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How to ‘Hold Space’ for a Healthy Relationship with Others

Patience and radical acceptance are ingredients for deeper, authentic connections with friends and family.

Listening to a friend
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“Hold space” is a phrase that’s often tossed around in conversations about healthy, honest relationships. In general, to “hold space” refers to cultivating skills around giving friends, family members, coworkers and neighbors ample opportunity to navigate challenges before they can find their way back to the choices and behaviors that best serve their lives and your relationship.

“At a minimum,” Rheeda Walker, author of The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health, told Shondaland, “it means taking the initiative, without any prompting, to be empathic to another person’s situation or circumstance and making time for that individual to do whatever is needed for them, like voicing hurt, anger or another strong emotion, and receiving whatever they need to communicate in a way that is supportive and nonjudgmental.” 

Holding space is no easy feat. It requires the patience to be non-reactive, to delay a response even when someone has upset or frustrated you. It also requires radical acceptance, a release of your ideas about who the other person should or can be, and openness and honesty about who they actually are.

These skills require us to know ourselves as well. “Holding space is a form of attunement or the ability to be aware of our own state of mind and body while also tuning in and connecting to another person, the University of Pennsylvania professor Edward Brodkin said to Shondaland.

Paying attention to our heart rate and breathing patterns, body language—and the body language of the person we’re interacting with—can help us catch ourselves as we might start to ramp up toward reactivity or argumentativeness.

But “holding space” doesn’t ask us to honor others’ feelings without comment or response. Instead, it is a baseline of love and acceptance from which a deeper, more authentic connection can grow.

As Brodkin puts it, “It’s a way of investing in your relationship, nurturing it and enabling it to grow. In order for the relationship to grow, you need to be able to see them for who they really are. If you can’t, then how can you know them with any depth?”

How do you hold space for people in your life? Who can you acknowledge has held space for you?

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