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When Relationships Change: Growing Together, Not Apart

Walking Together

“Change is inevitable. Growth is intentional.” ~Glenda Cloud

I got married three years ago right out of college. We had been together since freshman year, and lived together for two years. Still, we didn’t fully understand what was coming our way.

I remember my parents telling me, “You know, marriage is a lot of work. It requires effort.” I fervently assured them that I understood, because I thought I did. But understanding something conceptually and experiencing that thing are two different animals.

Our first year of marriage was fine. To be honest, I don’t remember too much about it. It was more of the same; just a couple of kids having fun.

What I did not know then was that tiny hurts and resentments had begun to creep up on us. I believe these were unspoken, unconscious issues that had been present but overlooked throughout our relationship.

The manifestation of these problems was subtle at first. It was just our usual way of operating; little jibes at each other, veiled judgments, stubborn protests. Nothing new, but something had changed.

My wife took up Tango. I didn’t. She started going out more often. I stayed at home more and more. The rift that had already occurred between us had just been unmasked.

We started fighting more often. In some cases, they were brutal, malicious, screaming fights. At a certain point we began to “accept” our situation.

I decided I would just deal with it and do my best. But my idea of dealing with it was mortally flawed. I stopped protesting to her outings, and she began to spend more and more time away from home.

The resentment built up inside both of us. There was almost no real communication happening. Sure, we had our good days, but in general, we cried more than we laughed.

Finally, one night my wife didn’t come home. Neither of us called or texted. I went to bed alone, as I was wont to do those days, but I woke up in a panic around three in the morning when I realized she still wasn’t home.

Then, I called, texted, worried, and repeated the process for two hours. She finally arrived home at 5am. She had been dancing all night. She did it to hurt me, because she was hurt.

We were both in so much pain.

The next day, we sat down with each other. I said that we could not go on this way. We both admitted how angry we were at one another. We were not well-versed in this type of conscious conversation, so we talked in circles.

Yet, it was a turning point.

We made two decisions. First, we would seek out couple’s therapy. Second, we would take a trial separation. This was heart wrenching. How had we gotten to this point?

We began couple’s therapy and shortly thereafter realized that we both needed individual counseling. We were dealing with deep-seated emotional issues that we had never before confronted.

The first eight months of counseling were difficult. During that time, we separated twice for a month each time. But once again, something had started to change…for the better this time.

Our arguments slowly became less enraged screaming matches, and more constructive, intelligent conversations. This took months and many little breakthroughs.

We started spending more quality time with each other, making the decision and the effort to really be with one another. We resolved to listen and stay present, and to be honest about what we were thinking and feeling. If you’ve been in a long-term relationship, you know how difficult that can be.

Now, a year and half later, my wife and I are still in counseling, but our relationship is better than it has ever been. We make it a point to sit down and have a check-in conversation at least once a week, if not more.

We have learned to compromise on our social endeavors. She still dances. In fact, she’s an incredible dancer. And I go with her when I can (though I’m no good). In turn, she spends more evenings at home with me when time and work permits. 

Ultimately, what we learned was that if there was to be communication, we had to speak and listen to one another with intense presence, honesty, patience, and compassion. And above all, we realized that we had to accept that our relationship was changing, that it needed to change.

When our problems first surfaced, things had stagnated. In many ways we had resisted change: the transition from student to working adult, from boy to man, from girlfriend to wife. But if we’re always resisting we never see what is right in front of us (or inside of us).

What I’ve come to realize is that often we leave things unsaid because we believe broaching the issue will be more trouble than it’s worth. In turn, we get defensive when our partner is critical, even in a constructive way.

In both cases, we are resisting what is and the opportunity to grow. It is a recipe for resentment, anger, and ultimately, apathy.

I urge you to think of yourself in this light. Whether on a large or small level, how often do you resist what’s going on inside of you? No one wants to feel annoyed, hurt, angry, or sad. But if we feel that way, we must accept. Otherwise we suppress and miss an opportunity for self-growth.

Only when we make the decision to acknowledge what is really there can we take the first steps toward healing. When that happens, we stop fighting the truth and are able to loosen the grip on all the pain to which we are so accustomed.

