Giving Someone Space After You Hurt Them
When you hurt someone you care about, whether intentionally or not, it can be difficult to know how to move forward in the relationship.
Often, the natural inclination is to want to apologize profusely, make amends, and seek forgiveness right away. However, that may not always be the best approach.
Sometimes, the healthiest thing you can do is give the other person some space to process their hurt feelings before trying to reconcile.
Here’s some guidance on why giving space can help heal wounds, when it’s appropriate to give space versus initiate contact, and how to give space in a thoughtful manner.
Why Giving Space Can Help
When you’ve hurt someone, their first reaction is often to feel raw emotions like anger, sadness, shock, or betrayal. They need time to work through those feelings before they’re ready to engage in a calm discussion with you about what happened.
If you try to force a conversation immediately, it may lead to more hurt feelings or arguments rather than reconciliation. The wounded person may say things they later regret or not be able to articulate their emotions constructively.
Giving space allows the following healing to occur:
- The hurt party can express their emotions to someone else first, like a friend or counselor, and get those feelings off their chest.
- Strong emotions like anger can begin to dissipate so that calm, rational conversation is possible.
- They can gain clarity on how they feel about the situation and what they need from you to resolve it.
- If they were deeply betrayed, space gives them time to think through whether the relationship is savable or should be ended.
- The time apart allows both parties to reflect on their role in the situation and do some self-examination.
- Absence can make the heart grow fonder, rekindling appreciation.
So while it’s counterintuitive, pulling back temporarily can set the stage for coming back together stronger.
When to Initiate Contact vs Give Space
It can be tricky to know whether to reach out or give more time after you’ve caused hurt. Consider the following factors:
Give them space if:
- The hurt you caused was very deep or a major betrayal.
- They directly ask for space from you.
- They’re too emotional right now to have a calm discussion.
- The relationship was on unsteady ground already.
- Communication has broken down into arguments and defensiveness.
Initiate contact if:
- The hurt, while real, was fairly minor in the context of your relationship.
- It’s been a significant amount of time already.
- They’re open to talking and working things out when you reach out.
- The relationship has enough of a foundation to withstand the issue.
- Not communicating would only worsen misunderstandings.
When in doubt, give it more time. One rule of thumb is to give them at least as much time as it takes you to cool down when you’re very upset. If it usually takes you 24 hours to regroup, give them 24 hours minimum.
How to Give Space Thoughtfully
When you give someone space, it’s important to do so in a way that respects their needs and conveys that you still care. Avoid these common mistakes:
- Going completely silent – At a minimum, send a text/email confirming you’ll give them time and space. Silence can feel punishing.
- Not giving any timeframe – If possible, provide an idea of when you’ll check in again, like “in a few days.” Open-ended silence can cause anxiety.
- Getting angry or defensive – They need to work through their hurt feelings. Don’t make them defend their need for space.
- Smothering them – Don’t bombard them with apologies or demands to process together immediately.
- Discussing with others – Don’t gossip or complain about the situation to others. Keep it private.
- Sudden over-contact – When you reconnect, ease in slowly at first. Don’t go instantly back to constant contact.
Here are some thoughtful ways to give space:
- State that you recognize they need time and you want to respect that.
- Assure them you’ll be available to talk when they’re ready.
- Briefly apologize without an expectation that they’re ready to discuss it further yet.
- Check-in after a reasonable period to see if they’re ready to talk.
- When you do reconnect, listen fully to their perspective.
- Until everything has been worked through, interact gently and with care.
Moving Forward After Making Amends
If giving space was the right choice, it can set the stage for coming back together and moving forward positively. Once the hurt party feels their feelings have been heard and validated, reconciliation is possible.
To make amends, consider:
- Sincerely apologizing for your words or actions, without qualifications or excuses.
- Listening without interruption as they express their feelings and perspective.
- Expressing empathy for how they felt and acknowledging how you’d feel in their shoes.
- Identifying what led to the hurt and how it can be prevented going forward.
- Asking what they need to regain trust and feel emotionally safe again.
- Respecting if they need more time and cannot work through everything immediately.
With time and continued empathy, the caring connection can be restored and wounds can heal. While challenging, going through a difficult reconciliation process can ultimately strengthen your understanding and bond.
When you’ve hurt someone deeply, your instinct can be to immediately apologize and set things right. However, they may not be ready to engage constructively yet due to raw emotions. Giving space allows feelings to cool down so that calm discussion and rebuilding of trust is possible. Initiate contact again when appropriate, not too soon or too late. With time, care, and empathy, even serious hurts can mend.