When their 'safe place' is space! Relationships that don’t work

You need closeness; they need space. You don’t expect to be joined at the hip, but you can sense their reticence to be either in touch daily or more than a couple of times a week, not to mention regularly getting together.


This is very hard for someone who enjoys closeness, as it goes against their internal programming and emotional needs. It spells out to them a lack of love, care and even the other person's (the avoidant type's) actually looking forward to being in their company. It's as if it’s an obligatory experience rather than something enjoyed and lovely. It feels much more "once in a while" than something mutual with them.

If this is resonating for you, it's likely that this relationship or friendship is going to be an uphill struggle that hurts you more than it brings you joy. Sorry, but in plain speak, that is the bare-to-the-bone truth of it.

So firstly, let’s break it down between the experience of this within a romantic relationship and also when it exists in friendships.

The most obvious commonality though is it’s always less rather than more - whether they are your friend or your lover. Ouch! This doesn’t feel good. Also, it's likely that in either, you are feeling rejected more than you should be and never quite 'relaxed'. This is because you never truly know when you might be crossing their unspoken, but palpable, boundaries.

I am going to emphasise unspoken here because, more often than not, this 'keep away' feeling you are getting will be felt rather than explicitly 'known'.

For them – the avoidant – the clear expression of their need for space and distance would, after all, be off-putting if actually said. It’s not that they don’t want a friendship or a relationship, but only when it feels comfortable for them to dive in and out. 

Closeness is not their priority. If it is yours, you might already be in the wrong place with the wrong person.

Romantic relationships

When this exists in romantic relationships it somehow negates the actual format that a romantic relationship is meant to be all about – spending shared time together, being intimate on every level – as well as contradicts the essence of coupling.

I am not suggesting here that a couple should not be able to also be secure in time apart from each other, and maintain friendships outside of their relationship as a couple, as well as pursuing their individual interests which exist alongside shared interests. But, if you are feeling that their 'less rather than more' approach doesn’t feel good to you, then maybe it is not the right relationship for you.

You have the right to question and review important relationships, not just 'make do'. This is not a criticism of people with an avoidant style of attachment. They have their own reason and history that created this style of attachment for them. l have written other articles here on the Life Coach Directory as a reference, but more for the sake of this article, l am wishing to do a deep dive into examining why, for someone wanting closeness, feeling on the outside looking in doesn’t work or bring happiness or a sense of safety and belonging, and question why some may choose to stay in this unfulfilling relationship/friendship.

It's likely that it will be triggering quite a lot of your abandonment issues if you are anxiously attached. This is less so if you are securely attached, but even then it will be a paler version of connection – just likely to be a regular acquaintance to the more secure of us. But for those of us with anxious attachment styles of relating, it will be reinforcing all our insecurities and probably uphold lots that erode our self-esteem, and it doesn’t feel good.


If this exists in a friendship, l think it can feel even worse, because it is in our friendships that we go for 'harbour' and reassurance and share life’s ups and downs. These people our friends, are chosen as confidantes and allies alongside our romantic relationships, that might come and go. They are the stalwarts – the pillars of our everyday life – they are part of our comfort, those we can depend on no matter what.

So, what happens when this chosen friend hardly wants to get together or talk and yet, at times, they do? 

The messages you are getting are mixed. For example, you had a lovely day together and you are keen to follow it up with another but you get more 'keep off the grass' signals than, "Yes, that would be lovely".

So this is intermittent and intermittence is a red flag in all relationships.

Indeed it is part of narcissistic or toxic relationships. I have an article on this called Intermittent reinforcement: A relationship red flag which you can refer to.

I am not suggesting that avoidant people are narcissists, but there is no getting away from the fact that intimacy and closeness are not needed by those who are. Also, remember that narcissism and toxicity do not only exist in romantic relationships but also in friendships, and the ABC of idealisation, devaluation and discard can be somehow even more insidious as the narcissistic friend has the role of ally and the "there for you no matter what" person!

The difference is that with avoidant people there is no faux idealisation at any stage whereas, in comparison with narcissistic and toxic people, there is always a false shared experience of closeness, because for them it is a means to an end. 

For those who are simply avoidant, this is not what happens. There is just a diluted closeness on their terms.

What to consider...

If you are in either a friendship or a romantic relationship with someone who keeps you at arm’s length, and it is making you unhappy, it will be well worth finding out why you either subliminally chose it and/or you stay in it.

From my own personal experience, l have done both, and discovering why has been liberating for me. I've felt far less unhappiness for so many reasons.

Exploring this with a coach or therapist who specialises in relationships is really helpful.

l have spent years studying this, and have found through awareness and also through relevant questioning, discovering their own choices that cause and perpetuate unhappiness has an early childhood origin that can be cast aside and replaced by a healthier understanding and truth that gives you a new and better relationship foundation. That does not include being in a relationship of any kind that makes you ill at ease and unhappy.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, N8
Written by Gail Berry, Emotional and Relationship Coach
London, N8

Written by Gail Berry Emotional Coach - both a therapist and an alternative medical practitioner who works with healing people’s core wounds and uses Bach Flower Remedies alongside talking and behavioural therapy to make real change and transformation possible.

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