The Need for Space in Relationships #MondayMusings


Boy meets girl. They fall in love and get married. Or, maybe two strangers meet for the first time. The families decide. The wedding happens. They leave their separate lives and come to live together. Happily ever after!

The fairytale ends.

And, then, life begins.

So, how easy or happy is ‘happily ever after’?

That is precisely the moment when the challenge begins. Finding that perfect person is the first half of the challenge. But continuing the “happily ever after” is altogether another story. Life is now about keeping it together. This is the moment when you see that fine line appear in your life, almost precarious as a thread— the one that you need to balance, to keep your happy fairy tale from becoming a tragic tale.

For someone who took 8 long years to decide if it was the right guy to settle down with, and who spent the next 21 years trying to figure out a way to balance the personal needs with the marital, all I can say is, relationships can be very confusing. Sometimes it needs a lot of togetherness. At other times, it needs space to grow. Both being equally important.

Have you seen when saplings are planted, we leave adequate space between them to enable them to take a firm root and grow strong? We humans are a bit like that.

Once the saplings grow into trees, their branches often intermingle that gives us shade and beauty, but the roots still need space. So do we.

Knowing when and how to give space is not easy, especially in the early years when a couple come together to share a common life. That is often when they also discover that no two people share the same need for togetherness. Neither do they require the same levels or intensity of intimacy.

Balancing space in a relationship is an art, as fostering intimacy requires both togetherness as well as separateness. If both people do not put in a concerted effort, and try to understand each other’s needs for intimacy and space, one person becomes uncaring or unemotional and the other person becomes needy or clingy in love. From this point on, things often go on a decline.

So, why is it important to give space to each other?

The first reason in learning to step back is therefore to remind ourselves what we stand to lose—our own individuality and our personality.

Because, while we are partners to each other who share a bond and a common life in the eye of the law and society, at large, we are also individuals with distinctive likes and dislikes that define who we really are. This forms the basis of our personality. And, there’s no denying—each one of us is different. Just because we are in a relationship does not mean we cannot be who we are and follow our individual passions or grow as individuals. Rather, we are more likely to bring in a different flavour into our lives when we bring in new and exciting things to share about ourselves which helps keep the relationship fresh even after we’ve been been together for a long time.

In fact, spending time away from our partner can also mean taking time to put ourself first and do things that are just for ourself—choices that will make us feel great about who we are, or even help us be in a better frame of mind to take care of what works best for our common relationship goals.

Whether it’s a conflict or a plan for the future, I often find that spending time alone helps me think more critically about whatever it is my partner and I might be going through. When trouble brewed, there were countless occasions when we both found our inspirations, elsewhere, that we then decided to put into the relationship to make it work. When there were disagreements, we went off our individual ways to regain composure and discuss things over in a better frame of mind, when we were ready. Often, we love to do very different things and enjoy things that are poles apart. Well, that’s okay too. As long as we know we’re still together in this relationship and it matters to us. I like to think it is the space that we give to each other that actually keeps us together.

You know, I tend to think that all of us are a bit like the porcupines in Schopenhauer’s fable—we like to be close enough to obtain warmth and comradeship from each other but far enough away to avoid pricking one another.

Over the years, one of the things that I’ve learnt is this—knowing how and when to give space in a relationship, and yet staying together is nothing short of an art that every couple absolutely must learn. It is a fine balance and it cannot be taught. We need to make our own discoveries and draw our own lines and mark our personal space even in the best of the relationships. All said and done, it is in managing these two that we can find that perfect balance that we’re all seeking in our relationships and in our lives.

Would you agree? What’s your take on this issue? Have you ever felt the need to ask for space in your relationships? 

Linking this post with Corinne for #MondayMusings  


7 thoughts

  1. It’s a utopian situation to have it all fine in a relationship. Yet, to get the best from it it requires time and patience. Space and mutual respect is the key and that’s what is going to get the relationship more years of togetherness.

  2. Ah your post made me think of Kahlil Gibran’s piece on ‘Marriage’. Allow me to quote:
    “But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
    And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

    Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
    Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
    Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
    Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
    Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
    Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. ”

    Having got married when J was 51 and I 41, both for the first time, we definitely need to make sure we gave each other a lot of space. It’s the balance between space and togetherness that we have to work at.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. 12 years with VT have taught me a lot about how space is as critical as closeness. I loved your writing. The porcupine analogy and the way you let this one flow was beautiful.

  4. Happily ever after is only in fairy tales. All relationships need nurturing and as you so rightly put it, you need space to grow and contemplate. Too much togetherness kills individual identity which eventually causes discontent. I firmly believe that couples should pursue different hobbies, go on different holidays even every now and then so that their relationship can last long and thrive.

  5. Oh I totally agree. Every relationship needs space. Not just the romantic ones. Even parents and kids need to give each other space. Friends too can become very cloying when they cling to you all the time.

  6. I love the porcupine parable!
    The image that has worked for me at 28 years of marriage is breathing space. There have been times in the course of our marriage when circumstances and schedules have kept us apart and other times when we’ve been inseparable. The trick is to negotiate the rhythms of that without wishing for a different season.

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