How to tell your romantic partner, “I need space”- a phrase that typically sounds the alarm sirens in a romantic relationship. Have you ever found yourself in a romantic relationship where you feel oddly suspicious about how well things are going? You can feel the love, laughter is constant, and the support is always there when needed. Despite all these things, there is this troublesome feeling in the pit of your stomach that incites fear and uncertainty. This fear and uncertainty may be rooted in you wondering if you have completely lost your sense of self as you poured into your romantic relationship. You may find yourself debating whether you need space from your relationship to process this fear. As you begin to let yourself question this fear, you start to struggle with what it means to “need space” in your relationship.
First, what is ‘space’? ‘Space’, when exploring the literal definition, has been defined as an area that has yet to be occupied. Second, how do we define “needing space” in a relationship? For many, needing space may be defined as not seeing their partner for a few weeks or cutting off all communication with their partner for a month. For myself, I vividly remember telling my partner, “see you later babe,” and the later turned into a few weeks. The truth is I had no idea how to tell my partner I needed space without sounding the alarm sirens that signal the end of the relationship is near. Although needing space can look different for everyone, most of us can agree that the “needing space” conversation strikes anxiety, fear, and a desire to run without ever having the actual conversation. If you are struggling with how to tell your romantic partner, “I need space” keep reading to learn about the first steps and tips for having this conversation.
The First Step Before Telling Your Romantic Partner, “I Need Space”
Before plunging into the tips for how to tell your romantic partner, “I need space talk”, it is imperative that you begin with evaluating your relationship. Do you see a future with your partner? Do you see yourself being able to build a couple identity with your partner while maintaining your individual identity? Are you committed to this relationship? These questions stem from the concept decide, don’t slide, which highlights the significance of making clear decisions about romantic relationships rather than sliding into a relationship without considering the implications (Stanley et al., 2006). Stanley & Markman (2020) emphasize the importance of deciding to commit to a relationship before making major life decisions such as having the “I need space” talk. Answer the above questions before you tell your romantic partner, “I need space.” Acknowledge where the relationship is headed and what you need in this relationship.
5 Tips on How to Tell Your Romantic Partner, “I Need Space”
- Be Open and Honest. Before calling your partner or sending a text message stating that you need to talk, make sure you have taken ample time to be honest with yourself. What do you need to continue in this relationship? Take time to answer this question. This may include finding a place free from distractions to write down specifically what you need. To be honest with your partner, you need to be honest with yourself first. Once you are honest with yourself and have identified what you need, practice how you will take this honesty into the “I need space” talk with your partner.
- Clearly Define What Space Means to You. After identifying what you need to continue in the relationship, you will need to clearly articulate what space in a relationship means to you. Does space mean not seeing each other for a few weeks? Does space mean not communicating for a couple of days? You need to decide. Once you have clearly defined what space means to you then your partner can adapt to what you need in the relationship (Melero, 2019).
- Identify Specific Behaviors. Research has shown that ambiguity in a relationship makes vulnerable conversations riskier and less likely to occur, which has been found to increase continued uncertainty in the relationship (Knight, 2014; Knobloch & Theiss, 2011). Therefore, you need to identify the specific behaviors that will establish the space you are seeking in the relationship (Mashek et al., 2011). This can look different for every relationship. For example, if you find that all your free time is spent with your partner, this may mean that you need to find time in the week to have alone time. This could also mean that you request having a weekend to yourself or taking time to go to the gym by yourself a few days a week.
- Define the Relationship. It is important to remember that having the “I need space” talk may induce anxiety and fear within your partner. This talk may lead to your partner wondering if the next step after needing space is dissolving the relationship entirely. Specifically, your partner may have questions about how you see the relationship evolving in the future. Provide your partner with an answer to these questions (Melero, 2019). Defining the relationship has been found to soothe anxiety and solidify commitment in a relationship (Knopp et al., 2020).
- Embrace Individuality and Togetherness. Research has shown that when individuals can include aspects of their partner within their self-concept (e.g. experiences, identities, family-of-origin, resources) it is not only beneficial for the relationship but also the individual (Aron et al., 2004). This concept is often referred to as self-expansion, and individuals who can self-expand have been found to have greater relationship satisfaction and lower dissolution over time (Le et al., 2010). This last step in the “I need space” talk involves you explaining how embracing who you are as an individual will enhance the couple’s relationship. For example, this may include you acknowledging that when you are able to take space to embrace your individuality it increases your happiness and thus, increases your happiness when spending time together. Be specific on how taking space impacts you as an individual and how that space helps you create togetherness with your partner.
Many can relate to how anxiety-provoking it can be to have the “I need space” talk with your partner. We may find ourselves leaning into the fears that are saying, “If I tell my partner that I need space then they will want to automatically end the relationship.” Remember that fluctuations are a normal part of even the most healthy romantic relationships. Perhaps your fear revolves around hurting the person you have grown to love. The anxiety you feel and the fears that play over and over in your mind are valid. Just know that you are not alone. Never forget that you are having this conversation to better yourself and your relationship. Overall, research has found that individuals who can have the talk regarding closeness and space with their partner enhances your mental health and well-being (Knopp et al., 2020). If you are looking for more information on romantic relationships, check out some of our previous blog posts on relationship commitment, defining the relationship, and reasons to stay in a romantic relationship.
- Aron, A., McLaughlin-Volpe, T., Mashek, D., Lewandowski, G., Wright, S. C., & Aron, E. N. (2004). Including others in the self. European Review of Social Psychology, 15, 101-132.
- Knight, K. (2014). Communicative dilemmas in emerging adults’ friends with benefits relationships: Challenges to relational talk. Emerging Adulthood, 2, 270–279.
- Knobloch, L. K., & Theiss, J. A. (2011). Relational uncertainty and relationship talk within courtship: A Longitudinal actor–partner interdependence model. Communication Monographs, 78, 3–26.
- Knopp, K., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M. & Markman, H. J. (2020). “Defining the relationship” in adolescent and young adult romantic relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 37, 2078-2097.
- Le, B., Dove, N. L., Agnew, C. R., Korn, M. S., & Mutso, A. A. (2010). Predicting nonmarital romantic relationship dissolution: A meta-analytic synthesis. Personal Relationships, 17, 377-390.
- Mashek, D., Le, B., Israel, K., & Aron, A. (2011). Wanting Less Closeness in Romantic Relationships. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 33, 333-345.
- Melero, A. (2019, November 30). The Crucial Thing Everyone’s Afraid To Ask For In A Relationship. Retrieved from https://www.thezoereport.com/p/how-to-ask-for-personal-space-in-a-relationship-without-doing-any-damage-19410674
- Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2020). Helping Couples in the Shadow of COVID‐19. Family Process, 59, 937-955.
- Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Sliding versus deciding: Inertia and the premarital cohabitation effect. Family Relations, 55, 499-509.
I am a current senior at Northern Illinois University (NIU). My major is Human Development and Family Sciences with an emphasis in Family Social Service. I am the current president of the student organization on campus called NIU Student Council on Family Relations (NIUSCFR). I am also a member of multiple honors societies on campus as well.