It’s often not a good sign when your husband says he needs space. However, if you’ve just had a knock-down dragout fight, and in anger and frustration your husband says in a louder than necessary voice, “I need to get out of here! I just need some space!” That’s not usually as worrisome, as a husband calmly saying while you’re cleaning up the dinner dishes, “We need to talk. I need some space.”
Couples in normal relationships sometimes need a little time apart. Usually they talk about it together. If it’s an out of control argument where tempers flare, physical space between you is a good thing. When that happened to me, I would usually take a trip to the local bookstore just to cool off.
So, when my husband wants space, what does it mean?
Well, that depends. It’s usually more threatening when your husband wants space to think and that desire is completely out of the blue. If everything seems to have been going okay, or even better than usual, and in the middle of an ordinary day, you hear the heart stopping words that your husband wants space to think, it’s like a gut punch out of nowhere!
After you catch your breath, your spinning thoughts wonder what to do when your husband needs space?! In panic mode, your mind jumps to: “Needs space to think about what?! Separation? Divorce?”
I’ve learned through my many years of helping women get through divorce that sometimes when unexpectedly and without emotion your husband says he needs space to find himself, he really wants space to find himself with another woman! That’s sad but true.
Your husband having space to “find himself” makes it easier for the other woman to be with him to help him figure things out while he is away from you! That is not good for your relationship. In fact, it’s often the beginning of the end of your marriage.
Was There A Fight Or Trigger Event?
If your marriage has been rocky lately, or you had a knock-down dragout fight that is still simmering, you might have some clarity on why your husband wants space. You may need space, too, but that is a dangerous solution to a situation that might be better faced by hashing it out together or with a counselor, a trusted friend or a spiritual mentor.
Too many things can happen that aren’t good for the marriage when your partner wants to get away from you and the kids and everything else and goes off to who knows where to find himself. His running away makes us even more worried that he really wants a separation so he can ease into a divorce.
For a time apart to work like you want it to, it is better if the time apart is monitored by a therapist or a counselor, and there are agreed upon boundaries and objectives. What is the purpose of this time apart?
He Moved Out
If your husband “needs space” and moved out…actually leaves home to “find himself,” that is more threatening than simply telling you he needs space. Who of us hasn’t at some point (especially in a long marriage) thought “I just need to get out of here for a few days!” I know I have!
If our spouse calmly came to us (after obviously thinking about it for a while) and said he needs space and promptly moved out, that should cause worry. If your husband refuses to talk about it, or is not willing to get counseling to work out what’s going on in your marriage, that is not a good sign either. If he is not willing to get help or advice together, you should get advice of your own.
Does It Mean You’re Overbearing?
No matter what struggles happen in our relationships, women seem to often blame ourselves first. We are in some ways cultured to do that. Spiritual women are often reminded that our job is to be our husband’s supporter and helper. So if our husband isn’t happy, we blame ourselves.
Both men and women make promises to each other. When men leave the marriage or stray into other relationships, they often try to make their own bad behavior our fault. They sometimes say we’re overbearing and too pushy. Or we aren’t attentive enough. Or sexy enough. Or thin enough. No matter what we do, we often feel responsible for his feelings.
For most women, when anything goes wrong in our marriage, especially if our husband wants space to think, we ask ourselves questions like:
- What did I do wrong?
- What am I not doing that I should be doing?
- What can I do better?
- Why didn’t he tell me he was unhappy?
- What can I do to fix this?
- Does he still love me?
- Does this mean he wants a divorce?
How Much Time Does He Need?
If you have been hit with the fact that your husband moved out…needs space…you have to wonder, how much space (and time) does he need? Is he talking about a weekend fishing trip with the guys, or is he talking about going to a short term rental for a week, a month, a year?
If your husband moved out…needs space…is he willing to get help from a counselor or a pastor to set some parameters about his time away? Get clarity and set boundaries and goals about what this time apart is going to accomplish.
What To Do
Okay, what to do when your husband says he needs space? How do we respond when he says he needs time to find himself? Staying calm is important…difficult, but very important!
Being a clingy, needy, desperate woman is never a good place to be, even though our every instinct is to scream, “No! You cannot have time away from me and the kids to find yourself! You can find yourself, whatever that means, right here with me!”
If your husband is determined to get away to be with someone else, he will find a way as terrifying as that reality is. But here is the thing: while your husband is out trying to find himself, you have some serious thinking to do yourself.
Remind your husband that while he’s out finding himself, you have some things to figure out as well. You have to think about questions like these:
- Do I want to be with someone I can’t trust?
- Do I want to be with someone who needs to get away from me and our family?
- Do I want to be with someone I have to worry about and check up on?
- Do I want to be with someone who isn’t sure if he wants me or our family?
Remember, relationships are a two-way street. If he has to go away and seriously question whether he wants to be committed to your family, is that the kind of person you want to share your life with? He needs to know what you’re asking yourself while he is away. You might decide you want someone who knows without a doubt he wants to be with you and with your family! 100%! Having a good, solid marriage is difficult if you are worried all the time that if you disagreed with your spouse, or didn’t do things exactly his way, he would need to get away again.
Respect His Space
Men have different needs than women. We all know that! The book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus points that out. Another interesting book entitled, Women Men Love and Women Men Leave: Why Men Are Drawn to Women and What Makes Them Stay is written by two male psychologists, Dr. Connell Cowan & Dr. Melvyn Kinder. Below are statements from that book and may shed some light on the topic of why men may need space:
“The Bonding Zone”
“Men alternate between a wish for Attachment and intense intimacy at the right end of the continuum and a wish for Separateness and autonomy on the left. Women are much more motivated by their need for attachment and closeness for bonding. Unfortunately , the bonding zone that is the most comfortable for women is the one that makes men feel engulfed and trapped.”
So, sometimes men feel a need to “get away” to reassert their autonomy so they can re-establish their strength and not feel too needy. As the authors remind us, these different bonding styles can cause friction and trouble in relationships.
That’s why “men only” trips can be beneficial. Usually the best kind of trip is a few guys who go fishing or hiking for a weekend and come back ready to bond more effectively with their wife who wants reassurance and closeness.
Does It Mean We’re Headed For Divorce Or Separation?
When a husband says he needs space to find himself, that does not always mean you are heading for separation or divorce. A midlife husband may just be trying to re-balance his need for “Separateness and Attachment.” On the other hand, sometimes when a husband wants space, that is often code for I want time and space with another woman.
A wife’s best response is to stay calm and talk honestly with your husband. Remember the following suggestions:
- Don’t freak out! Don’t immediately expect the worst.
- Get details. Try to listen more than you talk.
- Let him tell you what he needs.
- Tell him what you need.
- Set boundaries and goals.
- Get professional help to direct the process
If your husband says he needs space and packs a bag and leaves and doesn’t tell you where he is going or when he is coming back, contact an attorney. You need to protect yourself and your finances as soon as possible. Make sure he cannot take money out of joint accounts and keep track of what’s being charged on your credit cards. Protect yourself, sexually, too.
If your husband said he wanted space and left and now wants a separation, or you are already on the divorce road, contact us. We can help. Don’t try to figure this all out yourself. It’s just too hard.