Giving space can be unbearable for you, while your spouse gets used to being without you
While absence can make a heart grow fonder, that is only true for a heart that is fond in the first place. If your spouse no longer loves you, is angry, or resentful, or seriously wants a divorce, then giving space will not help you to reconcile. On the contrary, giving space will waste valuable time that you could be using to rebuild your relationship. Giving space will only help your spouse to get used to being without you. And after years of unhappiness, that will probably be a pretty welcome thing.
Some Good Reasons for Giving Space
A good reason to give space in an intact marriage
Sometimes, spouses need to take a time out from each other or let their partner have alone time in order to calm down his or her emotions. Failure to do so increases stress a lot and would lead to damaging the relationship. In this sense, space is a kind of “time out” for the purpose of preserving a good relationship. We don’t want to hurt each other, so we take time to cool off. Or we allow our partner time to cool off. In this situation, both spouses look forward to ending the space and being with each other again.
A good reason to give space during a separation
Giving space can’t be used to build a relationship, but it can be important to do to stop more damage from being done. A therapeutic separation is one where couples agree to live separately while continuing to work on their marriage. Therapeutic separations are necessary when continuing to live together would do more harm than good. That is, if the pace of progress in counseling is not enough to overcome the amount of damage being done at home, then space is necessary to stop the damage. It is important to note in this situation, however, that although the couple are separated, they come together for counseling and also typically have relationship “homework” that they do together during the week. If a couple are not working together in any way, then it can’t be considered a therapeutic separation.
Giving Space When Your Spouse Does Not Want to Reconcile
Why spouses ask for space during a separation
There is one main reason that spouses ask for space after they move out—they are being pressured by the other spouse to reconcile. Typically the decision to move out was made long before the actual move and the separating spouse has no desire to work on the marriage. In fact, he or she is actively working to move on toward a new and better future. If you try, in any way, to get your spouse to reconcile at this time, you will only experience rejection. Not only that, but whenever your spouse receives a phone call or text message from you, it will trigger an automatic “Oh No” response in your spouse, which stresses him or her out. Your spouse will most likely ask for space. But, if you don’t give it, then he or she will stop taking or responding to your messages. No one wants to keep getting stressed out.
Giving space is the lesser of two evils, but it’s still not good
It is far better to give space to your spouse than to be needy, controlling, argumentative, attention seeking, or trying to convince. All of these things further damage your chances of reconciling. A counselor might recommend you to give your spouse space, especially if he or she believes there is no chance for your marriage. That’s because the counselor would be working to ease the stress on both of you by helping both of you to adjust to the loss of the marriage more quickly. This is one reason I recommend people not to go to marriage counseling with their spouse unless both of them want to improve the marriage. Unwilling partners use counseling to “prove” that their marriage won’t work. Either the therapist buys into that or the unwilling partner quits counseling.
Giving space doesn’t help with reconciling
Giving space doesn’t really damage your chance of reconciling; it just doesn’t do anything to build your relationship. In that sense, giving space is neutral. There is absolutely no way to build a relationship without interaction, which is why I don’t coach people who no longer have any contact with their spouse. The only way to build a relationship is by helping your spouse to enjoy talking and being with you. Giving space does not allow for that.
Questions about Giving Space
“I read somewhere that giving space will make my spouse miss me and be open to working on our marriage. Do you agree with that?”
There is only one case in which I think this would work. That’s if your spouse is not really serious about leaving you in the first place. If your spouse is separating as a ploy to get you to change your behavior, then it may work because it will make your spouse’s plan backfire. This case does not hold for people who are serious about leaving. Rather than miss you, they will be relieved and will think of you less and less often as they move on with their life. This gimmicky strategy, of trying to get a spouse to miss you, is still used by many people because it will work for a small percentage of people (the ones who are not serious about ending the marriage).
“Do you have any gimmicky strategies to use instead of giving space?”
No. I don’t believe in gimmicks, tricks, lies, or manipulation. Even when these partially work, they end up doing even more damage to relationships. I work on one thing only—rebuilding genuine love through methods that are genuinely loving. I don’t even believe in giving space if your spouse is using separation as a gimmick, although it might work. Instead, I recommend working on restoring true love, just as I would if your spouse was serious about leaving you. Without a true loving relationship, you would be looking at either an eventual divorce or perpetual unhappiness. As much as I believe in marriage, I don’t believe people should ever be perpetually unhappy. Life is far too short for that.
“My spouse asked me to give him/her space. Shouldn’t I do that?”
If your spouse has asked for space, it is because what you are doing is stressing your spouse out. You are probably being needy, angry, overly solicitous, or trying to convince and persuade. It’s like having a telemarketer continually call you to sell you a product you don’t want. At first you would be annoyed, but then you would get so stressed that you wouldn’t be able to sleep. Anyone would want space in that situation. Every time that telemarketer called you, you would be more angry and more rejecting to convince him or her to leave you alone. What you really need to do is to stop stressing out your spouse with these behaviors.
“If I don’t give space and I don’t try to convince, then what do I do?”
If you want to reconcile your relationship and your spouse doesn’t, the first step is NOT to try to convince your spouse to reconcile. That’s similar to trying to convince a stranger to marry you. The harder you try, the more the stranger would just think something was wrong with you. With this approach, all you will get is rejection. Yet, people do meet strangers and later marry them. How do they do that? One step at a time. The relationship has to be built first. So it is for re-building a relationship. Reconciling, like getting married, is the last of several steps. Your spouse won’t even want to consider reconciling before you work through those steps.