“We used to have things in common and we wanted to be with each other. But over the years we simply grew apart…” ~Laura, describing why her marriage of thirteen years ended
So many couples describe what went wrong with their marriage or relationship with the “we grew apart” explanation. If such a statement is true, then its wisdom lies in the acknowledgment that self-growth is an inherent part of who we are. Growth implies forward-movement–an expansion of the self–and couples can do this together, apart, or attempt to remain stagnant.
Without some level of growth together (as a couple), the danger of growing apart is heightened.
Growing apart involves a weakening of the emotional bond that is needed to sustain relationships. When this occurs, there is no sense of commonality, no emotional connection or intimacy. In short, the other begins feeling like an unwelcome stranger; a person you don’t want to move toward and be vulnerable with when you’re in need; someone who no longer holds that special status; and simply, someone you do not care to share your life with.
As a couple grows apart (without the relationship keeping up with this growth), each person increasingly disengages from one another while finding ways to connect and grow outside the relationship or marriage. The sphere of impact of the relationship shrinks until a critical point is reached and one or both partners are ready to move on without the other.
Relationship Help: Growing Separately While Growing Together
“All human plans [are] subject to ruthless revision by Nature, or Fate, or whatever one preferred to call the powers behind the Universe.” ~Arthur C. Clarke
Life is unpredictable. Life is about starts and stops, growth and stagnation, twists and turns.
And just when you think you’ve got it all figured out and you’re journeying down a welcoming path, a path of your choosing or creation, something unexpected happens. Suddenly you’re faced with a disruption that may require you to adapt in ways that challenge you to the core.
Couples in a long-term relationship know this firsthand. We live it; we deny it; we fight against it. And the lucky ones are able to accept and ride life’s unpredictability together. When you resist change, when you try to pigeonhole your relationship (or one another), the inherent need for growth and movement that exists in all of us is artificially blocked. When this occurs, forward movement is only possible outside the marriage or relationship. You (or your partner) have no choice but to evolve without the other.
Growth as a couple doesn’t mean becoming carbon copies of each other: you don’t have to love everything your partner loves, or find what moves him/her moving, or embrace one another’s hobbies, interests and passions.
That said, here’s what couples who grow together report:
- They have at least one important shared interest that they engage in together;
- They support one another in their separate interests (e.g., “I’ll watch the children so you can go to your class”);
- They are curious and want to know about each other’s outside interests (*acceptance of your partner’s interests does not look like indifference*);
- They welcome learning from one another. (While couples are peers, we also become each other’s teacher/mentor from time to time. This, however, never involves a patriarchal “I know best” attitude, but rather one of mutual influence.)
Since change is inevitable, relationships must evolve to accommodate and grow with these shifting tides. In other words, using change to grow as a couple is key to a lasting and fulfilling relationship. Adaptability to change starts with a mindset of openness (not resistance), mutual curiosity (not indifference) and a willingness to participate in and witness each other’s life.
Here’s to a marriage/relationship that is allowed to evolve and flourish!
Dr. Rich Nicastro
(Featured [top] image “Upset 3d character” by Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)