The Essence of Personal Space in Multicultural Counseling

Apr 6, 2023

Therapist doing online therapy Telehealth

Personal boundaries are an essential part of nonverbal communication. How much you let other people into your space shows what kind of relationship you have with them.

Still, even in our most intimate relationships, our individuality is an essential aspect of who we are. So, while feeling genuinely connected to your partner is vital for relationship success, so is setting boundaries and maintaining your own space.

What is Personal Space?

Personal space can be described as the distance we prefer having between other people and us to feel comfortable. However, personal space in our interactions may also mean setting emotional, psychological, and spiritual boundaries.

When any of these areas is compromised, the part of our brain, known as the amygdala sends out a fear signal, which causes us to feel anxious and insecure. So, keeping our personal space helps us stay safe by controlling our stress levels.

Why Is Personal Space Important in Relationships?

  • Helps Feel Safe

Setting boundaries helps you and your partner know what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not. This makes you feel safe and respected. Feeling safe in a relationship means feeling accepted and respected despite showing your flaws and weaknesses.

On the other hand, a lack of boundaries regarding your time, needs, space, and activities can make you feel insecure and uneasy, harming your well-being and your relationship.

  • Promotes Personal Growth

You can express who you truly are in a relationship where you feel secure and at ease without worrying that the other person will reject or criticize you.

  • Protects Privacy and Independence

Boundaries between long-term couples that are too blurry can lead to a loss of privacy and autonomy, often diminishing intimacy and sexual desire.

  • Promotes Interdependence

Also, if you don’t know how to set yourself apart or keep your own identity in a relationship, you might become codependent and needy.

Being dependent is not the same as being deeply connected and vulnerable to one another (this is known as interdependence). For example, you may create a healthy personal space by giving your partner room when they are experiencing emotional discomfort while remaining close enough to show compassion and let them know you care and are there for them.

  • Nurtures Self-Esteem and Confidence

When your personal boundaries are unclear or nonexistent, it might be challenging to say “no” and protect your well-being. Because of this, you may let your romantic partners take advantage of you, leaving you feeling hurt, ashamed, and resentful.

Maintaining personal space in your relationships could help you avoid feeling this way and boost your confidence and self-worth. In a relationship, giving each other personal space can help you figure out what you need and feel less insecure, resentful, and angry.

Potential Cultural Differences Regarding Personal Space

However, people from different cultural backgrounds have different views about personal space. Attitudes towards personal space, for example, differ from Asia to Europe and the Americas, and within people living the same continents.

Studies show that, for instance, people who live in colder areas tend to want more personal space than those who live in warmer regions. While people in Northern Europe or Canada might consider touching or kissing a stranger or acquaintance unacceptable, people in Southern Europe or South America may find turning down an embrace or kiss offensive.

Balancing what is expected and appreciated with your background, beliefs, and expectations can be challenging. So, in an individualistic environment like America, someone from a collectivistic culture may need help integrating and maintaining good cross-cultural interactions.

How to Create a Healthy Personal Space in a Relationship

Understanding your partner’s personal boundaries is critical because this can help you build good communication and feel confident and honest with one another. So, here five ways to maintain personal space in couples and improve your relationship.

1.    Discuss Your Boundaries Openly

Personal space is not about not caring about other people or being selfish. Instead, it is an important part of self-care and self-love.

But, depending on their culture, your partner may think your need for space is a sign of selfishness or a lack of commitment. With this said, couples therapy could help you discussing your boundaries, expectations, and needs with your spouse with an objective lens.

2.    Have Separate Hobbies

Keep different interests and activities that you like doing on your own time to maintain your identity and retain your personal space.

3.    Spend Time with Friends

Take some time for yourself and get out with friends without your partner. This can give you a little break from each other and help you appreciate your relationship and the time you spend together.

4.    Avoid Invading One Another’s Private Space

Try not to question your partner if they need some “me time.” Also, avoid looking at your partner’s phone, computer, or social media accounts since this is one of the first steps in developing trust and healthy personal space in a relationship.

5.    Seek Support

Couples counseling can help you deal with cultural differences in your views of personal space. A devoted psychotherapist might help you work through feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. This could help you find a balance between your different expectations and navigate the challenges of your mixed-heritage relationship.

Let’s connect soon so we can set up a consultation.

Filippo M. Forni, LMFT is an individual and couples therapist in Los Angeles, CA. His goal is to provide high-quality and effective goal-oriented therapy services to the Los Angeles and Century City community. He has extensive training in sexuality and multiculturalism and serves as an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology.