Mrudula Joshi, Psychologist, Mpower CellA
Amidst working from home, partners have found themselves spending more time together than ever before and this may not essentially be a good practice. Constant proximity can burden partnerships, leading to stress, and situations where the other person feels he/she is not given enough space to thrive.
Indian culture too, has gained notoriety for being one that has always encouraged other’s involvement in individual activities. Until recent times, space in relationships has often been looked at as a ‘threat’, prompting related responses from the brain. The physical responses to the idea of space usually involve fight, flight, or freeze responses. It simply means that these automatically triggered responses are several physiological changes preparing us either to confront or flee from stressful situations. Physiological changes can range from increased heart rate, light-headedness, dizziness, shortness of breath, shaking, nausea, difficulty in concentrating, rapid/shallow breathing, racing thoughts, tensed muscles. Emotional responses can often include anger, anxiety of hitting the bottom rock of the relationship, grieving by anticipating the loss of the valuable/ significant relationship, feelings of rejection and dejection, being helpless, hopeless, worthless, or experiencing shame and guilt.
Space is not a bad thing
The pandemic situation has emphasized the importance of having individual space in the relationship more than ever before. In the pre-pandemic era, people were physically away from each other for a minimum of two to three hours a day as a result of children going to school, partners going to work, visiting the market, or allowing each other to have his/her alone time. The pandemic situation had forced everyone to be under one roof 24X7 for an uncertain period. The constraints in physical space with work-from-home demands, online schooling, and maintaining social relations online do cause irritation and frustration. This also increases the possibility of people overstepping on personal boundaries of others. What is important to note, is that space in relationships does not always result in drifting two people apart.
Needing space in the relationship is often not planned. Hence, people usually want to figure out “why” space is needed or is required at all so that they can “fix it” immediately and avoid mistakes in the future. Seldom do they realize that they are getting the same space that their partner is asking for, to reflect on their thoughts, their actions, and to cope with the stressful situation.
We need to accept that any relationship is a part of an individual’s life and a stable relationship requires us to find ourselves through the creation of a mindful space. Having uninterrupted time or physical space allows us to maintain that individuality, to reflect on and process our emotions, our thoughts, our strengths and weaknesses, our values, and our needs. That space helps us to define our boundaries clearly and alerts us if we are overstepping on those of others. Having space also reduces the possibility of conflicts in the relationship. To put it simply, it’s a charger to the battery of healthy emotions = healthy relationship.
Communication as a means of creating mindful spaces
Open communication with your partner is the key to creating mindful spaces in your relationship. Discuss with your partner when, how and why you may need intervals of time to yourself. Being honest and upfront about your needs, will help your partner to understand how they can accommodate you. This will serve as a great opportunity for them to communicate the space they also need with you too.
Clearly communicating that you need space does not necessarily mean that you do not like spending time with the other person or that something is “amiss” about your relationship. It is always nice and healthy to recognize and respect that everyone including you or your partner may need space from time to time.
While maintaining space during the pandemic is challenging, one can still prioritize their individual space within their relationships by scheduling time for self-care, setting boundaries and broadening the support system.