Many people feel threatened when their partner asks for “space”. The immediate thought might be that they are ending the relationship or it is heading in the wrong direction. Many might think that they have done something wrong and their partner is distancing themselves. For codependents, who are generally very hyper-vigilant around their partner, it can be a very difficult time. They can become anxious and nervy and will invariably increase controlling methods to bring back the status quo. What they don’t realise is that space and the ability and will to take time alone in a relationship is not only healthy but essential. It makes the time spent together more valuable.
The threat that codependents feel derives from the process of enmeshment. Enmeshment refers to a blurring of the boundaries between two or more people, leading to dysfunctional coping mechanisms, codependence, and even a loss of individuality. The concept of enmeshment was introduced by family therapist Salvador Minuchin and is most commonly used to describe dysfunction within a family system or a relationship. Enmeshed people commonly mirror the emotions of the other or try to anticipate their needs while sacrificing their own. This is often why enmeshment is typically seen in codependency. It is often a full-time job where observance is the name of the game.
Given this, the idea of allowing a partner some “me time” would not be something that naturally comes to mind for a codependent. While they often use distancing and silent treatment as a control measure, giving up this control is generally hard. However, the value of “space”, “me time” or “independence within a relationship” cannot be underestimated.
While many people see the value of taking time for themselves, there are some obstacles that commonly hinder the process. Feelings of guilt can occur especially in codependent relationships where one partner is demanding and shows feelings of anger and resentment when left alone, even for a few hours. Resentment will then build if one partner feels their autonomy is limited and they are forced to give up their individuality.
The best “me” time is actually classed as “we” time and is used to enhance the relationship not destroy it. Many people will use time alone to avoid conflict or issues that they would rather not face. Sometimes, just to escape a demanding partner is the clear motivation. If this is the case, this type of behaviour is indicative of bigger issues in the relationship. Quality “me” time respects the relationship by engaging in activities that are important to the individual, bring health and stress management. This will help strengthen the connection with a significant other half.
How do we gain “me” time? We need to schedule it and maintain it. Find something that we really value doing as an individual whether its hiking, being outdoors, reading, journaling without disturbance or meditation.