Nothing is ever perfect, but we must remember that to live and to love is to change and to grow. We can resist it all we want, but change is inevitable.

Growth, on the other hand, is conditional. It only happens when we choose to embrace change one moment at a time.

Photo by Garry Knight

About Terence Stone

Terence is the Chief Writer/Editor of Urban Spiritual, which he founded in hopes of helping others (especially city-dwellers) on their spiritual/introspective journeys.  He's also a performer, poet, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast. Feel free to connect with Urban Spiritual on FacebookTwitter, and Google+

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  • Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I often get caught in this issue:
    “What I’ve come to realize is that often we leave things unsaid because
    we believe broaching the issue will be more trouble than it’s worth. In
    turn, we get defensive when our partner is critical, even in a
    constructive way.”
    Which results in me keeping things in and then letting them bubble over. We’re working on it though..

  • Jeff

    You described my marriage right up to the point of starting to communicate again. We unfortunately let things continue to boil as we both grew more and more unhappy until we split last year. Communication is beyond important, it is vital and necessary if any relationship is to succeed. We all change and evolve over our lives and if we can’t communicate it with our partners, then the relationship is in serious trouble.

  • Terence Stone

    Janelle, thanks for reading and for the kind words. I know how hard it can be, but hang in there! Wishing you all the best.

  • Terence Stone

    Jeff, thanks for reading. I’m sorry to hear about your relationship, but I couldn’t have said it better myself. Communication is paramount.

  • Alexey Sunly

    Excellent piece, Terrence! I know a couple who could very much benefit from reading this, and I am forwarding it to them (y)

  • Terence Stone

    Thank you for the kind words, Alexey! Glad you enjoyed.

  • Tim

    Excellent message Terrence. Sharing your learning in such an articulate and expressive way helps every one of us who has the same lesson(s) to learn on the journey.

  • dburney

    Jeff, you nailed it. That’s exactly how my relationship went. We too split last year (after 20 years) – our divorce was final a few weeks ago.

    Terence – I applaud your efforts! Once I realized how far down the hole we had gone, I was the only one trying desperately to hang on. And in retrospect, even that was out of sheer fear of being lonely. I’m glad you are taking the steps to “grow” with your partner. This growth is inevitable. We can either do it together or apart.

  • Terence Stone

    Tim, thank you for your words. I truly appreciate it. I’m glad you’ve gleaned some meaning from my words. Wishing you all the best.

  • Terence Stone

    dburney, sorry to hear about your relationship as well. Thank you for reading and for the kind words. Growing together is one of the hardest things to do because we need to learn how to curb our normal selfish tendencies, but so far it is so worth it.

  • dburney

    Agreed. There’s this notion that true love doesn’t require work. Or that if you find that special “one” that it’s gonna be easy. The best relationships are the ones where both participants are actively working to nurture it. Best of luck as you continue on your journey!

  • A

    Do you believe there is such a thing as too much communication? Is it possible to get to a point in a relationship where it is no longer possible to grow together? One person is growing and the other is perfectly happy where they are?

  • cmcoto

    Terence Great Post!

    The difficult step is to COMMUNICATE! I lost a marriage for the reason that we where too young… and didn´t know how to communicate the needs, wants, and everything in between…love, anger, etc. Now I am in a second marriage, and communication is essential to maintaining our marriage and love.

  • Jeff

    19 years for us when we split. Hard to imagine a marriage of that long just sort of fizzling out because neither of us could get up the courage to speak out loud and communicate our wants and needs. It’s a slippery slope when you start internalizing and stop talking.

  • Terence Stone

    cmcoto, thanks for reading and for your kind words. Yes, real communication can be a tricky thing sometimes. Often, we think we’re communicating something completely different than what we actually are. That is why it is so important to look inward first and then speak. When you know where you are, how you feel, what you need, only then can you speak with clarity and without getting into blaming, evasion, and suppression. Congrats on your second marriage. I wish you all the best.

  • Terence Stone

    I think there is such a thing as too much unskilful communication. Whether we realize or not. We are always communicating something. If I’m sitting on the couch watching TV and my wife is pouring out her heart to me and I’m answering with half nods and delayed ‘mmhmms’ and ‘uh-huhs’ then I am communicating something to her. It could be any number of things to her – that’s the point. You can’t know what your significant other is thinking or feeling, and you won’t know until both parties examine those modes of communication and what you ‘think’ the other is communicating.

