How to give someone space and why it's healthy
A close relationship with a healthy amount of space can be important for a happy life. This might refer to a romantic relationship, a family, or a friend, but regardless of how close you are to a person, giving them the personal space they need can allow them to think, grow, and recharge. And it may bring you closer together in the long run while enabling you to explore your own interests more deeply.
This guide explores ways to give someone space, set boundaries, and why it's healthy. And if you'd like to learn more, online therapy might help you work on these techniques (and others) to strengthen your relationships.
14 healthy ways to fulfill the need for space: How to give someone space
Where do you start when someone needs space, and how long should you spend away from them? It may feel challenging giving someone space, especially when you love spending time with the person, but it's natural to need some "me time." It can be very helpful to understand that you can give someone space without losing them. It may also be helpful to understand that someone’s need for space does not mean that they dislike you or the relationship they have with you. It’s important to set boundaries to have a healthy relationship.
The following tips can apply to friendships, relationships with family, or romantic relationships with a partner. Here are 14 tips for how to give someone space.
1. Ask how much time they need
No two people are alike, so it may help to ask the other person how much breathing space they need for themselves. Setting a specific amount of time you need to step back and do your own thing might make it easier. And it can help you remember that they only need space for a while, not forever, which may allow you to feel more comfortable giving space for a few days.
2. Find out what they mean by having space
There are many ways to give someone space, but you may want to begin by asking what they mean. Needing space can mean different things to different people, so you might want to ask the other person what they mean by needing space. Getting a better understanding of their desires can be helpful. For example, do they want to be in another room, have some alone time, or leave for another location? Do they want to stop texting or having in-person conversations for some time? Do they want to pursue their goals without your help? Are they referring to emotional or physical space? This information may help you give them space in a way that works for them.
3. Avoid asking them to defend their need for space
You might feel hurt or rejected when someone asks for space and want to ask them to explain why. There's nothing wrong with wanting to know, but asking more than once may make things worse and make them feel they must defend their right to have time to themselves. Instead, you might try to listen without judgment if they choose to tell you why or be accepting if they don't want to explain. In general, try to understand that a need for space is a normal part of a healthy relationship, and everyone deserves to make their own decisions when it comes to asking for some physical distance.
4. Thank them for telling you what they need
Thanking the other person and showing gratitude for their honesty about their needs might make them feel more comfortable with their request to give space. This may encourage them to focus on meeting their needs by practicing self-care, following their personal goals, or pursuing their interests. It’s easy to express to your friend or partner that you’re there for them and support their needs.
5. Give them opportunities to spend time with other people
Another way to give someone space is encouraging them to meet with and spend time with their other friends. You might remind them how much they enjoy being with their friends or suggest times they could see them when you'll be doing something else. Consider giving yourself a night to watch Netflix and do some self-care while you allow your significant other to do other things on their own.
6. Suggest new events and activities they might enjoy
If you'd like to help the other person meet their needs, you could give them space by suggesting new events and activities they would enjoy. In some cases, they might not have met their needs for freedom because they don't know what to do on their own. Suggesting new things suited to their interests may also help show your support.
7. Honor their requests for emotional space
Are you able to give someone space without judging or asking for anything in return? They may need time away and not to talk, so you might show you honor their needs by letting them be the ones to reach out to you via text, phone, or in-person conversation. It can be easy to get agitated if you have an anxious attachment style when someone places a boundary. Being understanding with these requests may help demonstrate that you value them while assuring them your relationship will be okay even if they take time away from it. It may even provide a stronger sense of connection with your friend or partner when you listen to their needs.
8. Encourage them to do their favorite things and pursue your own interests
If you haven't given your loved one space for a while, encouraging them to do their favorite things might help. In some cases, they may have stopped doing the things they enjoy most because you don't enjoy doing these things. After you've thought of an interest they've put on the back burner, ask them if they'd like to do it again and encourage them to revisit that past pleasure. As you give them some breathing room, it can be an excellent time to focus on your own interests and self-discovery as well.
9. Limit the time you spend calling and texting
Smartphones and messaging provide many opportunities to connect with your loved ones throughout the day. However, constant texting, calling, and social media might intrude on their time and thoughts when they need space or might make them feel agitated. So, before you pick up that phone, consider how often you've called or texted lately. If you realize you've been too quick to contact that person, perhaps backing off and giving them space might help them feel safer.
