Let’s face it, sometimes your partner will annoy you.
I used to think conflict with my partner meant our relationship was doomed. I was so terrified of it that I would do everything in my power to either avoid it or make it go away. As a recovering people-pleaser, I used to immediately abandon myself at the mere whisper of conflict. I would agree with, and internalize, whatever criticism my partner made about me without blinking an eye.
We have what The Gottman Institute, an organization centered around research-based approaches to relationships, calls a Pursuer-Distancer pattern. I move towards my partner in conflict and he distances himself. I want things to be resolved quickly and he needs time to think things through. Needless to say, this destructive pattern can blow any conflict out of proportion.
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One of the most important pieces to my empowerment journey is learning how to stand up for myself and ask my partner for space if I’m triggered, instead of shutting down.
Here are five tips to help you feel empowered to ask for space from your partner:
1. Create a “Me Time” Calendar Invite
I used to worry that needing space from my partner was a sign that we weren’t compatible. I am not alone in thinking this. According to Rachel O’Neill, Ph.D. LPCC-S, and Ohio-based Talkspace therapist, “We tend to view space as a negative thing — and so asking for space can seem like you’re asking to break up or like you’re not invested in the relationship.” However, asking for space may be exactly what your relationship needs.
Try this: Create a daily/weekly/monthly recurring calendar invite called “Me Time” to block off regular alone time to rest, recharge, and do whatever you want. You can send this calendar invite to your partner to let them know you will be busy during this time.
2. Find Your Own Hobby
When you love spending time with your partner, it’s easy to want to do everything together. But there’s something special about having a hobby of your own. Whether that’s going to museums, hitting up the rock climbing gym, or taking a coding class, it’s important to learn and grow in your own unique way.
If your lives become too entangled, you may risk feeling resentful towards your partner for always doing everything you do or angry at yourself for neglecting to pursue activities that are important to you. If that’s the case, “It can be helpful to take a step back and focus on your well-being outside of the relationship,” O’Neill said.
Try this: Ask yourself: If I could take any class or learn a new skill tomorrow, what would it be?
3. Practice Beforehand
Setting boundaries does not come easily to me. If I need to bring up something difficult or ask for space from my partner, I will often practice what I want to say ahead of time. I find it helpful to write down my thoughts on paper so I can get all the anger out of my system and approach the conversation from a loving place.
Dr. O’Neill agrees that role-playing the conversation with your partner can be beneficial. “Sometimes, it can be helpful to practice simply expressing the need for a bit of space,” she added. “Also, I like to encourage the individual to practice assertiveness skills.”
Try this: Identify someone in your life like a therapist or close friend you can rehearse what you are going to say to your partner the next time you want to improve your relationship or ask for space.
4. Create a Code Word
Sometimes it’s hard to ask for space in the middle of a heated argument. If my partner or I start feeling triggered, we try to blurt out our code word and interrupt the argument before we say something we’ll both regret. Once the code word has been shared, we know it’s time to stop talking, hold hands, and encourage one of us to go on a walk.
Try this: Chat with your partner and decide on a code word together. Make it fun!
5. Learn From the Pros
While it can feel scary when your relationship hits a bumpy road, we’ve all been in your shoes. Don’t go at it alone! There are a lot of amazing resources, coaches, and licensed therapists out there who can help you navigate these uncharted waters. Facing the discomfort head on can help pave the way for a richer, more loving relationship in the long run.
Try this: Check out these three therapist-approved resources to help strengthen your relationship:
- Book: “I hate you, don’t leave me” by Kreisman and Strauss (good for those who might be in toxic relationships)
- Book: “Codependent no more” by Melody Beattie: (a classic book on boundary setting in relationships)
- Podcast: The LowDown podcast (great topics related to setting boundaries in relationships)
After 10+ years of being with my partner, it’s clear to me that relationships are the ultimate lesson in being human. Showing up, doing our best, falling down, and trying again.
As hard as it is sometimes, don’t forget that things don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful and that we all need space sometimes.