How to ask for and use space
Conflict and tough times are inevitable parts of relationships and life. Right now is not always the best time to address these issues. In fact, right now might be the worst time to address them.
In the heat of the moment, we may not have a handle on our emotions, and we may respond out of anger, frustration, anxiety, or sadness. This can often lead to a fight.
There are many reasons why someone might need space; for example, they have an avoidant attachment style, or they are introverted and need to recharge.
There are five steps to asking for space
The first step is identifying the need for space. When we are feeling overwhelmed, we might experience physical, emotional, or cognitive indicators. Try the body scan: What is your body telling you?
The next step in asking for space is communicating the need. Make sure to do it calmly, be specific, and provide reassurance. When we storm out, shut down, or withdraw, the other person(s) might feel abandoned. For example: “I love you, and I want to continue this conversation, but I need some space.”
Step three is to make it about yourself. When we make it about the other person, it can come off as criticism, which leads to defensiveness and fights. Don’t: “I need space from you because you are getting angry.” Do: “I need space because I am feeling flooded and need to process my emotions.”
Step four is to set a time limit. It can be hard to gauge how much space you will need, but to the best of your ability, try to communicate how much space you will need. Clarify that you will be the one to re-initiate the conversation. This way, the other person(s) does not have to worry about re-initiating. It’s okay if you are not ready to have the conversation when the time comes. For example: “Is it okay if we reconnect after dinner? I will let you know when I am ready to talk.”
Step five is to actually take space. Give yourself what you need:
- If you are tired, sleep.
- If you are emotionally dysregulated, try distress tolerance, practice mindfulness, or self-soothing.
- If you are angry, anxious, or sad, reflect on your emotions through introspection or journaling.
Do not do things that will only make your symptoms worse, such as ruminating, substance use, or venting.
Finally, step six is to reconnect. When you have taken space, follow through and return to the person at the time you set, thank them for the space, and ask to check-in. When we do not follow through with space, it makes the other person feel betrayed, lied to, or abandoned, which will only exacerbate the conflict!
Try: “Hey, thanks for giving me space….”
- “I am wondering if now is a good time for you to reconnect on our conversation.”
- or, “I know I said I would be ready after dinner, but I am still feeling overwhelmed. Can we try again tomorrow?”
Taking space can be a very useful tool during conflict or stressful events, but it’s important to communicate and use space well.
- Identify the need for space
- Communicate the need for space clearly
- Focus on your emotions and make it about your need
- Set a time and limit to the space
- Take the space and avoid behaviors that might exacerbate symptoms
- Reconnect with the person(s)
It can be hard to communicate space, but it does get easier with practice.
While our physical offices are located in South Loop and Lakeview neighborhoods in Chicago, Illinois for in-person sessions, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more.