Space, in relationships

They say that “distance makes the heart grow fonder”. They also say that “out of sight, out of mind”. So, which one do you believe?

LOL! That’s the thing about these quotations – they go both ways.

They are commitment phobic then?

Um, I don’t think so. I think they just want to teach us that all behaviour is relevant to the specific situation or context, and that the same behaviour may or may not be appropriate in different situations, based on our end objective, and ALSO that the same behaviour could even hold different MEANING in different contexts.

As such, we should exercise careful prudence while choosing what behaviour to adopt at a given moment, and EVEN while trying to INTERPRET someone else’s behaviour!

For instance, SPACE. Or distance in relationships. Why do you think people sometimes seem to pull back, or withdraw, in relationships? They don't interact as much, or maybe not at all even! This "silence" - is it necessarily a cause for concern?

Not always, actually. It’s meaning can, in fact, range from outright toxic to completely harmless, to even thoughtful. Let me show you how…

Distance in Relationships: What Does It Mean?

  1. Overwhelm.

    Sometimes, you may be just plain and simple “too exhausted” to deal with that sh*t then and there. You don’t have the bandwidth. There’s TOO MUCH on your platter already—too many files open in your mind—so that you feel too overwhelmed to take on anything else.

    It’s okay to give yourself some time to recharge and recover your faculties, so that you can come back later and address the situation with all your resources at hand and in top form.

    You may even take a temporary time-out from talking about just that one subject (maybe a topic of disagreement, or maybe a critical decision-making that requires extra alertness on your part), while continuing your interactions about other “lighter” things.

    Such “personal time-outs” are usually short, but can last for several weeks too, depending upon the complexity of the situation you’re in.

  2. De-escalation.

    Sometimes, situations get too “intense” in relationships. Too much of anger, not enough understanding. Too much of meaning-making, not enough listening.

    In the heat of the moment, when you’re too caught up in yourself, it may be difficult to see the larger implications of your words and actions, and how they can affect the other person, especially in front of people who are not even directly involved in the situation (unwitting witnesses to your personal drama).

    In those moments, it is BEST to step away for a bit – go off on your own maybe, cool down, gather your thoughts, look at the situation from a different angle, try to see it from other people’s points of views as well, process things that you might have missed or overlooked while you were “in” the situation – and then come back to start afresh from a calm place once again.

    In healthy relationships, such “thoughtful” distances are usually appreciated and respected. And yes, these are also typically short-duration, lasting from a few hours to a few days at the most.

  3. Self-preservation.

    Sometimes, though, situations with certain people don’t just become intense, they turn into abuse, where every word coming out of your mouth is attacked, or worse – where you find you can’t even get in a word.

    OR, you may find yourself in situations with people where, instead of discussing/addressing your ACTUAL concern, you are suddenly defending yourself against something you NEVER even said or did. That last one—projection and blame shifting (a.k.a. deflection)—is a classic technique of abuse in the form of gaslighting.

    If you suspect you’re being gaslit, then not only does it become vital for you to put some space between yourself and the abuser, it also becomes equally important for you to IMMEDIATELY connect to and surround yourself with your SAFE TRIBE, preferably OUTSIDE of your common circle with the abuser, because gaslighters, on being "stood up to", typically react by socially isolating you and starting a smear campaign against you in shared spaces. They may also "provoke" you into "reacting" in your shared group, to portray YOU as the abuser instead.

  4. Silent Treatment.

    Sometimes, distance is used as a form of discipline or punishment in relationships. This is where it gets very subjective and can even lead to a lot of victim-blaming at times.

    For example, person A was repeatedly disrespecting and overstepping person B’s boundaries, EVEN AFTER BEING ASKED NOT TO. So, B eventually distances himself from A, to let A know that this behaviour is unacceptable. That should be okay, right? Person B is only trying to protect his OWN space. So this is "self-preservation, actually, and not "silent treatment".

    But what if A, instead, cuts-off B, until B apologizes for disturbing the "status quo" in the relationship and agrees to make things exactly as they were (i.e. when A had a free hand to pull all the strings)? THAT, in fact, is "abusive control", irrespective of who is doing it, or how “CLOSE AND OLD” the relationship is.

    When silence is used as a tactic to control the power dynamics of a relationship, and to EFFECTUALLY make one person “subservient” to the other, then it becomes manipulative and unhealthy.

  5. Healing.

    Sometimes though, you don’t just need space from ONE person, or even a specific group of persons. You may, instead, need to take some time out from people in general. You may choose to leave some communication channels open, but basically, you’re in a "limited contact" mode.

    Because you want to protect your other relationships from some “acquired” negativity that you’re in the process of flushing out of your system.

    AND because you want to protect yourself from ending up in yet another toxic/manipulative relationship, in your current state of emotional vulnerability.

    But MOST IMPORTANTLY, because you need that space to heal your mind and emotions. You need that extra ME-TIME, to love and nurture yourself, in as many ways as you need, for as long as you need. You need to give YOURSELF undivided attention, to listen and to validate and to reassure, AND ALSO to celebrate and reward yourself for surviving through the sh*tstorm (whatever it was).

    Sometimes, you need some space from others in order to get close to yourself.

Sometimes, you need some space from others in order to get close to yourself.

People are inherently different from each other. They need varying degrees of space in relationships, and for varying reasons.

I once knew this person who took off on his own, for many many months, to do some volunteer work in a remote village, with absolutely no network connectivity, in order to process his grief in solitude. I also know people who use the "silent treatment" method very expertly, to manipulate others around them. AND I know people (including myself) who have had to completely distance themselves from some such people.

I, personally, am anyway someone who needs a LOT of space for proper functioning. That's, in fact, one of the few things I discovered accepted about myself recently, but that deserves it's own complete post.

What about you, by the way? Are you someone who likes to take off on your own at times? Or maybe that's the norm for you and not the exception? If yes, then what makes you do it? What is it, about solitude, that you like the most?

What about toxic "silent treatment"? Have you ever been on the receiving end of it? How did that make you feel? Also, have you ever been on the GIVING end of it? If yes, then what made it so essential for you to exercise such absolute control over another living being?

Have you ever had to go "no contact" with anyone? By your own choice? If yes, then how long did it actually take you to reach that "point of no return"? What made you ignore or overlook all the "red flags" all that while?

Here's more in MyMusings...

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Wanna Talk? :)

Corinne Rodrigues said...

Carving out space for oneself and giving other people space is a little alien to our culture, but we have to do both with grace!

Kay said...

Agree with both parts of your comment, Corinne. Thanks for stopping by!

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