Needing Some Space Doesnt Need To Lead To A Breakup

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One of my friends recently lost his Boston apartment due to an electrical fire and was forced to move in with his girlfriend. Another friend’s boyfriend is living with her while he’s in between places in Brooklyn. While they love their partners dearly, both of these friends are introverts with a capital I. They need alone time, and it’s really hard to get alone time when half of your relationship is homeless. I can practically hear them hyperventilating as they send me panicky texts about how they just need some space.

Once upon a time, I dated a guy who we might refer to as a stage five clinger if we trafficked in movie quote cliches. We went on our first date and within days were spending all of our free time together. One morning about a month in, he outlined what he had planned for our day – and then continued with his plans for the four days after that. Upon hearing this plan, which included zero time for me to spend by myself or with my friends, I realized that I was in way over my head and told him I needed a day to myself. He asked if he could “keep me company.” I repeated that I needed time alone, and he again asked if he could join me, apparently not understanding the meaning of the word “alone.” I dumped him very shortly thereafter. I needed some space. A lot of space. Galaxies worth of space.

At some point, everyone’s going to need some space. Maybe not a galaxy of it, but being surgically attached to your significant other is probably doing you more harm than good. Still, asking for space is scary: you don’t want your partner to take it personally, or to feel like you are rejecting them or pushing them away. It’s especially hard for 20-somethings, who are really good at feeling feelings but not always so good at recognizing when those feelings are actually needs, and then translating those needs into boundaries.

If you’re feeling drained by your relationship, odds are you should spend a little less time together, and there’s a way to go about it that doesn’t involve panicking and dumping them — which probably seems obvious but took me many, many years to learn. (This is assuming it’s an otherwise healthy relationship – if you’re feeling drained by what might be abuse, get out of there ASAP. If you suspect your partner is going to flip out if you bring up taking more alone time, that’s a sign that you should not be asking for space so much as demanding it. Possibly with a restraining order.)

But in general, needing some alone time doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your relationship. One psychologist even says having enough space in a relationship is more important than having good sex. Dr. Terri Orbuch has been conducting a long-term marriage study over the past 25 years, following the lives of over 350 married couples. She found that “29 percent of spouses said they did not have enough ‘privacy or time for self’ in their relationship, with more wives than husbands reporting not having enough space (31 percent versus 26 percent). Of those who reported being unhappy, 11.5 percent said the reason was lack of privacy or time for self. This was a greater percentage than the 6 percent who said they were unhappy with their sex lives.”

If you’re feeling drained by your relationship, odds are you should spend a little less time together, and there’s a way to go about it that doesn’t involve panicking and dumping them— which probably seems obvious but took me many, many years to learn.

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