    It’s hard to fully answer your question because I don’t know the specifics, but let’s say you or someone you know is in this situation you describe. The person who feels that they are growing needs to make that very clear. You can say “I feel like I’m growing and wanting to explore this or that, or move here or there, and what I’m getting from you is that you are happy where you are, but what I also feel is that maybe you don’t care that I am in fact changing and growing or maybe you don’t want me to change.” That’s just a rough example. If the other person comes back with an evasive or flippant response, then that says something about them- something they’re not willing to acknowledge or talk about. Then, there IS a problem, and it’s not being voiced. Of course one can’t force the other to speak, but one can be very forthcoming and honest about the fact that they are willing and want to speak more openly and honestly, and if the other person can’t do that, then it seems there are some major obstacles ahead.

    Hope that makes sense and maybe helps a little. I also believe that no one is ever just happy where they are. That statement implies that one has become incredibly attached to a way of being, when the truth is that ‘being’ or ‘to be’ is a fluid thing. They may be comfortable. They may have everything they need, but they can’t stop the fact that they are changing every moment of every day and so are their loved ones. We all must learn to adapt to change no matter how small or large.

  • disqus_CBzaMALObb

    Going through this right now! So much communication and it’s been wonderful. I have been with my boyfriend for six years and we make sure we communicate about how we’re both feeling. It’s been really wonderful. Communication is HUGE and so important. But it’s the compassion that makes it comfortable and secure. It’s all about communication and compassion 🙂 which are both essential for marriage and relationships

  • Terence Stone

    Thanks for reading. I’m glad your relationship is going well! In regards to compassion and communication, couldn’t have said it better myself. I would also add, learning how to empathize is extremely important. Compassion is the gateway to empathy, and if you can learn to get into your significant other’s state of being as much as possible (it’s never fully possible), there is more and more opportunity for growth. Wishing you the best on your journey.

  • Tiela Garnett

    Wonderful article, Terence! Thank you.

  • Terence Stone

    You’re most welcome, Tiela. Thanks for reading.

  • Andrew McIntyre

    Terence, I sent you a message via other channels but I wanted to add to the comments here publicly and state that your article was extremely helpful to me in my personal life situation. Your willingness to admit to challenges you faced and the growth received from those challenges is needed, especially in these trying times. Thank you for having the courage and wisdom to impart your knowledge in a way that could leave you open to criticism. You’ll find none from me.

  • Terence Stone

    Andrew, thanks so much for the kind words. I’m glad my words were helpful to you. As I write more and more and as my own blog grows, I find it increasingly important to be honest, candid, and courageous about personal hardship and experience. In any case, when I put my writing out there, it’s open to criticism whether I put all of myself out there or not. I figure if I’m going to be criticized, might as well be for something I offer with conviction and honesty. Thanks again. I wish you only the best on your journey.

  • Denise Dare

    Terence, I totally agree that we have to release the resistance and CHOOSE to embrace growth as our life moves forward and the nuances of relationship change.

    It feels so good to know that this is part of the human experience…that we are not alone…that other people understand and know what it’s like to face challenge.

    My fave line: Nothing is ever perfect, but we must remember that to live and to love is to change and to grow.

    Thank you for sharing your insight!

    Peace, Love & Happiness,

    Denise 🙂

  • Melissa

    thank you Terence! Really need this 🙂

  • Matt

    Sometimes I feel like my relationship is heading towards that period where my partner would want to have a trial separation. But I worry that during that time it’s fair game for her to have physical relations with other people, and upon reconciliation, she’ll never tell me that it happened. 🙁

  • Sophie

    I completely agree and understand this. Communication is so incredibly vital especially when you are young and still growing. I wonder though what it is when you have a partner that won’t reciprocate the communication. My partner and I are amazing together, and I have been on an amazing spiritual journey and discovered who I am and what I want from life. But my partner is stuck in a very deep depression and says the only things that make him happy are partying and socialising with everyone but me. Some days I’m lucky if he says more than a handful of words to me. I start calm conversations about my needs and try to get communication flowing but there is no meeting me halfway. I know he takes me standing by him for granted and doesn’t believe he needs to make an effort, and I don’t know how to make him understand that he’s going to lose me if something doesn’t change. And I wonder if I’m even unfair to place these expectations on someone that’s already dealing with depression.

