It may seem counterintuitive because romantic relationships are about intimacy and closeness, but what they really need to thrive and flourish is space. Happy, romantic relationships need space or one or both partners can feel suffocated, controlled, and dominated. Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel discusses this topic extensively both in Ted Talks and her book Mating in Captivity.
She found on the one hand, humans need security, predictability, and safety. But on the other, they need adventure, novelty, and mystery. In other words, people need space to be themselves and space to be apart. Space is respectful and can keep sex appealing and exciting. In fact, having enough space or privacy is more important for a couple’s happiness than a good sex life, according to Dr Terri Orbuch, a psychologist, research professor at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, and author of Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.
In her long-term study following 373 heterosexual married couples for 25 years, she found 29% of spouses said they do not have enough “privacy or time for self” in their relationship. Wives said this more than husbands (31% versus 26%). And of those who were unhappy in their marriage, 11.5% said the reason was lack of privacy or time for themselves versus 6% who said they were unhappy with their sex lives.
Space simply means allowing each person to be themself
Space can help a relationship withstand the test of time, if that’s what the partners want and desire. However, not all relationships are meant to last “forever.” It’s fine if they expire. The death/rebirth cycle of life is ever present, even in relationships, and accepting the transience of it all is appropriate.
There are some creative ways to create space in your romantic relationship. Before we get into that, I’ll explain why you may consider space in your relationship. It’s important to note that creating and having space is not to be away from your partner, nor does it mean you love them any less. But it does mean you have your own interests to pursue, you are a separate person who chooses daily to be in a relationship, and you value yourself as a person as well as you both together as a couple, simultaneously.
You are still your own person and it’s important to remember that when in relationship. Taking space could be something as simple as watching different Netflix shows or going for a walk alone. Taking space means allowing room for each of you to be separate people with your own interests, lives, and friends. Do you do everything together? Are your partner’s friends your friends? Some overlap is understandable but it’s important that each of you have friends that are just yours. That creates room for unfiltered sharing without worrying what will “get back” to your partner.
Oftentimes being around different people allows for different parts of ourselves to come forth. We shine in different ways around different people. If you are always with your partner, it’s easier to get lost in that togetherness and forget who you are. Also, not all your friends want to also be friends with your partner.
Why you should create sleeping space
- While some people view sleeping in separate beds as a sign the relationship is in trouble, I’m a big proponent of it for couples. Even if it’s just once a week, that separation can do wonders for the connection in the relationship for multiple reasons. One, it creates physical space, a little “vacation” from one another, and provides the opportunity to talk about how you slept and also your dreams. Sharing your dreams is very intimate!
- If you’re disrupting each other’s sleep because one of you has to go to the bathroom at night, and/or the other hogs the covers, the quality of your sleep will be poor and that can lead to crankiness and resentment in the relationship. The thinking goes, “I wouldn’t be so tired if only you didn’t XYZ.”
- Sleeping separately can create more intentionality regarding sex. Instead of a presumption or a constant question about whether sex will happen, sleeping separately can create an open conversation about it. Both partners are carving out space for sex because they’ve talked about it and agreed upon it in advance (or not).
If your relationship feels dull and too filled with the mundane realities of being together, (“What are we having for dinner? Did you empty the dishwasher?”) try adding in space. It could do wonders for your relationship.
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Perel, Esther. “The Secret to Desire in a Long-term Relationship.” TED. February 2013. https://www.ted.com/talks/esther_perel_the_secret_to_desire_in_a_long_term_relationship?language=en
Smith, Sandy. “Forget Sex, The Secret to A Long-Lasting Relationship Is Space.” The Sydney Morning Herald. November 6, 2012. https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/forget-sex-the-secret-to-a-longlasting-relationship-is-space-20121105-28tle.html
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