WARNING: Read Before Giving Your Ex “Space”

Question: Yangki, I’ve read many of your articles and you seem to advocate not giving your ex space. Why is that? Almost all experts say giving someone space is healthy for all relationships. I just wonder what you base your advice on?

Yangki’s Answer: If you read my articles more carefully, you will actually see that I’m all for “giving your ex space”. The difference between my advice and most other people’s advice is that I’m more about approaching the issue of “giving space” from a place of love rather than fear or anger, connection rather than disconnection. I actually take the time to make the distinction between “giving space”, “leaving them alone” and using distance to manipulate someone.

You can “give someone space” by balancing being close and allowing them space, that is maintaining contact in a way they are comfortable with. If you know about attachment styles, being able to balance closeness and independence is a distinctive trait of secure attachment.

You can also “give someone space” by leaving them alone, that is not contacting them at all. This is the kind of “giving space” that many experts you mention recommend.

Both approaches have a goal and achieve a purpose.

1) Finding the right balance

The goal of balancing being close and allowing the other person their autonomy is take some personal space but keep the relationship intact. This ‘giving space” is something you usually discuss with your partner or ex and make it clear you are not disconnecting from them and from the relationship, you are asking for room to deal with reflect, work on or deal personal issues that may or may not be related to the relationship.

2) No contact at all

The goal of leaving someone alone is to disconnect not only from your partner or ex but also from the relationship either with the intention of reconnecting later, or not reconnecting at all, ever.

Many people, especially those high on attachment avoidance (dismissive avoidants and fearful avoidants) tend to naturally default to this second option. They have an argument “give them space”. Something is not working in the relationship “give them space”. A relationship ends, “give them space”. An ex they are trying to attract back doesn’t respond, “give them space”.

And they “give space” to even someone who has not asked for it or wants to stay in contact. It’s like “space” is the solution to all uncomfortable emotions, experiences and situations. It’s no wonder they are called avoidants. Avoid, avoid, avoid. And some of them are angry and upset about it too. You say you’re “giving space”, then get upset that your ex is not reaching out, duh! No contact is NO contact. Your is just taking the space you gave them.

Don’t disconnect if what you want is connection.

There are many inherent problems with disconnecting from a relationship when what you really want is connection. Most people are either unaware of the risks, are only thinking about their “emotional survival” or just following what the “experts” say. Many find out about the risks when they try to reconnect with their ex.

  • They find that their ex has completely disconnected and does not want to reconnect again
  • In the time they were away ‘giving their ex space”, someone else filled that space and their ex had developed feelings for the new man or woman
  • The relationships has been irreparably damaged by the strain of  disconnection and the relationship is never the same, and sometimes that “connection” is never fully recovered.

In defense of trained experts (and I mean trained professionals like Certified Therapists), when they advice you to disconnect from the relationship, they actually mean well. They are thinking of your emotional well-being and trying to help alleviate the emotional anguish and pain.

They are not thinking about your relationship at that point. They’ll tell you to give your ex space, and do “no contact” for 3 months because they know that in 3 months time, you will have “moved on” or your ex will have moved on. Some will even try to convince you that your relationship is unhealthy, your ex is the reason you are in such emotional pain, you are better off without your ex (and sometimes they are right) etc.

But even for “experts” who say “no contact” (or giving space) is the way to get your ex back, a majority are hoping that after 3 months, you will be ready to move on. If you insist you want your ex back they become vague with their advice on how to get your ex back. Most of the time you get the same advice over and over, “Give them space”, “Do no contact” or “go back to NC”.

You end up “giving your ex space” trying to reconnect, failing to reconnect, and back to doing “giving your ex space” until you realize (usually on your own) that doing the same thing over and over with the same result is insanity.

The truth is that most have no real plan beyond the 3 months of “no contact”. Getting your ex back wasn’t the intended purpose and goal behind the “no contact” advice. You were supposed to move on. ‘No contact is about YOU and not about your ex.

My point: When you give someone “space” they didn’t ask for, or don’t need, they are not going to see it as “you giving them space”, they are going to see you as disconnecting or pulling away from them. And if you just stopped contacting them or responding without telling them why, they are going to see it as you ignoring them at best and showing you don’t care about them at worst.

This is why I urge people reading my articles to think twice before “giving their ex space”. What’s your goal? What do you hope to achieve? What is the message yo are sending? How will your actions affect your relationship (or hopes for one) in the long term?

Work on finding a balance that allows for connection and space at the same time.

I think you’ll agree with me that what almost all of us want is to be emotionally close with the one we love without suffocating them with neediness, or being too emotionally distant that they assume we don’t care.

People who are able to balance closeness and space have better relationships. This is what secure attachment looks like. You know when to be close without suffocating someone and giving them enough space to be their own person without making them feel neglecting or unwanted.

This is not easy to do when you may have insecure attachment. Most of the time you can’t tell when someone needs space from you or when they need more closeness. You find that you crowd their space when they need to be alone (needy) and give them space when they have not indicated that they need space (avoidance).

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  • It has taken me awhile to understand what ‘giving your ex space’ is really about. I’ve been to a few experts who all seem to really believe in the power of doing no contact in the name of giving space. They don’t seem to realise how damaging doing no contact can be, especially for long periods of time. Giving space is all about being able to develop/sustain a relationship without smothering the other person. I wish more relationship experts would teach that, rather than advice no contact all the time.

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    • If by “strong personality” you mean a strong sense of Self, yes…:)

      One also needs some level of emotional maturity. I don’t mean “age in years” but rather emotional age. Those two sometimes don’t go hand in hand.

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  • This makes so much sense. My ex broke it off because I was needy and clingy but she also hates it when I don’t contact her or respond. I thought I was give her space but it’s clear from this article that I was making her angry by not learning to balance space and closeness. My question is how do I balance giving her space and responding when she contacts me?

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  • I wish I had found this site two months ago. My 2nd chance is over before it even began. After 5 months of taking it slow, I got my ex back. But I destroyed my chance with her due to expectations and needy habits. I thought I had dealt with it but as soon as we were back together that incessant impulse to text her constantly reared its ugly head. She said she needed space and time, and I stepped back to give her the space she needed. I guess I failed to correctly judge how much space she needed and she interpreted it as indifference. Since then, she has become distant and barely answers my texts. I tried to explain to her that I was merely giving her space but she said we’ve both changed and her feelings for me have changed.

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    • I’m sorry that you came so close and lost her again. I still think that you should not give up, yet. As long as she’s still responding, you may still have a chance.

      Start over, start afresh. Don’t actively try to get her back, instead maintain open lines of communication while you take time to really work on those “needy habits”. Then when you feel that you’re ready (really ready this time), start actively trying to get her back. It may take while and there are no guarantees, but it’ll be easier (and also good for your self esteem) to walk away knowing that you gave it your very best, than walk away wishing you had done more, done better.

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  • The space you give to someone is the space to be fully who they are. If that requires that you “leave them alone”, then so be it. But you have to know that they reserve the right to feel ignored and abandoned if they did not ask you to leave them alone.

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    • Most people seem to forget that when people don’t understand why we behave a certain way (i.e. decide on our own to “leave someone alone”), the other person will almost always interpret our behaviour negatively. It’s a negative human trait to assign a negative meaning to things we don’t understand, or agree with.

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