Space in a Relationship
How much emotional space do you occupy in your relationship? Could the amount of emotional space you and your partner each take up have anything to do with whether your relationship makes it or not? Indeed it does.
Just what do I mean by “emotional space?” It’s the time, energy, and space your partner spends dealing with or listening to your emotions, words, thoughts, wants, needs, etc. When it comes to the emotional space dynamic, there are three types of couples:
Type 1: One person in the relationship takes up most of the emotional space.
In this type of relationship, one partner seems to be super involved, expressing most of everything in the relationship. This person may seem extreme, emotional, needy, intense, and possessive, while the other person may appear to be uninvolved in the relationship, seeming to have hardly any needs at all.
The partner that seems super involved is typically filling up the most emotional space in the relationship, often out of fear that there will not be a relationship if the emotional space is not occupied.
Unfortunately this is a mistake. The emotional life of the relationship needs to be generated by two people as equally as possible. Otherwise, you end up with a lopsided relationship and with both people unhappy. One will be unhappy because he or she is always working on the relationship and the other one will be unhappy because he or she seemingly can’t get a break from the drama.
What’s more, the person who is generating the relationship will eventually get burned out and will need to stop. If the lopsided relationship has been going on for too long, it may simply fall apart.
Help for the “Type 1” relationship
If you are the person taking up most of the emotional space, stop. By taking up most of the space, you prevent your partner from participating in the relationship. Stop taking up the space by shifting your needs outside the relationship (not infidelity). Instead of talking to your partner, talk to your friends or family or to your journal. Instead of asking for many needs to be met, ask for only some to be met, or for none to be met for a period of time.
Create a vacuum so that your partner has something to step into. It will feel strange and uncomfortable, but it is necessary discomfort. If your partner does not participate in the relationship, he or she may look for more connection elsewhere.
Get help in learning how to stop taking up so much emotional space. Hire a good therapist or a relationship coach to work on this. You may also need help as a couple in learning how to share the emotional space and in teaching your partner how to take up more space.
Type 2: Both partners alternate in how much emotional space they occupy, with one person always taking up too much.
This type of relationship is a version of Type 1 above except the couple is more intertwined and involved with each other. This is a positive for the couple.
Yet often when the amount of emotional space partners take up alternates, the amount of drama alternates as well, never subsiding. A couple who frequently deals with drama gets exhausted and burned out and never achieves the closeness and connection they crave.
Help for the “Type 2” relationship
Stop the drama. The key for both of you is to tone down all of your emotions, needs, wants, upsets, etc. The second key is to make sure your partner stays involved at all times. These steps may sound simple, but in fact are difficult to do. Get help from a coach or a therapist on how to stop the drama and balance your relationship.
Type 3: Neither person in the relationship takes up much or any emotional space.
This is a relationship where people reach a particular level and stay there. They may enjoy each other’s company, perhaps see each other on a regular basis, and they may even be intimate.They might have been together for a long time or may even be living together or married. Yet they do not move deeper into each other’s emotional lives.
For some people this type of relationship is more than satisfying, more than enough. For others, this kind of relationship is only a satisfactory prelude to the real depth any couple is capable of reaching together. If you are in this type of relationship and it works for you, great. But, if you are in this type of relationship and you want more, here’s a solution.
Help for the “Type 3” relationship
If you are in a relationship where neither one of you takes up too much emotional space, the two of you will eventually simply drift away. If you want to keep the relationship, it’s time to both invest more and invite your partner to invest more as well.
But be careful not to cross over into a Type 1 relationship and take up all of the emotional space. Do go slowly, perhaps begin by sharing some small part of yourself that you have been holding back. Be a bit more open, and bit more authentic in your responses. Take small emotional risks and see if your partner will follow.
Do be aware that your partner may not want to follow you into deeper emotional waters — some people are highly uncomfortable being close. If this is the case, you will need to choose whether you want to continue the relationship or not. You will need to decide how emotionally close a relationship you ultimately want to have with your life mate.
Type 4: Both people in the relationship take up enough emotional space to feel connected and loved.
Obviously this is what a healthy relationship looks like. One aspect of a healthy relationship is that both people can stay involved emotionally and flow in the amount of space each one takes at any given time. Some periods of time may be predominantly about one person, while most of the time the couple will stay fairly balanced. Neither partner will shut out the other or be too far removed emotionally from the relationship at any given time.
As in all other things, when it comes to relationships, balance seems to be the key. Work on balancing the amount of emotional space you take up in your relationship so that both of you get the room you need to be yourself.
Your Relationship Coach,