I recently contributed to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Need Space in a Relationship? Just Don’t Say it That Way.
I was talking about how two people are never going to want the same amount of closeness or space all the time. And that applies to dating, too. One person usually needs to take it slower. And the other person usually wants to jump right in. When you understand your different needs, you can get the space and the closeness you really want!
When it comes to personality styles, you’re usually attracted to your opposite. (Kerisey & Bates, 1984). If you’re more introverted, you prefer one-on-one time together. And you need time alone to recharge your batteries. If you’re more extroverted, you prefer big groups and activities with lots of people. And you need time with people to recharge your batteries.
So, an introvert might enjoy an intimate dinner for two, with lots of personal sharing. While an extrovert might enjoy a date to the fair or a concert, with lots of people around and minimal time sharing. An introvert might need more time alone. While, an extrovert might get overwhelmed with too much intense one-on-one sharing. Both need space, but in different ways.
Different Closeness-Distance Styles
Some people build relationships very slowly and are cautious about getting too close, too fast. While others want more closeness and tend to jump into a relationship really fast, right away.
It helps to remember that both people want closeness. But, people who crave closeness usually didn’t get enough closeness growing up. So, they’re afraid they’re gonna lose the relationship. People who need more space often felt hurt growing up. So, they want closeness, they just don’t want to get hurt again. If you can take it slow, you can build up trust that you can both get what you need.
If you had the kind of family where everyone was in everyone else’s business and there wasn’t a lot of personal space, that’s what love feels like to you. If your family emphasized privacy and lots of time and space for yourself, that’s what love feels like to you.
As long as neither family was really extreme, there’s no good or bad. In fact people tend to gravitate towards their opposites in terms of family style.
Tips if You Need More Space:
- Ask for the Space You Need. Otherwise, you’ll just end up running away.
- Be Specific. ie. “I’d love to get together again. But, I need to go slow. How about next week?”
- Don’t Feel Guilty. It’s okay to go at the pace that feels right to you.
- Pay Attention. If they don’t respect your timing or your needs for space, that’s a red flag.
- Don’t Go Too Slow. And don’t take too much space. Otherwise, you can forget the things liked about the other person and lose interest all together. (Shaver, 2008).
- Remember, Opposites Attract. If the other person came from a big noisy family, that’s not a bad thing. In fact, in can be kind of fun at times.
Tips if You Need More Closeness:
- Never Try to Force Closeness. Don’t try to push the other person to go faster than they’re ready for. You’ll just push them further away. But, if you respect their pace and timing, they’ll feel safe and be able to move closer to you.
- Remember, They May Need You More. The person who needs more space may actually need love more. They’re just afraid of getting hurt.
- Don’t Lash Out. If they’re not ready to get serious or make a commitment when you are, lashing out will just confirm their fears that it’s not safe to get too close to you.
- Reach Out to Friends. Or do an extroverted group activity to meet some of your needs for people.
- Pay Attention. If the other person is frequently backing-up or jumping out of the relationship, that’s different. That’s a red flag. But, if they’re slowly moving forward, that’s a good sign that they’re trusting you more and more.
- Remember, Opposites Attract. If the other person needs more privacy, that’s not a bad thing. And you might even find you enjoy a little time and space to yourself every once in a while.
The most important thing to remember is that you can find a way to work out your different needs for space and closeness. You can build trust with each other. And that can be very healing for both of you. If you need more space, you can learn that it’s safe to get closer. And you won’t get hurt. And if you need more closeness, you can learn that the other person may need space at times. But, they’re really not going anywhere.
Keirsey, D. & Bates, M. (1984). Please Understand Me: Character & temperament types. Del Mar, California: Prometheus
Shaver, Phil. (2008, November). Romantic Love, Caregiving and Sex: Implications of attachment research for couple therapy. Keeping Love Alive: Desire, monogamy and the neurobiology of intimate attachments. The Fourth Anatomy of Intimacy Conference. Sponsored by the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UCI, and the Foundation for the Contemporary Family in collaboration with the Lifespan Learning Institute. UC Irvine.