14 men and one expert help you interpret what it means when he says he needs space — and how long you should wait before giving up.
By Rebecca Jane Stokes — Last updated on Jun 23, 2023
“I just need some space. A little time to clear my head.”
In the best case scenario, those words might indicate your partner is truly trying to communicate a simple need for some alone time. Or … he might be trying to get out of your relationship as easily and painlessly (for himself) as possible. Either way, your guy probably doesn’t know he’s shot the verbal equivalent of tiny bullets directly into your heart.
How long should you wait when a guy says he needs space or time?
We asked clinical psychologist and relationship coach Dr. Susan Pazak how long you should wait for a guy after he says he needs space.
“When a guy asks someone to take a break because he needs time and space to figure things out without a specific timeline,” she says, “it is time to reevaluate your situation as well. Waiting for someone to figure things out is gracious if you are going to do your work as well. The request can feel very personal and rejecting, especially if you thought things were going well in the relationship.
“If there is an elusive timeline and he is requesting for you not to move on until he figures things out,” she continues, “then I would not suggest complying with that request. It is time to move on and do your own work as to what may have been missing in the relationship. If and when the guy figures things out and requests to return to continue the relationship with new revelations and you are available then make that decision at the time. Waiting for someone to figure things out can lead to a whole slew of resentments, hurt and anger, especially if he does not return back to you.”
Does he want space or is he done?
In my own experience, when a guy says he needs space, he’s usually saying he wants to end the relationship.
A request for space doesn’t usually mean, “I need to be alone so I can be a better person — and thus a better partner to you.” Rather, it almost always means, “Look, I don’t want to be your boyfriend anymore, but I am really worried about hurting your feelings, so I’m saying this instead on the off chance it won’t hurt you quite so much.”
To me, the best thing about a guy saying he needs time or space is it might mean he actually knows he’s a bad apple in the dating department , and he really is doing you a favor by quietly removing himself from the relationship.
Honestly, I’ve never heard a man say he needs space when he meant anything other than, “I want out and I’m too afraid to be direct and address your feelings head on.” I’m paraphrasing here, of course.
This led me to wonder — do guys who ask for space know they want out of the relationship, or do they think there’s really a chance to come back and try to make the relationship work?
Why do they even ask for space in the first place, and what do men think will come from asking for and getting it?
I outsourced this query to a group of men (all of whom shall remain anonymous) and what they said about the topic was pretty darn eye opening.
What Men Say It Means When a Guy Says He Needs Time
1. “There has to be a context for how this was said to give you a useful answer. If it came after some sort of argument in your relationship, it most likely means they want to break up. It could also mean they just need time to sort out what is going on and want to be left alone for a bit.”
2. “It either means they need space and time to sort through their feelings or that they want a break from the relationship to be with other women. Folks can decide which option seems more likely depending on context.”
3. “I need to separate myself from the situation and see where I’m at, see myself going, etc.”
4. “It means I want to be alone or at least apart from the person I’m talking to. I want to sort out my issues by myself then come back later. It’s a really straightforward concept.”
5. “I have been in a long term relationship with the same women going on three decades. It is as good of a relationship as one could imagine. Best decision I ever made was to marry my wife. Best friend, great lover, most down-to-earth, beautiful, funny woman I ever met. That being said, we both crave some time apart to recharge for some solo experiences, for some quiet down time. Neither one of us is possessive or solely dependent on the other for satisfaction or happiness. A little time apart keeps it fresh and rewarding.”
6. “Personally, if I need space for a while, it will only be a few days, more likely a few hours. I am probably just mad and need to be alone for a bit.”
7. “Last time I said this to someone it was because I didn’t have a single free moment in my life without her. She never wanted to be away from me and it got to the point where I couldn’t excuse myself without her following me to the bathroom.”
8. “It means you need to leave me alone for a period of time, and if you’re not cool with giving me time, you’re free to leave me for good if you insist. Sometimes I just want to be alone.”
9. “I’ve never said this, and I am suspicious of people who do.”
10. “I need solitude.”
11. “I yearn to be the ruler of all the cosmos.”
12. “I’ve always used that to mean that I need my own life. I need my partner to trust that when they aren’t around I’m handling myself capably and honorably. It’s room for me to grow as a person on my own. I’ve got plenty these days, which is nice.”
13. “Could be a lot of things. Some people need solitude. For others, it’s a sense of agency. Not that he might not like hanging out, but he’s inherently choosing things with your feelings in mind and he may be feeling a need for time to be selfish. Other times it’s as simple as indulging in a hobby he knows (or thinks) you won’t enjoy or which can’t easily be shared.”
14. “I could mean lots of things. My partners tend to be pretty … verbal, and my stupid brain requires unbroken stretches of silence/solitude to settle into thoughts much of the time, so it’s hard to process stuff myself when they’re around. I’m really bad at asking for it, though, because I think when I hear, ‘I need space’, I assume that the other person is sick of me, and is distancing themselves to break things off. Which is ridiculous, but brains are dumb.”
More for You:
Zodiac Signs That Are Terrible At Relationships (And Why)20 Little Things Women Do That Guys *Secretly* LoveThe Perfect Age To Get Married, According To Science5 Little Ways Men Wish They Could Be Loved — Every Single Day
Rebecca Jane Stokesis an editor, freelance writer, former Senior Staff Writer for YourTango, and the former Senior Editor of Pop Culture at Newsweek. Her bylines have appeared in Fatherly, Gizmodo, Yahoo Life, Jezebel, Apartment Therapy, Bustle, Cosmopolitan, SheKnows, and many others.