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What Every Relationship Needs

Oct/08/2023 / by Sweta Vikram

Making space for your partner is critical

Couple walking in garden holding hands
Photo via Shutterstock

Have you ever felt that there isn’t space in your life to think? Literally and metaphorically. You are so consumed with getting through the day that the walls start closing in on you?

I love the ordinariness of my daily life. Yes, I absolutely do. But there are times I also feel that I can’t breathe. It’s not because of someone. It’s because day-to-day life doesn’t leave much space, especially in a South Asian home where cooking, entertaining, and focusing on familial bonds are given as much (if not more) priority than your career. Mind you, I don’t have any pressure from my husband to be performative or do things that others would approve of.

The Need For Space In Daily Life  

We forget that growth happens when we have the space to think and process. And one can turn inward only when we have the space to do so. Making dal tadka while working on a client deadline and wishing an aunt for her birthday and going to yoga class in one evening is non-conducive to space. South Asian men-women relationships tend to do a lot of “together activities.” 

My husband and I check in regularly on how we are doing with space. We communicate, instead of exploding, when either of us feels like they are going further away from their authentic self. Problems in any relationship start when we start to feel stifled, also known as lack of space. I am not saying couples, or families do that to each other intentionally. But not having any breathing room as an individual can feel heavy and tamasic. 

Telling your partner what to eat, how to live, where to travel, or whom to hang out with—no matter how well-intentional—is about establishing control and taking away their space. In fact, we recently met a lovely couple where the woman decides which yoga class her husband attends. The man was surprised that I encouraged my husband to pursue his interests that have nothing to do with me. This is a form of giving space to your partner.

This past summer was difficult with the deaths of both my father and father-in-law. For three months in a row, we regularly had family and friends visit to express their condolences. We are  grateful for the love and support, but we are also equally exhausted from going nonstop and reliving the trauma. Both my husband and I needed space from not having to repeat stories or organize meals or host people.

Different People, Different Needs 

I am an external processor, which means I write and talk about my feelings. I share stories of transformation and spirituality. Being a writer rooted in holistic wellness feels like the biggest gift during challenging times. It’s like I have an outlet and a channel for things to flow. For close to 90 days, we talked about the same pain, loss, and grief. Between work, PhD, clients, writing deadlines, and my own wellbeing, I was stuck in a puddle of grief. Just when I’d move forward, a question or comment or story would pull me right back when it all happened.

My husband is an internal processor. He doesn’t need to discuss his feelings or loss. He doesn’t go in denial or fold up his grief. He won’t leave his grief unaddressed either. What he needs is to sit with the discomfort and let it pass. To get clarity and figure out his next steps, he needs the quiet. But with nonstop guests, work, house chores, and the demands of summer, he barely had the time to embrace quietude. 

One day he said to me that he needed a few days to be disconnected from the world, turn off his phone, not respond to anything related to work, or anything about the loss of our fathers. I said what I needed was a few days of not taking care of anyone. Be it asking someone, “Do you want sugar and milk with your chai?” or checking in with family or friends about their wellbeing. 

I wanted a few days of walking for miles, eating what I wanted, reading in a café, seeing only a few people (if at all), not feeling the pressure to be a “dutiful woman” who cooks, cleans, manages the social calendar, nurtures family, and ensures all is well with our loved ones. I didn’t want to be in any roles, or even respond to text messages. I wanted to spend time in museums and art galleries.

Making Space In A Relationship

We both flew into Chicago. My husband went to an executive retreat in Wisconsin, and I stayed in a beautiful hotel on the Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago. We checked in with each other in the mornings and evenings. But nothing more than that.

I walked 10 miles and made friends with small business owners. Got a long massage and it helped eliminate emotional toxins. I cried and released my anger of losing Dad. I’d had no space to visit the anger phase of grief. I hung out with friends who are kind, bright, generous, and intuitive. I took a nap in the middle of the day and didn’t tie myself down to any schedule. I held space for my grief whenever it wanted to release. 

My husband joined me three days later, and we spent a few days together in Chicago, walking, eating good food, celebrating my father’s birthday, and sharing what each one of us experienced when we had the space. He too returned with deep reflections.

Space for Restoration 

We restore ourselves when we are alone. I’m not a marriage therapist, but as someone soon to become an Ayurvedic doctor, I am aware of the power and value of being true to your innate self. When we give others space, we create room for them to live their truth. This can strengthen relationships. When you ask for space or give someone space, you enable them to thrive.

 “Sometimes the best thing you can do for someone you love is to give them time and space to think.”

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