How can I be more okay with needing to take space from someone I care about?

Question

I have had a complicated relationship with a guy for over a year now. Without getting into any details, we are now taking space from each other. This is really hard for me because I love being around him and talking to him. Because I can be very emotional, I have said some hurtful things to him that I regret and have apologized for multiple times. I don't know if we'll ever be able to have the same kind of relationship again and that scares me. How can I make myself give him the space and time he needs when I'm worried and just want to talk? Also, how can I make up for the hurtful things I've said?

Received via Contact Form (anonymous)

Answer

I’m sorry to hear that taking space from this person who obviously means so much to you has been so difficult; it can be hard to be away from someone you care about even under the best of circumstances, but compounded with a sense of guilt, regret, and remorse over things that you wish you could take back, that feeling of separation and alienation from the other person can become truly unbearable.

Unfortunately, there isn’t any quick fix for this situation; as you might expect, a complicated situation that has been ongoing for over a year is not likely to be resolved with a simple solution. However, there are certainly steps you can take to at least become more okay with the situation.

Given any major problem, it is usually helpful to consider what the variables are that you could change to improve the situation. These variables can be divided into two types: things about the situation that you can change externally, and things about how you perceive and react to the situation that you can change internally.

In this situation, unfortunately, there isn’t much that you can change externally to yourself. If he doesn’t want to talk to you and needs space, trying to force conversation will only make things worse, and demonstrate to him that you do not respect his boundaries.

I understand that you would really like to make up for what you perceive as wrongdoing on your part, in terms of hurtful things you’ve said to him, but you really need to consider whether what you want is truly in his best interest.

A good apology serves two purposes: The primary purpose is to accept responsibility for what you have done, to demonstrate that you have taken a lesson from the mistake, and to offer to make up for or undo any negative consequences you might have caused. The secondary purpose is to help you move past your own sense of guilt and remorse.

In your situation, your apology can only serve its secondary purpose, which means apologizing will serve to benefit you, but not really to benefit him. He’s told you that he doesn’t want to hear from you, and that he needs space. He doesn’t want you to make up for what you have done, or to listen to your apology, at least right now. Forcing an apology on someone who doesn’t want to hear from you is ultimately selfish — the noble thing to do is to deal with your feelings on your own, and to respect his wishes not to be disturbed. Respecting his boundaries is in fact the best thing you can do to make up for the hurt you believe you’ve done.

The good news is that there are still variables you have control over in the situation — the internal ones that affect how you perceive and react to the situation that I mentioned earlier. To this point, you can forgive yourself for what you have done, even if you do not receive his forgiveness. If you regret what you did, learned a lesson from it, and intend to take reasonable steps to minimize the chance you’ll make the same mistakes again, there is nothing stopping you from forgiving yourself, and letting the weight of your guilt and remorse fall off your shoulders.

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The key to being okay in this situation is to accept that the separation is necessary, and to accept that there is no undoing the past. Accepting things you cannot change is a painful and difficult process, but once you let go of your hopes for the situation and accept the way things really are, you can shift your focus to doing your best to live happily despite the separation.

In time, once you have shown him respect and demonstrated that you are capable of accepting his boundaries, he may wish to reopen a dialogue with you, and at that point, it might be appropriate to apologize. But you can’t be the first mover in this situation without making everything worse, so do your best to move forward despite the separation, even though I am sure that is difficult to accept.

If you have any follow up questions or comments, feel free to get in touch with us via the feedback form available on our contact page, at www.feralattraction.com/contact.

If you’d like to speak with Viro about your relationship issues or life goals more interactively, in a private one-on-one setting, you might be interested in Viro’s life and relationship coaching services. Details about Viro’s coaching services are available at www.feralattraction.com/coaching.

Viro the Science Collie

Viro Science Collie is a PhD virologist and medical writer, experienced in teaching, technical communication, and writing for the public. He has been active in the furry community since 2012 and has been happily and ethically non-monogamous for much of that time. His interests include non-traditional relationship structures, technology, biological science, and tennis.