Although it may seem counterintuitive, romantic relationships are all about intimacy and closeness. But what they really need to thrive is space. Either one of the partners feels suffocated, controlled or dominated in happy, romantic relationships. This topic is discussed extensively by Esther Perel (a Belgian psychotherapist) in Ted Talks as well as her book. Mating in Captivity.
She discovered that humans need safety, predictability, security, and safety. On the other hand, they need adventure and novelty. In other words, people need space to be their true selves and space to be apart. Space is important for sex to be enjoyable and respectful. 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 Six Simple Steps to Finding Love Again: 6 Steps to a Happy and New 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. This was 31% more than the 26% of husbands. 11.5% of those who were unhappy in marriage said it was due to lack of privacy or time, compared to 6% who said it was because of their sex lives.
Space simply means that each person can be themselves.
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. Acceptance of the fact that life has a death/rebirth cycle is normal is appropriate.
There are many creative ways you can create space in your romantic relationships. Before we get into that, I’ll explain Why?You may be open to the idea of 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. However, it does mean that you have your interests to pursue and that you value yourself individually as well as the relationship.
You are still your own person and it’s important to remember that when in relationship. You can take space by watching different Netflix shows, or simply going for a walk on your own. Space is about allowing space for you to be yourself, with your own interests and lives. Do you do all things 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.
Sometimes, being around other people allows us to show different parts of our self. We shine differently around different people. If you are always with your partner, it’s easier to get lost in that togetherness and forget who you are. You may not want all your friends to be friends only with your partner.
Why you should have 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. It is very intimate to share your dreams!
- 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.”
- Separate sleeping can increase the intention to have sex. Sleeping separately can help to create a more open discussion about sex. 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 be a great thing 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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