What to Do When Your Partner Says They Need Space

older couple having a conflict

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When your partner announces that they need space, it can set off alarm bells. But it doesn’t mean something is wrong or that they want to break up with you. Being a couple involves balancing together time and alone time. Taking time apart is healthy and can help your relationship thrive.

This article explores reasons your partner might want space, the dos and don’ts suggested for handling this situation, when their desire for space signals a problem, and managing opposite needs regarding closeness and space.

Reasons Your Partner Might Want Space

There are various reasons why your partner could be distancing.

It might very well have nothing to do with you. Let’s say your partner is spending more time with their childhood friends. You might feel you’re being pushed away. Maybe they’re having a problem with their sibling and they want their close friends’ perspective.

If you’ve dated for a short while and things have been heating up fast, your partner could be withdrawing because they’re overwhelmed. They might need a breather to get perspective about what they want. Maybe you’re ready to move in together and they’re not sure they are there yet. Or maybe they just need to get their equilibrium back.

If you sense they’re upset after a fight with you, they could be avoiding further conflict with you. The need to pull away may be driven by their anger, but it could also be due to their desire to cool off. Having space can help people regulate their emotions.

A scientific study looked at the ways solitude impacted self-regulation. Researchers found that individuals benefit positively when they actively choose time alone and it’s used for regulation of emotions, self-reflection, relaxation, or creative pursuits. Evidence also showed people have reduced stress and increased relaxation during these alone periods. That could explain why during relationships, one person might crave space.

How to Handle Your Partner’s Need for Space

It’s normal to feel anxiety or dread after your significant other declares they want more space. And it’s unnerving if your partner hasn’t said anything, but is not around much as of late. Here are suggestions on healthy ways you should and should not handle the situation.

3 Things to Do

  1. Ask yourself: Could there be a logical cause for their behavior? Is your significant other working on a huge project at work? Or have they in the past needed time away like this? Quietly reflect and then come up with alternate scenarios that might explain what’s behind their need for distance.
  2. It’s okay to check in and ask them briefly and directly about the reduced amount of closeness. You might say something like, I know we usually talk every evening after work, but lately you’re watching TV by yourself in the bedroom. Are things okay?” Whatever their answer, actively listen and don’t interrupt.
  3. Soothe and ground yourself if you’re worried. You can connect to the present through deep breathing techniques or tightening and loosening your muscles from head to toe. Another way to self-soothe is to focus on your senses like smelling the garlic as you cook or feeling how soft the pillow or sweater feels.

3 Things NOT to Do      

  1. Because you feel vulnerable, make sure not to obsess and badger your partner. Don’t frantically text or call wanting to discuss the situation and thereby “over-talk” it.
  2. Making accusations or putting them down won’t bring you both together. Your partner might feel attacked and respond by withdrawing further. Another reaction might be to become defensive. In a worse case situation, they might pull away completely and disengage.
  3. It’s best not to rashly decide the relationship is over and walk away. You don’t have enough information to make such a decision.

When Their Desire for Space Signals A Problem

If you’re married with kids and your partner needs space every once in a while, that’s okay. Their way of recharging might be physically distancing themselves by shopping, gardening, meeting a friend for a drink, or working in the yard.

For new relationships, however, a partner’s taking a break could be a red flag. You don’t know each other well and are not in a committed partnership. Their disappearance could signal that the person is bailing. Are they ghosting you, evading you, or being inconsiderate and focused on doing their own thing?

Let’s say you’ve dated exclusively for six months. Suddenly hearing nothing from your significant other for one whole week becomes problematic. Communication in relationships is very important. Their desire for space and lack of discussion about it can easily sever relationships.

As you might guess, couples who spend lots of time together and communicate often feel closer to one another. One study analyzed the association between the time couples spent talking, arguing, and in shared activities with relationship outcomes.

Results showed that couples who spent a larger proportion of their time talking together reported greater satisfaction. They also viewed their relationship as having more positive qualities and experienced greater closeness than the other couples.

Managing Opposite Needs Regarding Closeness and Space

One person in a couple might want more closeness and the other more space at any given time. Having differing needs for space and closeness doesn’t mean you’re a mismatch. Just discuss what you need with your partner and see if there’s a way to compromise so you both get what you want.

For example, on a Saturday morning, you’re tired from a busy week and would rather listen to music than talk to your partner. Your partner looks hurt and rejected. You might reassure them by saying, “I just need space to decompress. How about you give me 20 minutes in bed to play some music and chill? Then, let’s talk downstairs!”

Needing space doesn’t have to cause concern. When couples carve out private time to rest and recharge, they are promoting wellness. Giving each other space can refresh your relationship and make your bond even stronger.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nguyen TT, Ryan RM, Deci EL. Solitude as an Approach to Affective Self-RegulationPers Soc Psychol Bull. 2018;44(1):92-106. doi:10.1177/0146167217733073

  2. Hogan JN, Crenshaw AO, Baucom KJW, Baucom BRW. Time Spent Together in Intimate Relationships: Implications for Relationship Functioning. Contemp Fam Ther. 2021;43(3):226-233. doi:10.1007/s10591-020-09562-6

By Barbara Field
Barbara is a writer and speaker who is passionate about mental health, overall wellness, and women's issues.