"Space" is such a weird, complicated ingredient in relationships. It's difficult to reconcile the fact that your partner loves you with the fact that your partner finds you fucking annoying sometimes. Which is why "I need my space" can read as "I'm having hella affairs because you are like a human plastic bag suffocating me," even though what it really means is, "I'm going to eat cheese and watch eight hours of this SVU marathon in the basement; please don't talk to me." Because everyone's fucking annoying sometimes! And, studies show, the most successful adult relationships are the ones in which both partners have figured out how to claim some independence, don't define themselves based on their partners, and give one another alone time.
Interestingly, it's women who tend to crave space more than men, the Wall Street Journal reports:
Dr. Orbuch recently analyzed one year of data from her study and found more wives than husbands (31% versus 26%) reported not having enough space. She believes this is because women often have less time to themselves than men. Even when women have jobs outside the home, they still are typically the primary caregivers of children or aging parents. And because they also tend to have more friends than men, they often have more social obligations.
It all goes back, the WSJ contends, to our parents. If your parents were perfect, if they nurtured you and paid attention to you the correct amount (whatever that is), you're fine. Apparently. If they were inconsistent in their affection, you're a basketcase who hates space, craves attention, and fears abandonment. If your parents rejected or abandoned you as a child, you need tons of space and avoid closeness so as to limit vulnerability. And, helpfully, "People who fear closeness tend to seek out people who are warm and inviting. This is how someone who needs a lot of space ends up with a partner who hates to be alone." Super! This can only end well.
So how do you stop taking "space" personally and start having a happy relationship? Same answer as every single other relationship question on earth, really—communication. Don't be accusatory or defensive. Remember that not everything is about you. Don't take everything your partner does personally. (BTW, I'm aware that all of those things are really hard and almost all of us are really bad at them. I, personally, am probably the most bad-at-them human being on earth. But, you know, we try.) Try to say things like, "I need to recharge," which is about you needing something for yourself, instead of, "I NEED MY SPACE," which is about you needing to get away from your shitty partner. And all this stuff too:
• Be specific. Say, 'I need the afternoon to myself.' Simply saying 'I need space' sends confusing signals.
• Explain why more space makes you happy, so your partner knows it's not about him or her.
• Enjoy the space you take. Guilt defeats the purpose, says Barbara F. Okun, counseling psychology professor at Northeastern University.
• No secrets. Tell your spouse what you did and with whom when you were away.
• Don't get carried away. Too much space weakens your connection.
• Don't forget to schedule couple time and family time, too.
Bottom line: It's not about you. It's not about you. It's not about you. It's not about you. Unless you're a Lannister, presumably you didn't meet your partner at birth, which means you had a lifetime of alone time to develop your own personality and interests before you coupled up. And, presumably, that personality and those interests are what attracted your partner to you in the first place. So why assume that your partner would suddenly be okay with you transforming into some amorphous, blobby, codependent deep-sea fish with no hobbies except for prolonged gazing and unwarranted suspicion? Just do your stuff, let them do their stuff, and check in once in a while to make sure nobody's going nuts. Done. Look, we solved fighting! It's a Christmas miracle!
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