What “I Need Space” Really Means

I need space

“I need space.”

Whether you have been on the receiving end of these words or you have uttered them to your partner, they are three of the most uncomfortable words in a relationship. They are loaded words, filled to the brim with uncertainty and fear. They may signal a time of transition and renewal or they may be the death knell of the relationship.

The words themselves are simple. Three short syllables.

The feelings and motivations behind them are complex. Multifaceted.

And often left undefined and unspoken.


I want out and I’m too scared to say it.

This is the response that the recipient of these words often fears and sometimes it’s accurate. A request for space can mean that the person is already done but instead of giving a clear, “No,” they are clouding the issue with a muddy, “Maybe.”

I feel like I’m losing myself and I need to take a step back to define myself again.

When couples are together for an extended time, the lines delineating one from another can blur. A request for space can be a sign that interdependence has slid into dependence and one partner is seeking more independence.

I want to be able to have some parts of my life that are separate from you.

Sometimes this is motivated by a desire to hide things from a partner that they would disapprove of (affair, addictions, porn, etc.) and other times it is simply a need to have some areas of life where the partner doesn’t have influence. Not telling your spouse everything is fine. But not if it’s something you are actively hiding.

I’m overwhelmed and I need room to breath.

This overwhelm can come from anywhere – work, school, kids. Some people require more alone time than others, especially when life’s demands become too much. This is a plea for quiet.

I am feeling panic about increasing intimacy and vulnerability and I need space to acclimate.

I often describe increasing intimacy in a relationship like coming up from a deep dive. You have to pause and acclimate occasionally. If you climb too far, too fast, it will make you feel unstable. This is one of the 7 reasons that people may withdraw in a relationship.

I need to direct my energy to other things for a time.

Maybe it’s an ailing family member or a huge project at work. When something is pulling all of our energy, any additional requests for attention can be too much. A relationship can survive attentions that are directed elsewhere for a time. But it cannot last forever.

I feel like you’re making me responsible for your happiness and it doesn’t feel good.

Repeat after me, “It is not my partner’s job to make me happy.” And if you try to make it their job, don’t be surprised if they decide to quit.

I’m reminiscing about a more free period in my life and I’m trying to decide if commitment really is for me.

Ahh…the hallmark of the so-called midlife crisis. We look upon our youth with rose-colored glasses. And sometimes, we try to return.

I’m trying on the idea of life without you to see if fits.

This is the spouse that hasn’t shut the door on the relationship but they are not convinced of its viability either. This is the partner that wants the security of home base and a little space to wander outside its fences before making a choice.


If you’re the one asking for space, be aware that the mere suggestion of these words may incite panic in your partner, causing them to grasp you ever-tighter, thus creating the opposite of the space you requested. Be honest and forthright in your underlying motivations. Be as comforting as you can. If you are not contemplating leaving, reassure your partner of that. If you already have one foot out the door, do not give your spouse false hope.

Being on the receiving end of, “I need space” is a scary world, a land in limbo where you watch and wait from afar. It’s easy to see this declaration as the first step off a cliff and respond by gripping with every fiber of your being. Easy, but also counter-productive. Your partner isn’t saying they need to know you want them. They’re saying they need you to loosen that grip and let them fall or fly on their own.

Also, understand that sometimes the words have nothing at all to do with you and with the relationship. Be open to idea that the pressure may arise from an external source or from prior history. Ask questions to see if you can get to the root cause and be patient as your partner tries to sort it out.

If you find yourself in this place, turn your attention to your own well-being apart from your partner. You cannot control his or her actions and decisions, but you also don’t have to stand idly by as you wait for information. Invest in yourself; it pays dividends.

“I need space” is a landing between floors. It is a brief period of stasis before you either climb to another level or exit the stairwell of the relationship.

It’s a time to catch your breath.

To see your journey clearly.

And decide which direction you will go.

Thank you for sharing!

8 thoughts on “What “I Need Space” Really Means

  1. yup that’s pretty much it. When someone says, “I need space”, the end part is “without you in it.” That’s more than a red flag. It’s a sea of red flags

  2. That being said, sometimes relationships and people CAN be a bit intrusive and stifling. And people are all different in terms of their need of personal space — whether it be of physical space, or of thought, or of activity. Everyone is different. I know I need some. I couldn’t deal with it if my spouse was constantly in my ear and my personal space, and always wanting to know everything I was doing every minute of the day. It simply wouldn’t work for me. So sometimes people CAN be pleading with you to “back off” them a bit, whatever that might mean to them. We are all different. but most of the time when things are really tight and amazing, and then someone pulls back and says “I need space”, it’s a huge red flag.

  3. And probably most of the time there is someone or something that is directing them away from the marriage. And probably it’s not anything the spouse has done but more an internal struggle within the person that is saying those words. Chances are they think that life will some how be better away from their spouse..like the grass may be greener…. Try starting every day with a grateful heart and with the motto … What can I do for you today? … Happiness is about thankfulness and giving to others.

  4. Christine Amoroso – California transplant in Italy – I am a sister, mother, nonna and loyal friend. I am most proud of these relationships. They are my greatest accomplishment. In 2017 I took a leave from a 20 year career in education, the last 14 years as a school administrator. I sold everything I owned and moved to Italy to write and have a little adventure. I returned a year later with the manuscript for my first book, Bare Naked in Pubic, to be published by Top Reads Publishing in April 2024. I love writing. It has helped me organize my thoughts and work through some pretty tough life lessons. It was writing that gave me the courage to change my life for the better. I encourage everyone to tell and share their stories. It's the only way we can find our way back to each other. Thanks for stopping by :-)
    Bare Naked in Public says:

    Ugh. Painful words. First hand experience. For me those words always marked the end. I remind myself . . . I am better than being with someone who doesn’t want me. That’s hard.

  5. Another winner article! Very thorough in looking at all angles of those difficult words to hear. So much of that was present recently in my spouse who seemed to get lost and influenced by all the wrong people at her work. Sadly enough, I knew she was in conflict inside, but after a year of being gone (some say I was too lenient to be patient for so long) I finally had to move on without her and file for divorce. Luckily I took the advice of a counselor and a pastor to use that time to work on myself and my faith and boy it made things so much easier coming out on the other end of this failed marriage. It really is great advice given by Lisa to work on yourself and find your own center during this difficult time. I heard my pastor recently say that you take care of what is most important in your life, whether that be your faith, your family or other things like friends/freedom etc. It became evident to me what was important to her which made my decision clearer. You just can’t change people if they don’t want to or they don’t see the need to change (or are selfishly acting and don’t care if it hurts you) and the tighter the grip (which seems natural) to try and save your marriage the farther they will run, I had to learn this the hard way. However, even when you tighten the grip they may still decide to stay away and in that case, that person wasn’t committed and would have broken your heart in the future thus losing more time to yourself in a failed relationship, don’t settle for less in life or love. Everyone deserves to be happy, it’s just not where we thought it would be. Some people just don’t value “for better or worse” anymore, commitment and loyalty is so hard to find and should never be taken for granted or pushed away. You’re the best Lisa!!! TTFN, Neil

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