keep (one) at arm's length

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keep (one) at arm's length

To keep one a certain distance away, either physical or figurative, in order to afford a level of safety or security or to prevent intimacy. John always keeps his friends at arm's length, so that no one gets close enough to hurt his feelings. My daughter likes to watch me cook, but I make sure to keep her at arm's length so she doesn't get close to anything hot.
See also: keep, length
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

keep someone at arm's length

If you keep someone at arm's length, you avoid being friendly with them or getting emotionally involved with them. Brian felt more guilt than grief. He'd tried to get close, but his father had kept him at arm's length.
See also: keep, length, someone
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012

keep someone or something at arm's length

avoid intimacy or close contact with someone or something.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

keep somebody at arm’s ˈlength

avoid becoming too friendly with somebody: He’s the kind of man who’s best kept at arm’s length.
See also: keep, length, somebody
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

keep at arm's length, to

To avoid familiarity, to keep someone at a distance. This expression, with its inevitable image of extending one’s arm to push someone away, has long been used figuratively to signify distancing oneself from a problem, group, political stand, and so forth. In the sixteenth century it was put as at arm’s end, as Sir Philip Sidney had it in Arcadia (1580), but by the mid-seventeenth century it began to appear as at arm’s length.
See also: keep, to
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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References in periodicals archive ?
No, I think the best I can do is keep at arm's length, enabling these remarkable, passionate, 'been there, done that' people to do their stuff.
Think about separating people you like from those you need to keep at arm's length. Although you're a caring sign, you also need to be cared for, so you have to focus in the right place.
Another feature equally appreciated is the laid-back attitude of the local police.L TIME was when political parties were banned from having stands on the Eisteddfod field, as the festival attempted to keep at arm's length from politics.
But his second half substitute appearance has rekindled his desire to keep at arm's length makers of quiz programmes and chat shows for a little while longer.
No longer was betting part of the `sin industry' for the Government to keep at arm's length, yet profit from.
It was the Victorian father method, designed to keep at arm's length rowdy children, who might have occasionally wanted a bit of affection too, but never got it.