“Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.” ~ Heraclitus
There is a natural ebb and flow to relationships. Sometimes you will feel closer to your partner and other times distant. A natural rhythm exists in relationships and the sooner you begin to accept this, the better you’ll cope with distance when it occurs.
Relationships always “feel good” when we are close and connected.
It reinforces are need for comfort, security and validation. In close encounters, our “feel good” hormones (oxytocin) kick in which help us feel happy and satisfied.
But once there is any distance, suddenly we may feel something is wrong – like there is a bear lurking.
Similar to the fight-or-flight response, the stress hormone (cortisol) is released and we are ready to attack or retreat.
Our fear tells that our security has been taken away and that we must take control.
The only problem is, often it is not a bear at all. Maybe it’s just a rabbit, hopping around and sometimes it has gone too far.
Inherent in close relationships is the desire for closeness and distance.
Being able to negotiate this is a challenge for all couples. In a pursuer-distancer relationship (an unhealthy relationship dynamic), one individual is primarily the “pursuer” in the relationship and the other the “distancer.”
The pursuer-distancer dance can wreak havoc on a relationship if the couple doesn’t understand what’s happening or what each individual is trying to avoid and how to correct it.
But, in a healthy relationship both people are coming from a grounded place. Each are being vulnerable and authentic, and allowing intimacy to occur.
If you are struggling with space in your relationship and want to learn how to navigate distance in your relationship, here are specific ways you can allow for this and also have peace of mind.
1. View space as positive
Keep in mind, anytime there is attachment there is a potential for loss. There is no way around this. But focusing on the fear of loss only exacerbates that fear. Instead, begin to view space in your relationship as positive; an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to reconnect, not necessarily to lose. If you can change your mindset, you can open up vastly to your relationship possibilities.
2. Ask for clarification
It is easy to react when you don’t have all the information. Refrain from making assumptions or accusations when there is distance in your relationship. Instead, express how you feel and ask for what you need. If there is something you don’t understand, ask for clarification.
One way to let your partner know how you feel is, “I notice there is distance in our relationship and I’ve been feeling this___.” And, “Is there anything I need to know?”
3. Discuss your differences
Individuals have different “space needs.” Couples will have to regulate their needs for closeness and distance. An introvert will need more space to recharge and reconnect, while an extrovert may need to vent or talk to feel more connected.
Discuss with your partner what your needs are. Respect each other’s needs. Just this conversation alone will help you feel more close.
The immediate sign of distance can trigger fear that something is wrong. The fight-flight response kicks in and interferes with the natural rhythm of the relationship.
In this situation, practice the following steps:
- Recognize when fear is taking over;
- Learn to tolerate discomfort when your partner wants/requests space;
- Practice relaxation techniques (deep breathing, visualization);
- Reassure yourself that there is nothing to be afraid of;
- Ground yourself and practice being in your “center.”
Trust that your partner will reconnect with you. Look at all the times in the past that he has.
5. Let go of expectations
When you get in a routine about what your partner will do or how you will both connect (i.e., weekly date nights, daily phone calls/texts etc.) you get used to how things will be. When the flow changes or is interrupted (often due to the normal course of life), you can hardly cope because you feel something must be wrong.
This is because, how you feel has been continually reinforced by someone else’s behavior; i.e., “I am happy only because he called,” vs. “I am happy.”
Try to appreciate what is happening at the moment, but let go of the expectation that it should happen or you’ll only be happy if it does. Let your partner know that you like it when he calls/texts and connects with you. Reinforce what behavior you like, but don’t hold on to what you expect.
6. Enjoy time for yourself
When your partner needs space or when schedules don’t allow for as much connection, spend time doing something for yourself. Do something you enjoy. Practice solitude. Sit quietly and take in the quiet time. Remember that when you take time to rejuvenate, you’ll be refreshed and more appreciative of the time together.
The challenge in all relationships is how to balance being an individual while being a couple.
Our interdependence requires a delicate balancing act; knowing that we can remain ourselves and walk our path, and trust that our partner is not that far away.