as such, it’s a key part of mental health and hygiene.

For some, constantly being “on” can be extremely draining, and set their nerves on edge when they haven’t gotten access to their much-needed restorative “space”.

Those who assume the caretaker role may feel that they are unable to assert their own need for space. My sister was trapped in the role of caretaker fpr many years, and although there were parts of it that she cherished, it became hard for her to exert her need for space. When she did, she always felt guilty for saying no to the needs of others.

Those who are people pleasers can also be subject to depression when they spend a lot of time around others, trying to make things right, put on a good show, and keep a stiff upper lip. All that people pleasing takes a lot of emotional energy, and these folks may come down hard when they finally allow themselves to be in their own space, free from the maddening crowd.

Sometimes each partner has a relatively equal need for “downtime” or “personal space”.

But not always; that would be too easy, wouldn’t it?

It’s Okay to Negotiate Space

Photo by Matt Evan on Unsplash

This couple may need to negotiate their shared physical space so that each person can do self-calming and self-care activities inside their household simultaneously. For example, one partner may want to take a hot bath and then read for hours curled up in the living room, while their partner takes a nap or goes running.

In other couples, one partner may want to be out and in the world much more than the other. As long as both persons have their needs met for personal space, these differences shouldn’t amount to a deal-breaker.

What’s more, differences in needs for personal space can provide a refreshing change of pace for each partner in the relationship, as they can reflect and infuse their partner’s style — it can provide a welcome contrast, as well as a touchstone over the years to hear about what the other did.

It might have been a party or a separate vacation, a marathon, basketball game, night out with the girls, compared to the experience of visiting a museum, knitting, meditation or organizing, planning, or writing. Time spent alone and away from the other may have spent in an even simpler fashion; perhaps by taking a walk and watching the way the leaves crinkled under the feet, or noticing how the clouds darkened and moved overhead.

Listening to one’s significant others’ way of observing the world in their time spent apart is an entrance to another way of living in the world; one which exists in counterpart and harmony to our own, reminding us of the value and import of relationship’s ability to give life meaning and beauty, not by the sameness or even the similarity of our beloved, but by counterpoint.