Most people acknowledge that space is a really important piece of the long-term health intimate relationships. Intellectually we get it, I haven’t been to a wedding in the last twenty years where someone didn’t read the Kahlil Gibran poem with the line, “let there be spaces in your togetherness.” But, as much as we explicitly acknowledge the importance of space, very few people actually practice this in their own relationships.

So, what does it actually look like to create space inside our intimate relationships? How can we give (or take) space in a way that creates more connection and intimacy?

Every relationship is unique, and what works for some may not work for you. However, after 15 years of working with thousands of men, women, and couples around deepening their intimate relationships, here are my thoughts (plus a few practical tips that I have seen work hundreds of couples):

There is a beautiful teaching in integral theory that says when we evolve, it is natural to (want to) reject the phase we just came from. In the personal growth world, we’ve had a beautiful evolution as new information has been discovered and developed around intimacy and relationships. It’s an incredible body of work and we’ve made great strides in understanding what creates and supports lasting intimacy.

At the same time, one of the things I’ve seen arise from these newer teachings is a pathologizing of the person who needs more space in a relationship. The one who is taking space is labeled as avoidant, or we say they have a ‘fear of commitment’. This is usually men, and I believe this contributes towards an overall pathologizing of the masculine in all of us, and the pathologizing of men, specifically.

Now I’m not saying that in every situation that’s inaccurate, but I am saying it’s interesting to note that’s the language we use around people who need space.

But moving towards and the moving away can from come from the same anxiety point. I’ve witnessed this in my own self and in many, many, many men and women I’ve worked with — while moving towards, or moving away can look different from the outside, they often come from the same impulse on the inside (one of fear or anxiety – whether it’s a fear of losing oneself or a fear of losing the other – it’s the same fear).

My partner and I have been solidly committed to a path of partnership for several years, and our intimacy continues to deepen. One of the things that’s contributed to our deepening is allowing and honoring his rhythm of coming in close and then moving farther away.

Is this pattern sometimes coming from his childhood wounding?


But is that always such a bad thing?

I don’t think so, necessarily.

Because I’ve watched how there’s a modulation—he comes in close and then realizes that in order to hold the closeness he actually has to take some space. For my own nervous system, it’s actually been extraordinary to experience his returning. If I freaked out and demanded closeness every time he pulled away, I would never have gotten to experience the healing his returning has offered.

Often what happens is that when our partner takes the tiniest movement away, we fear they’ll never come back to us. And, in our demand for closeness, we never give room for their genuine returning.

I know your (nervous system) response is intense. It is in me too. It is possible to allow yourself to feel all that you feel, without making your partner responsible for managing your feelings.

You neither need to squash your feelings nor demand that your partner process about them for hours when they just let you know that what they really need is space.

It is possible to love BOTH of you in these moments. It just takes practice.

Giving your partner what they need is a gift. Remember that, although it can seem like what your partner is asking for is a disconnection, the very act of asking for space, or sharing that need, is in itself an act of connection and reaching towards.

Here are some practical tips for space in relationships:

For the person taking space:
Come forward with your request to your partner and create a container around that request, like, “I need some solo time for a while. I’d love to take about {x amount of time} but I promise I’ll be in touch after that.” Then keep that promise!

It’s part of your responsibility to know when you need space before you get super resentful and to actually nourish yourself when you take space so you can show up more fully for your partner.

Don’t judge your partner for their nervous system response.

For the person receiving space:

Learn to hold energetic space when you’re physically together. This allows the person whose energetic body needs more space to trust that when they come in closer, you can hold your own space.

Think about how good it feels when your partner is the one who gives you their fullest attention, without you having to go get it. Then give them space the way you want to be given closeness – as a gift (and don’t punish them for it on their return).

Don’t judge your partner for their nervous system needs.

Sometimes asking for space doesn’t have anything to do with the other person. Sometimes, we just need space in general, it doesn’t have to be personal. The question both partners need to ask themselves is how can we express and receive space as an act of love and a gift to each other?

For a more detailed exploration of this deep and nuanced topic – as well as to hear a very personal story about how this played out in Kendra’s relationship, watch the video below:


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