I see a great many couples in my private practice. Lately, there seems to be a theme: couples who have been together or married for many years, who have "grown apart." This feeling is usually expressed by one partner, while the other is caught somewhat off-guard, not realizing things have gotten as bad as they are until the unhappy partner suggests a separation, divorce, or counseling. The expression of incredulity on my clients' faces shows that they really don't understand how their partner could be ready to walk out. The unhappy partner, on the other hand, doesn't understand why their mate is so slow to realize how unhappy they have been.
How does this happen? How is it that each partner's experience of the relationship is so different?
Easily. Add to a typical marriage kids, dual careers, a home to maintain, family to deal with, and friendships to sustain and you have a perfect recipe for how couples grow apart. Life happens, and it is crazy busy. This is not an excuse — it's reality. The question really isn't How does this happen? it's How do we prevent it? and What do we do once it has happened? Is It OK To Date While Separated From Your Spouse?
Let's tackle these one at a time. First, prevention. The greatest antidote to growing apart is to spend time alone together — not time talking about bills or kids or when the hot water heater needs to be replaced. Those things are real and valid and need their due attention, yes. But the time I'm talking about is investment time. This is time spent together talking about each other. Here's a starting list:
- What's been the high point of your life recently?
- What's been the low point?
- What are you struggling with on an emotional level? — doubts, fears, anxieties, etc.
- What are you looking forward to/excited about?
- What has made you feel really good about yourself recently?
- What do you like most about spending time with your partner?
Remember: prevention is a program, not a one-time event. Investment in your relationship, much like your retirement fund, must be consistent in order to yield positive results. It's not easy, but it is definitely worthwhile.
Now, on to what to do once your spouse has already said they are unhappy and might want a separation or divorce. Every situation is different, but some things are usually consistent, such as one person feeling neglected over a long course of time. As difficult as it may be, it's up to the shocked spouse to get more information:
- How long have you felt this way?
- How have you tried to tell me this?
- How have I missed it?
- What can I do now to show you I want to keep our relationship?
As a marriage therapist, I believe there are two vital variables at this stage. One is how far out the "out" partner is, and the other is how hard the other partner is willing to work and change, to show their spouse that things can be different. How Halloween Costumes Can Spice Up Your Relationship