Space Is Good For Your Relationship
Seeking Solitude Has Personal, Relational Benefits
"I just need some space."
Hearing these words from a partner can create anxiety, fear, and a sense of dread.
But according to research, it shouldn’t. Far from signaling doom and gloom, seeking solitude can actually help, not harm, your relationship.
The Sanctity of Solitude
Jerry M. Burger, in, "Individual Differences in Preference for Solitude," notes that for some people, being alone is a desirable, pleasant experience, which does not make them lonely, and may actually be beneficial through stimulating self-reflection.
Many of us can relate to this, either personally or with respect to someone in our family or social circle, who genuinely enjoys their own company.
Being alone, they do not experience solitary confinement, but comfort.
They may, in fact, crave this special time to relax and recharge, after which time they are more receptive and responsive — to you.
Solitude can be calming and helpful to regulate emotion.
Thuy-vy T. Nguyen et al. (2018) examined ways in which solitude impacts affective self-regulation. They began by acknowledging that some prior research demonstrates that solitude can produce positive experiences when people use it for relaxation, privacy, creative pursuits, self-reflection, and regulation of emotions.
In a series of studies of their own, they found that solitude generally deactivates affective experiences, reducing the effects of both positive and negative high-arousal.
They found these effects only occurred when people alone, not with others.
They also found this effect was present whether or not someone was engaging in some type of activity while alone, such as reading.
Perhaps most relevant to relational dynamics, they found that solitude can produce relaxation and reduce stress when people actively chose to spend time alone — which could explain the desire behind the request for "space."
Home Alone: Accommodating Aloneliness
Another reason you should accommodate requests for alone time is that researchers have determined that some people not only crave time alone, but feel anxious when they do not get enough.
Robert J. Coplan et al. in, "Seeking More Solitude" (2019), introduced the concept of aloneliness, described as negative feelings associated with a perception that a person is not spending sufficient time alone.
Exploring its role emotionally, Coplan et al. (ibid.) found that an affinity for aloneness (distinguished from shyness) was associated with wellbeing.
Specifically, they found that aloneliness mediated the negative link between preferring solitude and wellbeing, and the positive link between time alone and depression.
Coplan et al. (supra) found preliminary support for their conceptualization of aloneliness as a "mirror image of loneliness" in that where loneliness can be viewed as social dissatisfaction, aloneliness can be viewed as asocial dissatisfaction.
Accordingly, they found support for their assertion that aloneliness does not depend on actual or ideal amount of alone time, but the "mismatch between these values."
As a practical matter, Coplan et al. (supra) note that when someone feels particularly busy or stressed, this might interfere with the ability to achieve a desired amount of solitude.
This would be especially true for people who enjoy and even prefer spending time alone.
The inability to achieve time alone could in turn enhance feelings of aloneliness, which could lead to negative emotions and further stress — which we can imagine is not beneficial for relational quality or satisfaction.
Permitting a Pathway to Privacy
Apparently, for many people, privacy promotes personal wellness.
Especially when someone seems to be overwhelmed or under stress, their expressed need for space may reflect a desire to rest and recharge.
Quality time alone can produce quality time with you.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, PhD, is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Her over 4,500 media appearances include major news outlets including CNN, Fox News Channel, HLN, FOX Business Network, and weekly appearances on Newsmax. She is author of Red Flags (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House, revision). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin professionally with a rock band. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patrick's Reports — More Here.
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