Ask a Therapist: How Do I Tell My Husband I Need More Space Without Hurting Him?

6 Ways to Provide Comfort If You’ve Hurt Your Partner — Therapy Blog

Ask a Therapist: How Do I Tell My Husband I Need More Space Without Hurting Him?

Recently, I was riding in the car with my very spirited three-year-old. I had picked her up early from a play date to race across town. She was very distressed to leave her friend and let me know all about her distress through high-pitched screams. I knew she needed some comfort, a calming voice, and a nurturing tone to help comfort her in her distress.

Do you know what I noticed? It was so hard to give her the comfort she needed because I was having such a strong reaction inside of me. The sound of her cries alone created feelings of angst and anxiety in me. I was also feeling frustration and anger that she had created such a scene as I carried her kicking and screaming her friend’s house.

In the moment she was in distress and needed the comfort of her mother, I had to work very hard to manage my own emotions to lean in and appropriately comfort her.

As a therapist, it is easy to lean in and provide comfort, reassurance, and understanding to my clients. The reason it is so easy is that I am not the source of their pain.

As they speak of the pain, usually caused by other people or situations in their lives, I can easily elicit feelings of compassion and care without defensiveness.

I can do so because there is not a complicated storm of emotion inside of me.

Have I Caused Pain?

When you are the one who caused the pain, and when the hurt in your partner is a result of your actions, the process of offering comfort and compassion is much more complicated. When couples come in to therapy, it is usually because there is hurt between them.

Usually, they have been unable to find comfort, care, and compassion in their partner to ease the hurt.

They may often conclude that the reason their partner is not able to be there for them in the way they need is either that their partner doesn’t care or that they aren’t capable.

There is a good reason providing comfort can be difficult. Hurting your partner, the one that you love, feels awful. It can be brutally hard to think about, hear about, or see the tears, anger, and pain in your partner and know it’s been caused by you.

Addressing the Pain in Therapy

I remember a couple who came to therapy due to the husband’s affair. His wife was so hurt and angry that whenever she brought up her pain, he would shut down, leave the room, or tell her she “needed to get over it.”

When asked about his reactions to his wife, he told me “When she brings it up, she is reminding me of the worst thing I have ever done. It can be unbearable to think about.

” It can be extremely difficult, and sometimes requires the help of a therapist, to help manage emotions of shame, guilt, and fear when you have hurt your partner.

To be there for one’s partner in a comforting and healing way, it is necessary to manage these strong emotions within oneself.

It can be extremely difficult, and sometimes requires the help of a therapist, to help manage emotions of shame, guilt, and fear when you have hurt your partner.

How to Provide Comfort: 6 Tips

1. Recognize how much your partner needs you. When you are the source of your partner’s pain, it can be easy to think “I’ve caused your pain, I’m the last person you want to comfort you.” Exactly the opposite is often true. If you have caused pain in your partner, you can be one of the most helpful people in comforting that pain.

2. Find a support person. It can be a difficult, daunting, and frustrating process to rebuild and repair a relationship after major hurts have occurred. Your efforts to make things better may be rejected or criticized by your hurting spouse.

You may need a therapist to help you manage your emotions of shame, frustration, hopelessness, and rejection in order to keep showing up for your partner in a comforting way.

Also, if you feel stuck in your efforts to repair hurts in your relationship, you may need a couples therapist to help guide you.

3. Be flexible with what your partner needs. One day your partner may need to be left alone. The next they may need to be held. When there have been relational hurts, these needs can change by the hour or the day. There is often not a single, foolproof approach that works. Be willing to adapt your approach as your partner’s needs change.

4. Learn what comfort feels for your partner. There are a lot of ways to provide comfort for your partner. According to Dr.

Sue Johnson, physical and emotional closeness from our partner is one of the most powerful ways to experience comfort.

Physical closeness can be achieved through being held, hugged, holding hands, or cuddling. Emotional closeness can include the following:

  • Providing reassurance: “I love you,” “I am here for you,” “I’m not going anywhere.”
  • Validating the hurt: “Of course this hurt you deeply.”
  • Understanding the hurt: “Tell me more about what you are going through.”
  • Hearing the hurt: “You can tell me how you feel. I want to know.”
  • Showing remorse: “I’m so sorry I hurt you. I’m so sorry you are going through this.”

A great place to start is, “When you are hurting this, what helps the most? What do you need from me right now?”

5. Express a willingness to do whatever it takes. It can be easy to feel there is nothing you can do to make this better. You may think, “Anything I say only makes things worse” or “I don’t know what to do to make things better.

” It can be comforting for your hurt partner to hear “I’m not sure how to help, but I know I want to help.” Let them know that although you might not always know how, you want to make things better, and you are willing to learn how to do that.

6. Open up. Expressing your emotions and showing vulnerabilities may not be your strong suit. However, it can be comforting for your hurting partner to know you are hurting too, and that they are not in this hurt alone. It can be very healing for your partner to hear and see that you hurt because they hurt.


