Partnership with a balance

Understanding the importance of personal space in a fulfilling relationship


Science explains personal space as a kind of physical barrier around someone which you are not supposed to breach, unless you want to threaten them. According to American neuroscientist Michael Graziano, author of The Space Between Us, “The brain computes a buffer zone around the body.” This “second skin”, he says, is constantly switched on like a force field. And this is why “you stand a little farther from your boss than from your friend, and much closer to your lover”.

Sticking strictly to the scientific explanation may be too simplistic. Personal space is not only about the physical distance. It is also about the mental space in which people are free to contemplate their thoughts and needs, independently from that of other people in their lives. This can become complicated in a marriage or a relationship. In a relationship, everything becomes a balancing act between two different personalities. Between individual needs, and, spending time together and giving yourself some 'me time'.

Being with your partner all the time may feel great, at least initially. But as the relationship moves past the honeymoon period, all the attention can become stifling. Understanding the importance of personal space is key to a balanced and fulfilling relationship. When somebody who was single gets married or gets into a relationship, how can that person deal better with or adjust to the presence of another individual in their life? “Marriage is a decision to share your life with another,” says Anna Chandy, the chair of the board of trustees of Deepika Padukone's The Live Love Laugh Foundation. “It is important to explore and crystallise your values to become aware of those that are negotiable and those [that are] non-negotiable.” Sharing these with each other will promote a better understanding of each other as open communication will commence, says Chandy, who has experience in counselling, coaching and mentoring.

Open commuication is important, but it is not the same as being insensitively blunt. Gautam Nair, a sales executive, says: “Initially, there is no need to reveal everything about yourself to your spouse.” He added that this is especially true in an arranged marriage where people don't know each other that well. And while honesty is extremely important in a relationship, there is no need for dramatic confessions. “You could reveal things once your relationship has reached that level of trust” says Gautam, who has been married for two years. “But only if you feel like doing it. While your spouse is an important part of life, it is your life and your past and your experiences are your own.”

Another problem that couples complain about is being cut off from their past after committing to a relationship. Chandy says that expectations you have from your partner need to be discussed. “It is important to recognise that both individuals will need each other and some time alone,” she says. “Me time can include spending time with friends or even [for] hobbies.”

Sonia John, a bank employee who has been married less than two years, says: “I love my husband a lot, but some time for myself is very important to do things I like on my own. In my view, that strengthens a relationship. Otherwise you will be too dependent on your partner and will expect too much from them.” Also, the most important conflict that a woman faces after marriage, says Sonia, is to manage time between her new responsibilities and her parents. “The worst feeling is not being there for your parents when they need you after marriage,” she says. “And there will be situations when you have to make a choice.”

So what has to change after marriage and what should remain the same? “Personal time and space is essential in a relationship,” says Chandy. “This time enables individuals to reflect and often replenish their psychological energy.” And replenishing themselves, says Chandy, promotes satisfying relationships as both feel nurtured by themselves and the other instead of feeling emotionally tired and resentful.

“Sometimes you feel you no longer have the freedom which you had before marriage,” says Sonia. “But the feeling of always having somebody with you compensates for it.”