How To Ask For Space In Your Relationship Without Sounding Like A Jerk

How To Ask For Space In Your Relationship Without Sounding Like A Jerk Hero Image
I was having One Of Those Weeks.

My inbox was bubbling over like an erupting volcano ... my to-do list felt long enough to wrap around the earth, seven times over ... my calendar was so tight and compressed, it could turn coal into diamonds ... and I was furious for allowing myself to get so damn busy.

It’s not how I usually roll.

But it happened.

And I was dealing with it, like the imperfect woman I am.

When Friday afternoon rolled around, I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel o’ stress. All I could think about was how GOOD it would feel to finally unplug, unfurl my dusty yoga mat, move my tightly-wound body, have a hot shower, then maybe a stiff drink, crank up The Best of Enya, and then ... indulge in a whole weekend of stillness and silence. Ahhhhh. 

Only one “problem.”

Well, not a problem — a person.

And that person was my sweet, loving boyfriend.

We weren’t technically living together, but he was almost-always at my place.

And despite the fact that our definitions of “clean” and “tidy” varied dramatically, I loved having him around.

He could blast Norwegian death metal music, cook vats of pungent curried lentil soup, leave his hoodie sweatshirts strewn around the couch, and empty the contents of his pockets — scrap paper, coins, receipts and guitar picks — into little piles, on every available surface of my petite studio apartment. 

Normally? No worries. Truly.

99% of the time, I cherished his company. (And his world-class snuggling skills.)

This was the 1% exception.

My heart was craving solitude. Major solitude. And I wanted ask him to spend the weekend at his own place, to give me some space.

But the phrase “I need some space” has always felt awkward and passive aggressive, to me. What kind of space? And why? For long? Are we breaking up? What’s really UP? 

The last thing I wanted to do was make him feel anxious or rejected.

But is there a compassionate way to say, “Dude, can you, like ... GO AWAY for a couple days?”

I couldn’t think of a single word-combination that would feel even remotely kind-hearted.

But then, I heard a long-lost English teacher’s voice echoing in my head.

Show, don’t tell.

The primary rule of good fiction writing — and writing true stories, too.

Instead of telling my boyfriend to do something, what if I used my descriptive storytelling powers to show him how I wanted to feel?

When the right moment came, I told him: 

Hon, I’ve had an insane week. I don’t think I’ve been this fried and exhausted in a very, very long time.

In a perfect world, I’d be waking up tomorrow morning at a Zen meditation center, or a rural cabin in the woods of Vermont, or under a palm tree on a tropical beach with zero humans around for a 20-mile radius. That’s really what I’m craving, right now.

But seeing as it’s already 5pm on Friday evening, that particular fantasy probably isn’t going to come true.

So I’m going to try to create that same “private retreat” feeling, here at my apartment.

And to do that, I want to ask you a favor: can you spend the weekend at your place?

I was profoundly surprised when he smiled and said, “Sure!”

I checked in: “Are you OK? Did what I just asked for upset you? 

He shrugged, “I mean ... I’m a little sad, but only because I love spending time with you. But I get it. Sometimes, I need to be alone, too.”

He spent the night at his place. I spent the night joyfully indulging in all of my favorite lady-pampering-activities. And as it turned out, one night of solo-time was all I needed to regain my sanity. We were right back to world-class snuggling, by Saturday night. 

The moral of the story?

When you need to make a tricky, sensitive request — for space, for a different kind of behavior, for closer attention to detail, for anything that might pierce the other person’s ego — start by painting a picture of how you’d like to feel, in a perfect world. 

Then, invite the other person to co-create that world, with you.

Try this:

Hey. I’m feeling {describe your current emotional state} because {describe what happened to bring you to this point.}

In a perfect world, I’d be {describe the fantasy-world that you’d LOVE to step into, to feel better}. That’s really what I’m craving, right now.

But seeing as {describe fantasy-world-blocking obstacle}, that particular fantasy probably isn’t going to come true.

So I’m going to try to create that same feeling, by {describe what you’re going to do, as a real-world alternative to your fantasy-world}.

And to do that, I want to ask you a favor: can you {insert request here}?
 
Our friends, lovers and partners — they’re not mind-readers. And they’re not magicians.

But with the right kind of invitation, they can make your fantasies come true.

Even if that fantasy involves them ... cheerfully leaving the room. 

Your turn! Have you ever asked for “space” — or been asked by somebody else? How did it go? Any field notes to share?

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

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