While spending time together is good for strengthening a relationship, partners giving each other personal space is equally important.
Giving personal space to a person does not mean rejecting them to loneliness. Rather, it is building a mutually agreed-upon social boundary.
Invading someone else’s personal space is downright rude, if not also creepy. While in public, getting too close to a stranger may quickly land you in trouble.
So, how do we maintain personal space without feeling abandoned or appearing to be a threat? But first, you must understand why it is important.
Defining Personal Space
We could say that personal space is the “physical area” around a person that they believe to have “psychological ownership” of.
Wikipedia defines personal space as the area around a person that they consider to be psychologically theirs.
Personal space boundaries have been defined as the metaphorical boundary between a person and their environment at the point when the person ends and the external environment begins. (Personal Space Boundary theory, Scott, 1993)
Most of us value our personal space and need it even in our closest relationships.
We get irritated, upset, or anxious when the other person violates it without permission (something that narcissists tend to do). So, how do we set it up and maintain it?
How To Keep Personal Space In Relationships
We all need some personal space in our relationships, to thrive as individuals as well as to recharge our emotional reserves to contribute to a healthy relationship.
Here are some effective ways to maintain personal space in relationships:
1. Have A Support System Outside Your Relationship.
Our society’s prevalent gender bias suggests that even after making it plain, women find it difficult to get men to respect their personal space in a relationship.
The following finding reflects our current, albeit sad, state of women’s expressiveness:
Women who were more expressive of their thoughts were considered more aggressive and disruptive by their peers. Sharing of thoughts and feelings is perceived as aggressive in women, but it is not perceived as such in men. Perhaps this indicates a gender bias in adolescents within the Western culture (Anne Stiles, Sam Houston State University, 2018).
So, women in relationships have a greater need to have a support system outside the relationship for strengthening their need for personal space.
Let your partner not be your only social contact.
Maintain healthy relationships with your friends and family too. Reach out to them and nurture your relations with them separately from your romantic relationship.
That way, you also ensure that you do not smother your partner with too much presence.
2. Create Time Boundaries To Be In Your Personal Space.
While spending time with your partner is essential for strengthening your bond, spending time alone is crucial for rejuvenating your mind and giving you a sense of fulfillment in life.
Make time for self-care.
Indulge in personal comfort activities for your well-being.
Read a book, watch a movie, or spend a pleasant day at the spa. Go on a walking trip around some unexplored part of your city.
Stay in your personal comfort zone as long as you feel necessary.
On the flip side, always respect the other partner’s time boundaries, if you want them to respect yours.
Don’t be offended if someone close to you tells you that he or she needs to spend time away from you doing things they love to do. It’s not all about you.
When the other person wants time boundaries, it does not imply that you are unimportant. It simply means that your loved one must be themselves to be truly happy and full of verve
For mutual peace and respect, we must preserve personal space in each of our interactions, no matter how close the relationship.
3. Set Flexible Boundaries In Your Relationships.
Relationships must have flexible boundaries.
A flexible boundary is appropriately open to some and closed to others, and is the healthiest type of boundary (Scott, 1988, 1993; Scott & Dumas).
If people open their boundaries unconditionally, their peers may reject them. It can make them see your diffuse friendliness as a sign that you cannot be trusted with the secrets of friendship.
To maintain a respectful and thriving personal space, every healthy relationship should set these six boundaries between the partners:
- Growth Boundary
- Financial Boundary
- Emotional Boundary
- Mental Boundary
- Digital Boundary
- Physical Boundary
Setting boundaries boils down to this: healthy, respectful, and timely communication. Tell your partner what you like or dislike, including your preferred personal distance zones.
When you set up healthy boundaries, both you and your partner will automatically know when to let each other be in your personal space.
All of us live in a castle. Around the castle, there is a moat, and over the moat there is a drawbridge which we can lower open or raise shut, depending upon our will. (Peck, 1997)
4. Creative Role-Play In Setting Up Personal Space.
An effective way to set up personal space is role-playing.
Role-playing can help partners practice becoming sensitive to each other’s boundaries as well as identifying their discomfort when their boundaries are violated.
Role-playing can help you gain thoughtful awareness of your partner’s needs for privacy and secrecy. It also trains you both to control your behavior in healthy ways.
