“Honey, I think we need to take some space.”
I spoke these words to my ex-husband towards the end of 2008—seven years too late. About a month later, the relationship ended.
Two months into my second marriage, I now see how the power of space is one of the key factors in helping a partnership thrive.
Oftentimes when a partner asks for space, an onslaught of negative thoughts deluges (and deludes) our minds:
S/he doesn’t love me anymore.
S/he is cheating on me.
I’m asking for too much.
I’m too needy.
I’m not attractive.
I’m no fun.
But the truth is taking space is one of the telltale signs of a healthy relationship. It demonstrates trust, interdependency (vs. codependency) and being able to know your own needs, share them with your partner and have them lovingly received.
Taking space is not the same as running away. Running away is cutting the cord of the relationship. It’s a form of emotional disconnection and is the only refuge of those filled with resentment. What’s most needed in those moments is to stay connected, both to your partner and to your own feelings, and to share the backlog of communication you have withheld during your time together (this might take a little while and in the company of a good coach or therapist).
Conversely, taking space is about staying connected through the distance. Being in your dance of solitude while still celebrating companionship. Nurturing yourself so you return to the relationship refreshed and ready to share your bounty.
The following are my top 5 reasons why taking space in a marriage are the keys to saving it.
1. It builds sexual tension.
Ever hear the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder?” How about “absence makes the cock grow harder?” No matter how smokin’ hot your spouse is, once you see them through the domestic lens of morning breath and dirty dishes, the sexual sizzle starts to wane. But, just a little bit of space creates dynamic tension—the further apart the polar opposites are pulled, the stronger the magnetic attraction builds. Both time and distance stoke that desire. So when the moment to reunite approaches, both partners are typically aching to jump each other’s bones.
2. It helps deepen relationships outside your primary relationship.
“Ever since you got married, we never see you anymore.” So goes the lament of many a best friend when his or her pal ties the knot. Unfortunately for many of us married folk, once we start building the nest, we often find it difficult to leave. Remembering to foster your important relationships outside the marriage is a great way to build community and friendship for when you need an outsider’s perspective. Plus, when people have a strong web of external support, they become less dependent on the marriage for emotional nourishment and relieve spouses of the impossible duty to be their partner’s “everything.”
3. It reconnects you to your own needs and desires.
Most of the time in marriage, partners think in terms of “us.” “Can I afford to take a music class and contribute to our rent?” “Can I go to the museum today or did my partner have other plans in mind for us?” When you take time alone, you get to tap into your own individual desires and flow from there. You start to learn things about yourself that you may not have noticed if you’d had your attention on your partner. Perhaps you become inspired by a piece of artwork and decide to take up painting. Maybe you discover that Ethiopian food is your favorite (since you’ve never tried it because your partner hates it). Having the personal space to reflect on your needs and desires helps you return to the relationship whole, integrated and clear on what you need to ask next from the relationship.
Autonomy! It’s “do whatever the hell you want day” because no one is around to stop you! OK, not that anyone can stop you from doing anything really, but in relationship, negotiations are constantly being made. When you have your own space, you can turn up the music, dance in your underwear and eat greasy Chinese food. Or take a tour of a random neighborhood and enjoy the journey without having to check on someone else’s bladder or hunger levels. Knowing that there is space in your relationship for personal freedom builds trust and gratitude towards your partner.
5. It reminds you of why you love your partner.
Space feels pretty cool when you get to do what you want. But then there comes that moment when you want that perfect cup of tea only your partner knows how to make. Or when you ache for the depth of touch only your partner provides. Or when that silly, “inside joke” song comes on the radio and you end up singing it solo. When we feel the absence of the exquisite attention that our partner provides, we appreciate our dearly beloveds and remember why we continuously choose “yes” to the relationship.