10. Do something you enjoy on your own
Sometimes, people neglect their interests because they're involved with their relationships or friendships. You might think of something you used to enjoy and take some time for it again. Doing your own thing opens up space for them to enjoy time on their own, too.
11. Spend time with other loved ones
Spending more time with the other loved ones in your life may help you address your feelings and feel less lonely when they're away. Remember, you can spend your free time in a variety of ways. And when you're occupied, it might make it easier for your friend or partner to have the space they need. Focusing on other relationships in your life may be prove to be rewarding in a variety of ways.
12. Get involved in something challenging
Getting involved with something challenging may provide a break from worrying about your relationship with this person. It could be a project at work, a volunteer opportunity, an online course, or reading the classics. Consider picking something you'd love to accomplish and putting time towards it without worrying about what the other person is doing.
13. Let them know you're available and trust them to reach out
Some people might feel crowded if you frequently ask whether they need your help or want to spend time together. While there's nothing wrong with offering your support and letting them know you're there for them, you can trust them to reach out to you after that. It is important to try to let go of the fear of losing your significant other, especially if you feel this negative emotion consistently.
14. Connect before you disconnect
You might find it helpful to spend time together and talk before you give the other person space and spend time apart. If they're willing to, consider asking for a few moments to speak or do something you both enjoy. Then, when they do their own thing, you'll have that pleasant time fresh in your memory while they're away.
Does your relationship need space?
A relationship between two independent people is often stronger and more enduring than one where one partner depends too much on the other's company. You may believe that a relationship cannot be “true love” unless you and your partner want to spend every moment together, but this is not true. Giving your relationship space can be a healthy way to recharge, and spending time apart can give your relationship a chance to grow and develop.
Why it's healthy to think about giving your loved one space
Giving your loved one space is showing respect in a relationship. Knowing how to give a little space in a relationship can be challenging. You might feel worried that too much space will drive the two of you apart. Many people fear providing space in their relationships because they think it means things are going badly. But a healthy relationship can improve when each person is on the same page and has the opportunity to pursue their passions and develop as an individual.
When you don't give another person space, you might create a distressing situation for yourself or your loved one. Instead of taking care of your emotional needs, you might be waiting for them to do it for you. And sometimes, that might not happen.
This might leave you feeling upset and neglected when you could have taken care of your needs in another way. For example, one research study showed that people with "clingy" attachment styles were more stressed and lonelier* than those with secure attachment styles.
*Please note that this study was published in 2002. Mental health research is continuously evolving, and older sources may contain information or theories that have been reevaluated since their original publication date.
Mental health concerns and attachment: How much is too much space?
In some cases, there might be underlying reasons if you find it hard to give your partner space. For example, researchers found that people with dependent personalities often seek care compulsively from people with whom they form attachments. Other factors that might lead you to avoid giving emotional space include dating someone with depression and anxiety.
If you're struggling with giving your relationship space, consider seeking professional medical advice from your primary care provider or speaking with a therapist for an outside perspective. In-person and online counseling can help you explore why you might have difficulty providing space in your relationships. And online therapy is as effective as face-to-face sessions for issues like depression and anxiety.
Online therapy may also make it more convenient and discreet for you to work on yourself, as you can have your sessions in the comfort of your home. And as an added benefit, it can give you something to do when you're not spending time with your loved one, which may be a healthy first step towards space in your relationship.
Below, you'll find reviews for BetterHelp counselors from those who have had similar experiences.
“Nicole has helped me thus far to build a toolbox of skills to work through my relationship. She always listens without judgment and is very helpful and offers things to think about. I always leave my sessions with her feeling positive.”
"Wonderful, insightful, delightful! Kelly has been a great help in solving my mental health issues. She was very easy to talk to, she listened effectively and asked some very thought-provoking questions, which helped me challenge my negative thinking. Also, she has given me practical advice which I have applied to my life, with much success, and plan to use the techniques in the future. I highly recommend Kelly if you need someone to help you through those dark times."
Are you worried, stressed, or sad about giving your relationship space? Speaking with a mental health professional might help you assess your situation and learn how to build better relationships with loved ones and respect their personal space. And for romantic partners who have asked for space, online couples therapy is proven to help improve relationships for both distressed and satisfied couples.
With BetterHelp, we'll match you with a licensed therapist or relationship counselor based on your needs and preferences. You can schedule appointments on your time and meet via phone, video, or in-app messaging. And if something happens in your life or relationships, you can message your therapist about it via in-app messaging right away, and they will respond as soon as they can.
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