When you live together in a tiny space, it can be tough to create a lot of physical distance between you.
Try small acts of enjoying your personal space.
Find small ways to relish in your individuality, like putting on headphones or running errands by yourself.
Sometimes, setting individual space to engage in your favorite hobbies or relaxing by yourself gives you a healthy mental state. The idea is to make it more likely to cohabit peacefully with each other.
Try a different activity all by yourself, such as locking yourself away in your garage to finish a painting while your partner is doing something else.
5. Communicate Openly And Honestly With Your Partner.
You cannot impose a one-sided personal space on your relationship.
They won’t know what your intentions are unless you tell them. Communicate clearly in advance to avoid misunderstandings when setting up personal space boundaries (PSB).
Make sure to tell your partner why, when, and how you need time apart.
Do you really have to have that solo-trip to Hanoi? Explain why a trip to another state in your country is not good enough.
If you find it hard to speak out your reasons in an organized way, then write them down first.
Do they suspect you will cheat on them during your personal vacation?
Being open and honest with each other allows you to express your deepest concerns to each other.
Discussing the details of your need for personal space makes them understand your motivations.
They realize you’re doing it for the sake of your partnership and to recharge your batteries, not because you don’t value their company.
They may be co-dependent or “clingy” people who need frequent assurance that you are around.
Allow them to check on you without disturbing you. It will help dispel their doubts about your love and commitment.
Why It Is Important To Have Personal Space In Relationships
Smothering your loved ones with your presence and invading their personal space is never a nice way to show your affection.
Invading and lurking in the personal space of a new romantic partner or a close relationship is a potential recipe for a breakup. The same applies to them as well.
On the flip side, letting each other spend some quiet time apart is an excellent way to allow self-care and maintain a healthy relationship.
In fact, giving personal space is as essential in relationships as forgiveness and empathy.
There is also some evidence that spending too much time together can become toxic and suffocating.
Having an inviolable personal space is also vital for reducing conflicts in relationships. It helps improve the mental health of the partners since they use their time apart for personal comfort and self-care.
If your partner asks for some time off, try to get them to clarify the following points:
1. Why Do They Need Personal Space?
Talk to your partner and ask them why they need the space.
Don’t be defensive or judgmental towards them – remember that personal space is a normal and reasonable request to ask for. Your partner may be going through something at work or in their personal lives that is having a negative impact on their mental health.
Whatever the situation, the best thing for you to do is to be a supportive partner to them.
2. How Much Space Is Enough For Them?
Get them to reveal how much space they need to rejuvenate their minds.
Anything reasonable, like spending time alone in a personal comfort zone, going to the gym, or engaging in hobbies, is perfectly acceptable.
However, requests for a long time apart, especially for married couples and those with small children, is a red flag that needs deeper investigation.
3. Will They Allow You To Check Up On Them?
Ask your partner if you are allowed to check up on them from time to time.
If they decide that having personal space means spending time absolutely apart, ask your partner how you might keep in touch without becoming too suffocating.
Let your partner know that, while it is important to spend time apart, you also have physical and emotional needs that they should address.
Insist that you must be able to check in on them at specified times for your mental peace.
4. What Does It Mean For Your Relationship?
Most requests for personal space are totally normal, but they majorly apply to trustworthy individuals.
If your partner has a history of cheating, lying, and being non-committal to the relationship, then asking for space should get you suspicious.
Conversely, partners in a healthy relationship who trust each other will not think twice about granting their significant other personal space and time.
“We need to talk” and “I need my personal space” are phrases that can send chills down the spines of partners in a relationship.
Sadly, some people do not value other people’s personal space. They completely steamroll over their partner’s feelings and keep a foot permanently in their personal space, implying that they do not respect their boundaries.
Personal space is very important to maintain a healthy relationship with you and your partner. You don’t need to be around each other or do things together all the time.
Prioritizing spending quiet time away from each other is a good way to a mental health break.
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Author Bios: Rebecca Shinn is a freelance writer, and relationship expert with a psychology degree, wrote an earlier version of this article. Reviewed by Dr. Sandip Roy. His expertise is in mental well-being, positive psychology, narcissism, and Stoic philosophy.
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