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Why she won't give you space
And what to do about it
Last week, I published the first article in a series called Relationship Myths Busted: Increase the Depth of Your Intimacy and Improve Your Sex Life. In that article, I stated that every successful relationship has one person who’s more I-centered, and one who’s more We-centered. In that post, we focused a lot on why it’s OK to need space.
Today’s post is specifically for the I-person to understand what might be in the We-person’s head a bit more clearly—to understand your partner’s thought patterns, so that you can talk about them directly.
This article is written with my (70% male) readers in mind. Men tend to be the more I-centered person more often. However, I also know plenty of women who are more I-centered and I hope some of them see this message too.
Better at taking care of his or her personal needs
More connected to his or her innate desires
More likely to crave and require more space in life and in conflict (more often)
Comes across as selfish sometimes
More aware of and better at taking care of the needs of the relationship
More willing to do what the other wants to do
More likely to crave and require closeness in life and physical touch in conflict
Comes across as needy sometimes
Men, there are a few reasons why she might push back against your need for space, without meaning you any harm.
Fear of disconnection
Concern about other people’s perception
Space places a burden on her
Her need for connection isn’t being met
Fear of disconnection
The We-person fears losing their lover's attention—to another partner, maybe, but sometimes even to friends.
She fears that your taking space will lead to your relationship deteriorating. She is also afraid of feeling the pain of missing you.
A year after we met, my best friend Bryce got high altitude sickness in Peru and was put in a medically induced coma. We thought he might die, so I flew his mom out to meet his dad and sister there. I was with them for 3 weeks.
Adee called me halfway through and said she was the most depressed she’d ever been in her life. She didn’t know how she could get through it. It was genuinely excruciating for her to be apart from me for that long. This is the pain that some are trying to avoid by denying their partner space. (Side note: I ended up group texting her + a guy we knew in Santa Cruz, saying “Adee is alone for the next week and really wants to come over for dinner with you and your wife.” That way Adee would have to make friends. She cringed at the time, but they’re some of our best friends today). With time, Adee developed not only new friendships, but also interests and passions that she’s now obsessed with. Now she values having some alone time occasionally. :)
What the We-person often misunderstands is that giving the I-person space has the potential to lead to a deeper connection than would be possible otherwise. It increases gratitude (e.g. missing each other), increases sexual polarity, and leaves the I-person loving life more, and giving the We-person some credit for it.
The We-person also worries what the I-person’s desire for space means for the state of their relationship. Common thoughts include, “If he really loved me, he wouldn’t want to be away from me” and “does he not like hanging out with me?”
If she knew that this might actually lead to a stronger and more exciting relationship, she might feel differently.
Concern about other people’s perception
She worries about what it looks like to other people.
Because our society tends to look at distance as evidence that something’s wrong, the We-person might fear other people’s judgment.
Here’s an example that seems extreme now: for over 100 years, it was commonplace for people to sleep in separate beds. And before that, people were sleeping on cots made out of straw or something, so everyone was presumably sleeping separately.
“... for almost a century between the 1850s and 1950s, separate beds were seen as a healthier, more modern option for couples than the double, with Victorian doctors warning that sharing a bed would allow the weaker sleeper to drain the vitality of the stronger.”
Then, someone got the idea that sleeping separately necessarily meant that the relationship was on the rocks and the physical distance was a reflection of emotional distance. Fair, I guess. So twin beds fell out of fashion, and back came the worst bed of all—the full bed. “Full” should really mean a bed that one can FULLY stretch out in, but it’s more commonly used to pack two grown adults on, causing both to have 30+% of their body hanging off. Or, on occasion, there’s one bed hog, like my wife, and then 50+% of MY body is hanging off.
Physical sleeping distance sometimes reflects conflict, but not always. Assuming this is true of every couple that wants to sleep apart is like assuming every person who doesn’t talk to you must hate you.
I know plenty of couples who have remarkable, long-term relationships, while choosing to sleep in entirely separate rooms. They love each other dearly. And they love their sleep. Regularly one sneaks over to the other’s room at night just to “get some.” Hot.
We want people to think we’re successful at everything we do, and that we have our shit figured out (or, at least, most people do—some take the opposite approach of always being a victim).
“What if my friends think we’re struggling because he wants to go away to Peru for two weeks without me?” the We-person worries.
They forget that most people (a) are way too busy thinking about themselves to obsess over the choices you make, and (b) in uninspiring relationships that you wouldn’t want to model anyway.
Everyone needs “time together AND time apart” and it doesn’t always match the social formula.
Space places a burden on the We-person
One of the gifts of a typical We-person is that he or she consistently puts the needs of the group first. This can also be a detriment to them, though, as they don’t build or maintain the muscle of checking in with themselves to ask, “What do I really want right now? What do I want to do?”
My wife says that in the past she felt resentful when I would go away, because then she would have to decide what she wanted to do with her free time.
A friend of mine who is the We-person in her relationship said she used to really struggle being alone and tended to “fill” space whenever her husband wasn’t around with friends, family, work, etc. Now she enjoys time alone a lot more, and she experiences it as a positive thing for her and for her relationship. She loves cooking for herself, reading, taking a sauna, a bath, doing her design projects, etc. She realized that she enjoys doing these things by herself just as much as she does with someone else. Now spending time apart means they get to miss each other, appreciate each other more, and feel excitement over coming back together.
The We-person’s connection needs aren’t met
When the We-person feels like their needs for attention aren’t met, it feels counterintuitive to give the I-person more space to solve this problem.
"Why would I encourage him to go and recharge and explore when he doesn't give me what I need in the first place?"
This is probably the most common and most important disconnect. It’s a vicious cycle; the reason the We-person’s needs aren’t being met is precisely because the I-person doesn’t realize that the We-time isn’t just for her. It's for him too.
Instead of proactively carving out time to connect with her, men wait until their woman complains that he’s not spending enough time with her.
Instead of courting her, playing with her, and creatively curating experiences for the two of them, he takes her for granted and does the same boring shit with her over and over again.
Instead of looking her in the eyes, listening to how her day was, or being excited with her about whatever she’s excited about, he is distracted, thinking about work, watching reels.
Going on 8 years into my relationship with Adee, there are moments when I feel only the faintest whisper of the love and connection I’ve felt at our peak. Then there are other times when I am fully present to how extraordinary I find her, when I am full of gratitude, and deeply, deeply in love with her. In that state of deep love, my life is exponentially better. My love for her radiates out to my life and sometimes the entire world.
My level of presence with her is a fractal of my level of presence in every other area of life. Her sensitivity to how connected she feels to me (which has a lot to do with how present I am with her) is an enormous gift to my life.
Understanding why she resists giving you space (and why you might feel guilty for taking it) is a crucial step in both of you getting more of your needs met. It can lead to you being more compassionate towards her fears, more attentive to her concerns, and more generous with your time and energy.