What happens when growing up means growing out of your marriage?
One winter night in the Colgate University dining hall, sophomore Katie Thompson fell in love between the salad bar and the soft-serve ice cream machine. One cute guy stood out in the crowd. She caught his eye, he asked her for a date, and the rest is history.
They dated through college and their twenties as they launched their careers. They got married at 26, had two kids, and lived happily ever after ... almost.
By the time she turned 36, Katie hardly remembered the girl she was when they'd met, and she realized she hadn't only grown up; she'd grown out of the relationship.
The thing about young love is, well, it's young. When you're 19 and rather naïve, you just don't know the exact woman you will become. Your identity will still be shaped by complex choices around kids and careers.
Personalities and temperaments may not change too much over a person's lifespan, but levels of passion in the college dorm room and opinions of his once-adorable little character traits very well might.
Like that great-looking, comfortable hole-in-the-knee pair of Levi's jeans you threw on for early morning classes, you wake up at 26 to find your significant other is no longer such a perfect fit. You can't wear those jeans so much anymore (they don't look as good and you would look crazy at preschool pick up), and a comfortable relationship might not be enough.
Certainly every marriage gets to the point where taking out the garbage and running the kids to the bus stop takes precedence over lounging around and doing fun "couple" things. But perhaps this change is even more pronounced to couples who were together in their carefree college years when compatibility wasn't yet a key priority.
According to "Dr. Romance" Tina Tessina, psychotherapist and author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, our culture has also blown romance out of proportion.
"Romance is a momentary, fleeting thing and it does add excitement to a relationship, but it's not a way of life," she says. "You can't keep it going every moment through the stress and business of everyday life."
That lovesick college coed can turn into a different woman ten or twenty years down the line, explains Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, a psychologist and social worker who's doing research on women's relationships.
"Many college students' brains haven't finished maturing yet," she explains. "Unfortunately, many couples part because they feel as though they've grown apart. And they probably have. After all, they've likely hit their stride and focused their values, skills, interests and goals more clearly."
Sometimes, changes bubble up when the husband starts saying, "You aren't the girl I married." He sulks about that or sneaks around having an affair.
This happened to Sharon, a marriage counselor of all things, who met Jake at 15, married him at 21, and saw the marriage disintegrate 27 years later. Her husband had known her as an insecure girl. Once she became a woman — a respected therapist, worldwide speaker and well-known community volunteer — the relationship balance shifted, and tipping that scale changed things.
Experts say situations like this arise partially because people don't understand personal growth through the stages of adult development.
So, how do you know if you've really outgrown the relationship or if these feelings are just a passing phase? Don't panic or think divorce just yet, Dr. Wish advises. Seek counseling, or have a conversation with yourself.
Ask and answer the following questions:
- Do I respect and like him?
- Does his behavior show me that he's a team player who brings competence, caring, respect and complementary aspects that balance mine?
- Do we share common values, lifestyles, interests, maturity, passion and commitment to the relationship?
"Write down all the reasons you love and chose him in the beginning, and ask yourself if these reasons are still active and important," she explains. Honest answers might reinforce or redirect the path you think you've chosen.
Optimism does remain for some. For couples who met young, the good news is they already established a strong foundation of mutual respect and a loving environment.
For Jessica Small, who met her husband Craig freshman year in college, things are still going strong twenty years later.
"I'm a very different person than when we first met; I'm not as needy, dependent or insecure," she says. "The upside to meeting young is that you grow together, become better together and as individuals. Our relationship today is very different than the one we had twenty years ago."
And for Jessica, that works. For others, it simply doesn't. If you're one of those women in a relationship that you're certain you've outgrown, give yourself a break. Stop blaming yourself. You were young!
Know you will thrive on your own and find love again. Be confident you asked yourself the right questions before moving forward. The answers may have surprised, saddened or stimulated you to action, but you're older and wiser now. And you owe it to the 19-year-old girl you were to live a loving life.