Johnson, S., (2008). Hold me tight: Seven conversations for a lifetime of love. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

© Copyright 2018 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori Epting, LPC

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.


6 Tips for Politely Telling Your Partner You Need Alone Time

Ask a Therapist: How Do I Tell My Husband I Need More Space Without Hurting Him?

At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, there was way too much time. Many of us spent that time trying to figure out what was going to happen next.

Some of us compulsively collected new hobbies to keep us distracted, but a lot of us realized we suddenly had more time to spend with the people we lived with. Yes, this newfound time was scary, but it was also a rare opportunity to connect with our loved ones or housemates.

Maybe leisurely chats over morning coffee were a new possibility, or maybe a shared love for reality television emerged.

But here’s the thing: We’re now a few months into the pandemic, and we’re all still, well, together. Even if you’re someone who has returned to work and other activities, a lot of your time probably still involves your home and the people with whom you live.

So it’s totally normal if you’re craving more solo time.

How do you tell your favorite quarantine partner that you want to watch Love Island alone? Is it terrible to explain to your beloved that, although you’re so happy they enjoy your morning workout (#swolemate), exercise has always been something you do solo?

It can be hard to let people know you need a little bit of space—especially when you genuinely enjoy having them around. Below, you’ll find a few things to keep in mind as you prepare to talk to your partner about getting a little alone time during the pandemic.

1. Figure out what alone time looks for you

“Fulfilled, happy, and whole people make good partners,” Cicely Horsham-Brathwaite, Ph.D., a psychologist and mindset coach, tells SELF. “And sometimes in order to feel that way, we need some opportunity to be with ourselves emotionally or…physically.

” That said, alone time means different things to different people, Horsham-Brathwaite explains.

Do you need to leave your house for a little while—preferring to take a long leisurely hike? Or are you happiest when you’re sitting in the same room with your partner without speaking? Maybe alone time just means putting on noise-canceling headphones and having permission to check out for a while? Before you have a conversation about your “need for space,” have an honest conversation with yourself to figure that out so you can articulate it intentionally.

2. And be specific in your ask

Often, in a fit of frustration, we can throw around phrases , “I just need some space.” But the term “space” can conjure up anything from an afternoon bathtub soak to a full-on breakup.

When you approach your partner about needing a little time away, make sure you’re honest and specific about your needs (see tip #1).

Doing this will mitigate some of the anxiousness that can come up when you explain that you need a bit of space.

3. Reassure your partner that taking solo time doesn’t mean you want emotional distance

Even if you’re super clear that you only need “a minute” and you’ll come back to snuggle right away, it’s entirely possible that you’re living with someone who doesn’t need (or particularly understand) alone time. That doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t deserve some time to yourself.

It does mean that you should approach them with heaps of compassion and refrain from speaking in a way that might make them feel you think their approach to the relationship is wrong. “Some people recharge with alone time, but some people actually feel they recharge by being around people,” Vernessa Roberts, Psy.D.

, a counseling psychologist, tells SELF.

4. Start a discussion, not an argument

If your partner sulks or gets upset, please know that you’re still entitled to some alone time. Try to hold firm in your desire and remember that taking care of your needs is essential to being a good partner.

“We don’t have to start an argument to gain space,” Roberts explains, adding that you can keep the conversation focused on you.

For instance, instead of saying, “Ugh, your breathing is starting to stress me out,” you can opt for something less harsh and more focused on what you want to gain from having some more space, not how your recent togetherness is diminishing your happiness.

For example, “On Tuesdays after work, I’d love to use that time to hang out on my own for an hour.” Horsham-Brathwaite also says that if you are afraid of your partner’s reaction, you should reach out to a professional to get additional support.

5. If you’re feeling guilty about needing space, try to understand and reframe those feelings

It’s tempting to think that your desire for alone time is selfish, but everyone can benefit, TBH. “Just because you don’t have a visceral need for [space] doesn’t mean that it can’t be helpful,” Horsham-Brathwaite explains. This doesn’t mean you should run and tell your partner you’re doing them a favor by being vocal about needing a minute.

It simply means that you shouldn’t squander your precious alone time by wondering if you really deserve it (you do). So many things have changed in the past few months, and your need for some time alone may have increased. This isn’t necessarily a red flag indicating that something is wrong with you or your relationship.

“Spending time apart is actually the sign of a healthy relationship,” Roberts says.

6. Plan to make your reunion special

Planning and communicating are especially important if your partner has an anxious attachment style, Harshom-Brathwaite says. “To have a partner say ‘I need space’ can intensify their anxiety, so I think one of the ways to balance that is to…add some planning to it,” she says.

Horsham-Brathwaite says that you can plan quality time leading up to your “alone time” or make your reunion an event. For instance, she suggests you pack a picnic to reconnect or simply dance together in the living room—something to reaffirm that your couple time is as valued as the time you spend apart.

“Space will actually enhance the relationship,” Roberts says.



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