Dear Doris,

How does one maintain a sense of autonomy, freedom, and space in a long term relationship without causing the partner to feel neglected or disconnected?


Dear B.

This is a very interesting question. Thank you for submitting it. As usual, there are many aspects to it.

A quote by Khalil Gibran comes to my mind: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but do not make a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.”

What Gibran speaks about, I think, is that in a healthy relationship, partners need to be able to pursue their own passions, be they in the form of work, hobbies, friends, etc. Our love always needs to allow for personal space. We don’t want to suffocate each other, nor our love. Desiring personal space doesn’t mean that we are less committed to each other or our partnership.

I think it is important that you allow yourself to fully feel the emotions that come up in you when you feel like you can’t be alone or with friends because you are afraid of the friction this may cause between you and your partner. Examine the impact of these feelings on your partnership and your love for your partner as well. When you have clarity about those two inquiries, I recommend you have a heart to heart conversation with your partner. Share what you discovered. In addition, ask your partner what would help to make him or her feel more connected when you’re not there and see if there is anything else you can do to help your partner feel better. Listen to your partner’s needs and take them as seriously as your own.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much. Taking your time to consciously say good-bye before you leave, sending a text message in between, and consciously reconnecting with your partner when you come back might be all you need to do.

In relationships, we need to be able to negotiate. Maybe when you’re planning your alone time, you also need to plan your couple time together. Encourage and support your partner to also take time alone or with friends..

Be aware that many of us have abandonment issues from childhood and that this may be the underlying cause why your partner has a hard time giving you the space you need. Those issues can get triggered when you leave or want to do something by yourself or with someone else. It might cause your partner to feel insecure and may cause worry about the stability of his/her relationship with you. If your partner’s abandonment issues are severe, he or she may need psychological help to understand and resolve them.

Also be aware that some people avoid any and all conflict. They sometimes express this by leaving or by doing something alone. If you or your partner are conflict avoiders, it is important to learn how to address conflict instead of running away from it.

Allowing for personal space in a relationship, as Khalil Gibran so poetically pointed out, will bring new energy into our partnerships and deepen our love for each other.




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