How To Have Both Intimacy & Space In A Relationship


By Lissa Rankin MD

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

In the wake of the renegotiation of my sacred contract with a friend, I had an epiphany. In my close relationships, I have two opposing desires:

-the desire for intimacy and security
-the desire for freedom and autonomy

Every relationship is a dance of these two desires. So in one of my relationships, I feel a bit insecure, and our communication challenges leave me feeling distant, so I crave more intimacy and security. In another one of my relationships, I feel a little smothered sometimes, like we’re so codependent and enmeshed that I crave more freedom and autonomy.

I am neither a needy person nor a stand-offish person. But finding that perfect balance of closeness and space is a dance that has to be customized to the needs of each relationship. My easiest, most comfortable relationships flow effortlessly because we seem to have similar needs for intimacy/security and freedom/autonomy. When it gets challenging is when someone needs way more space than I do- so I wind up getting all clingy and insecure- or when someone has such an intense need for intimacy and security that I wind up feeling like I can’t breathe. My healthiest relationships sometimes need tinkering, but we don’t wind up with one person always getting hurt feelings or the other always jockeying for space.

When Things Get Out Of Balance

So what can we do when the dance gets awkward?

1. Meet your own needs first.

If you’re giving someone else responsibility for your happiness, you’ll wind up being a bottomless pit of need. I’m not suggesting relationships don’t feed us. They do. In fact, they’re arguably the most important part of our health. But healthy relationship occur between two sovereign individuals who take responsibility for their own happiness and then amplify that joy by sharing intimacy.

2. Ask for what you desire.

I know it’s uncomfortable to express your desires. If you’re feeling the need for closeness, you may be afraid of coming across as needy. If you’re feeling the need for space, you may fear hurting someone’s feelings. But what’s the alternative- letting resentment build up?

3. Be willing to make yourself vulnerable.

Rather than showing up with your armor on because you’re feeling hurt or smothered, be brave enough to be vulnerable. I know it can be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but if the relationship is worth nurturing, it will bring you closer and help your loved one understand what you need.

4. Learn to enjoy your own company.

Take yourself out for a date. Treat yourself to a spa day alone. Indulge yourself with a hot bath, a good book, a hike in nature, or a personal retreat. When you learn to enjoy your own company, others will enjoy spending time with you more.

5. Open your heart.

Many of us have been hurt by people we love, so it’s tempting to wall up. This emotional armor leaves others feeling insecure and distant and may trigger needy behavior that wouldn’t exist if we were willing to love with an open heart. I know it can be scary, but time and time again, I’ve found that if you give those you love permission to break your heart, your heart gets bigger, even if it gets broken. When you can let this happen without resistance, you’re more likely to find a good balance between intimacy and space.

Where Do You Lie On The Spectrum?

Tell us your stories in the comments.


Previous articles by Lissa

About the author

lissa_rankinLissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. She is on a grass roots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.

Lissa blogs at and also created two online communities – and She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.

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  • Chris

    This entire website is phenomenal! Really, really, really enjoy all the material, you guys are going to change the world.

  • lloyd

    One of most relatable, useful reads ive had in a while.. thank you for this article..

  • Anthony

    i am kind of a free spirit and I used to always love being with my girlfriend ALL the time. Eventually I wanted to keep other friendships and relationships in my family open when I left them behind. You could almost say our love for jaded (for me) between my girlfriend and I. I did some things behind her back (nothing physical) with other females and I regret it to this day and have made a pact between myself between God and between my girlfriend that I have left that life behind me. And now I am trying to get the relationship back to where it was. I have so much going on in my life with jobs and family drama that it’s hard to keep the relationship going, with the same spark that it used to. I know I love this girl and I know she loves me. It’s just the struggle of rolling with the punches that life throws at me.

  • Name jeffrey

    In this western culture we are deeply conditioned from early on (in Disney cartoons, etc.) to think we need relationship in order to be happy and/or whole. It is much preferable to first know oneself, to practice and to know that one is quite fine without another, and to enter relationships as mutually free and stable beings who happen to share some mutualities in values, belief, purpose, ideals…

  • VY

    “responsibility for our own happiness”. Only a culture deriving from the joyless Puritanism of the real founders of the North American colonies could have come up with such self-evident absurdities it then takes for moral wisdom.

  • Another way of looking at this is like a dance with the different parts of two people in relationship. The part of us who wants intimacy is different to the part of us that wants space. And these inner parts of ourselves bond with the inner parts of our partner in patterns that are literally like a dance. My ebook The Greatest Relationship Secret – which is FREE at the moment from both iTunes and Amazon – explains this way of understanding relationships. Links to the book at those retailers can be found here: