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What it is like to have space in a long term relationship

Giving and getting space in a relationship can require awareness and maturity. But it can be the most intimate, rewarding thing you can do

It isn’t impossible to give and get space to do what you want, when you want to.
It isn’t impossible to give and get space to do what you want, when you want to. (iStockphoto)

“I need some space.”

This is an oft-heard (and oft-dreaded) sentiment voiced by almost every urban woman and man. I know most of my clients say the same, at least. What does this even mean?

The accepted definition of space in a relationship is time apart from your partner. Time spent away from each other. But I am pleasantly surprised by the response I get from some of my clients.

They tell me space in a relationship means being able to do what they want to do and when they want to do it. I wonder if their articulation is driven by the pandemic where we have been forced to be locked at home with each other. Nonetheless, I love it.

So, how does this alternate view play out in the everydayness of relationships? The lines are blurry even for those of us who have been in a long-term relationship. It takes a certain level of awareness and confidence to give and get space in a relationship in accordance with this definition.

The good news is that it isn’t impossible to give and get space to do what you want, when you want to. Take T and K for example, a couple that met at work, fell in love, and got married. They’ve been married now for 23 years, and early on, they’d decided to never work together in the same organisation after marriage. Now that I’ve introduced them to you, dear reader, let me quickly narrate what they say space in their relationship means to them.

I’d spoken to both of them separately, to ensure that I got their individual points of view, uncoloured by the other’s.

Here’s T’s version of the story:

Soon after they got married, T got a career opportunity that she was keen to pursue. It was in a different city. For K it was a no brainer – T ought to take the offer. She did. That meant they spent two years in a “weekend marriage”, with T commuting between Bangalore and Hyderabad. During the week, she lived at the company guest house, not wanting to set up another full-fledged home in the new city. She wanted “their” home to be just “one” home in one location.

By the time T finally moved back to base, K had decided to venture into a new project that he was very passionate about. T had her reservations about the merits of it, but chose not to voice them. It took four years of sweat and money for K to realise what T had always known.

I’d asked T why she didn’t stop him. “It’s his life and he should lead it the way he chooses to. Just because we are together does not mean that we should not follow our separate paths and experience our individual journeys of failures and success,” she said.

I asked her if she took this approach consciously. T says it happened naturally; that was the same rationale when K had encouraged her to pursue her opportunity in a new city. Was it hard? Absolutely. T felt that the “hook” of dependency that a couple forms for each other when they live together was missing in their relationship. She often worried that K would get used to a life without her.

Yet they pulled it off. And she believes they could only because they both had the freedom, as individuals, to do what they wanted to do. This mutual understanding reduced potential friction in their relationship, she said, and this helped them value each other even more.

There are also more everyday, smaller examples of how this dynamic plays out between the couple. T notes how on many evenings, K ditches dinner at the last minute to have chips and dip instead. She says it has genuinely never bothered her, despite his meal lying there, untouched. T also adds that K takes many philanthropic decisions on his own, which sends their financial planning and, on a few occasions, their vacations on a tailspin. Despite this, T is supportive of this, and feels proud that she is married to an extremely thoughtful and generous man.

Now, here’s K’s version:

“I grew up in a household where my dad made every decision, including deciding the clothes my mother should wear. That was not the kind of marriage I wanted for myself. I fell in love with T because she was this fearless, independent woman. She was also my boss at that time,” he said. When he spoke, I could hear the awe with which he spoke about T, even after 23 years of being married.

K says he can’t understand why couples come in each other’s way, when there is so much harmony, attraction, and excitement in watching each other grow. He corroborates T’s perspective.

I urge him to share how he thinks he gives T her space. “I love her because she does what she wants to do and exactly when she wants to do it. She does not conform to a way of being, and this includes not making demands of me…I cannot imagine my life without her.”

In our society where a couple is conditioned to think that they ought to do everything together, and therefore be obliged to, T and K’s marriage is very much at the other end of the spectrum. Their approach to their life together is inspiring all the same.

I don’t say this often enough in this column, but many times, I learn from my clients too. T and K have nudged me to rethink the idea of space – the idea that one can be a silent partner, a gentle observant companion while letting the other experience their success and failure. Fully. Individually.


This is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached on

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