I sometimes hear from people who aren’t quite sure how to react to their spouse’s need for “space” after one of them has cheated or had an affair. And, this space can be requested by either spouse. Sometimes, it is the cheating spouse who wants or needs space because he isn’t sure how he wants to proceed or what he truly wants after the affair is out in the open.
From this spouse, I might hear a comment like: “I know that I have really hurt my wife by pulling away and asking her for time. But I wouldn’t ask this of her if I didn’t really need it. I don’t want to hurt her any more than I already have. But at the same time, I can’t really even think without her constantly following me around the house and asking me how I feel and what I want. I have to tell the truth and say that I don’t know what I want yet. I don’t know how I feel. And her being right in front of me and demanding answers just makes everything worse. I need for her to give me some space. But when I mention this, she acts as if she thinks that I am going to cheat again. I don’t have any intention of cheating again. I just need a little time to sort things out. But my wife questions my intentions constantly.”
Other times, the faithful spouse needs space because they just need more time to process this and they feel as if they can’t really do this correctly if they constantly have to look at or interact with their spouse. So, they figure that the whole process would be much easier if they could just spend much more time alone.
From them, you might hear a comment like: “my husband acts like I kicked him out of the house when I caught him cheating. I didn’t. What I did do was ask him to give me a couple of weeks alone. I never said that this was going to be forever. I just need time (without him) to process this. I need some time to be myself to collect my thoughts. Quite frankly, every time I see my husband right now, I feel anger. I don’t want to feel this angry all of the time. It helps me to feel more favorably toward my husband when I don’t have to look at him and I don’t have to constantly hear his questions. Is this so wrong?”
A Need For Space Is Understandable. But Caution Should Be Used To Avoid Misunderstandings: I don’t think that this is too much to ask in either circumstance. I have seen firsthand that sometimes, a little bit of time after an affair can help to calm down the situation. But it’s vital that you keep the lines of communication open so that there aren’t misunderstandings. Spell out how it might benefit your marriage moving forward. It’s also important that you check in with and see your spouse regularly. This helps your spouse understand that you aren’t doing anything underhanded and you aren’t asking for the space in order to carry out dishonest deeds.
The Right Way To Ask For Space: A suggested script might be something like: “I want to explain to you why I need a little bit of space. I just need a little bit of time to myself in order to process this and to try to determine what I want moving forward. I am not doing any of this to try to punish you or to do anything dishonest. I am doing this because I feel like I need some time. I feel like if I have uninterrupted time that isn’t influenced by outside sources, I will have a much better chance of coming up with a sound decision and strategy moving forward. I am not doing this to hurt you or to jeopardize our marriage. I am doing this because I think that it will help our marriage. And I do want to stay in regular contact during this so that neither of us is wondering what the other is up to. I want for you to be comfortable with this.”
How To Respond To A Request For Space: If you are the spouse on the other side of this request, it’s important to say what you are really feeling. If your biggest concern is his fidelity and commitment, then there’s nothing wrong with saying so. You might say something like: “I hear what you are saying. I do understand that space can give us both time to calm down. My concern is that if you are not in our household being reminded of our marriage, you will question your commitment and your infidelity to me. I am expressing this concern because I want to be completely honest in all aspects of our marriage. So, we need to set some boundaries and we need to arrange to get together regularly so that I have reassurance.”
If you are the spouse taking spouse, it’s very important that you do precisely what you have said. If you’re trying to save your marriage, it’s vital that your spouse isn’t constantly having to evaluate your motivations or to check up on your actions. Misunderstandings during one spouse taking “space” are extremely common. That’s why keeping in touch and communicating frankly and directly are vital.
And, make sure that you are actually using the space when you take it. If you tell your spouse that you are taking the space in order to come to a decision about your marriage, then this is exactly what you need to do. It’s not often that you have this type of time and distance in order to evaluate so it makes sense to take full advantage of it now. Know that your spouse is likely going to be watching you very closely. Don’t do anything dishonest or not in alignment with what you have told your spouse.
If you are the spouse who didn’t want the spouse, be honest about any reservations or concerns as they come up. But try to avoid nagging or allowing your insecurities driving your actions. It’s normal to feel uneasy when your spouse asks for space, especially in light of infidelity. But, it can sometimes be beneficial when it is handled correctly. The key is to make sure that you do what you say and that you keep in close contact with your spouse.