Separation Can Lead to Better Relational HealthDeep intimate relationships require us to merge with another. It’s no easy task and certainly requires a lot of exploration and compromise. The rewards are great, but can also lead us to feeling “lost,” especially if we are prone to being overly accommodating to our partners. In these situations, taking some space can provide a dependent partner with the ability to further explore their own needs and desires without outside influence.
It's called the amygdala hijack: When we are experiencing high emotions, the areas of our brain responsible for thoughtful decision-making don't function as well.
Breaks Can Us Help Heal, TooMany people are afraid to ask their partner for space because they think it would be too hurtful. But, as a therapist, I’ve also seen the opposite happen many times—a couple stays attached at the hip through tough times, continually picking at old wounds and unable to step out of the ongoing war to identify productive paths forward. The ongoing chaos creates more and more resentment, eroding the relationship over time until all that’s left is pain and hurt. None of us wants, or deserves, a relationship that makes us feel that way.
What To Do If You Need SpaceIt’s not easy to be the person who’s asking for space in a relationship. The request will likely cause your partner to have an intensely negative response in the moment. That’s understandable, especially if there’s been no apparent indication to them that you needed some time away. While we like to think our feelings and needs are rather obvious, as a therapist I can tell you that most of us spend a lot of time fighting our own internal demons and miss out on our partner’s emotional experience. None of this means that you’re doing something “wrong.” Relationships are difficult, complex beasts that we (hopefully) wrangle with in good faith.
Take a Gut-Check MomentAsking for space sometimes looks like the result of an argument gone horribly awry, or in a moment of crisis. If the impulse comes up, try to take a pause (whether that be an hour or a day, etc.) to regroup before reconnecting with your partner. When emotions are running high, we don’t often make good choices. It’s not your fault! This is a natural process called the amygdala hijack. When we are experiencing high emotions, the areas of our brain responsible for thoughtful decision-making (the frontal lobe) don't function as well. This is why taking time to “cool off” is so helpful. By doing so, you give your brain time to reset and process information more rationally.
If you’re asking for space, have a solid plan to check in. No one likes to be left hanging.You should also make sure you take time to think through whether you need space to simply reflect or if you’re just avoiding a break-up conversation. The distinction is hard to discern, so you may want to consult with a licensed therapist to help you sort through your thoughts and feelings.