  • Terence Stone

    Denise, thank you for your kind response. I’m glad my words spurned some insight into your own experience. Wishing you peace of mind and heart.

  • Cactuscat

    I am sad for you Sophie.

    If he refuses to change or get help for his depression, don’t feel obligated to stay and be unhappy yourself.

  • Xavier Nathan

    An article like this that comes from the heart and shares such a personal experience is the most helpful, in my humble opinion. Thank you for sharing.

  • Terence Stone

    Xavier, thanks for reading and for the kind response. Be well.

  • Terence Stone

    Sophie, it is not unfair to want happiness and love for yourself. At the end of the day, you must attend to your own needs first. Otherwise, you get locked in an extremely painful struggle that could drag you into the depths of depression as well. If you’re interested read this article I wrote that talks more about taking care of oneself first and foremost: http://urbanspiritual.org/2013/05/09/selfishness-the-road-to-friendship/ …Also check out “Why love hurts and being a wholesome half” under the relationships section from the drop down at the top of my site. This kind of thing is very painful especially when you love someone else so much, but you cannot do all the work in the relationship. Even if it was 70/30 or 80/20, that would be better than you doing 100 percent of the work. Take care of yourself, Sophie. You deserve to be loved and appreciated. Wishing you peace of mind and strength of heart.

  • Terence Stone

    Matt, when my wife and I took our separations, we set out very clear rules, one of which was that we would not engage in sexual conduct with each other or anyone else. It confuses matter too much. Taking a separation is ultimately suppose to be a meditative and contemplative time wherein one explores his or herself and gains some space from and thereby a different perspective on the relationship. Hope this helps. I wish you the best in your relationship.

  • Terence Stone

    You’re most welcome, Melissa! Thanks for reading.

  • dburney

    Yes, once honest communication gives way to insecurity you have a recipe for trouble.

  • Brittany

    Thank you for sharing. I am humbled by your words and you have reminded me to be giving and compassionate in my relationship while also being willing to share my feelings. Although I am not married, I try to keep a healthy balance in my relationship so that we will move forward together. I appreciate your post!

  • Terence Stone

    Brittany, thanks for the kind response. I’m glad my words moved you to such loving thoughts. Be well.

  • lv2terp

    Great post, thank you for being vulnerable sharing your story! When you said…”Nothing is ever perfect, but we must remember that to live and to love
    is to change and to grow. We can resist it all we want, but change is
    inevitable.” , that is a great take away thank you! 🙂

  • Terence Stone

    Thanks for reading and for your kind words. Glad you enjoyed.

  • Debbie

    I am very glad to hear that you and your wife are working through the troubled waters. In goo relationships we all go through them. One thing that my hubby and I do is at least talk for an hour each day and if we get really angry with one another the word divorce is never said or throught about.
    Thank you for sharing your story Terence, I am sure it will be a help to many couples. Changes is always good with a positive attitude.

  • Terence Stone

    Thanks for the kind words, Debbie! Wishing you the very best.

  • David Goettsch

    Terrence, this article really spoke to me! I went through a very similar situation and I am finally back on the right track after some serious soul searching. Criticism and fighting with your loved one is so hard because they can cut deeper than anyone and the criticism often hits too close to home. You nailed it though man, if there is a recipe for love it is communicate communicate communicate. Get the issues in the air while they are still manageable. Awesome article, thanks for sharing.

    Dave @personalgrowthproject

  • Renee

    I completely agree. My and my boyfriend haven’t really had any arguments but we just recently went through a very rough patch in our relationship. It took a couple of months before we finally confronted the issue and talked it out, both listening to the other and talking about we felt about it and what we thought. When it was over, we both realized how light we felt after getting everything off of our chests and opening up to one another. If anything, it deepened our connection and I’m really glad we had that much needed talk. I’m marking this under favorites so if we ever come to a point of arguing a lot, we can both go back and read this, Thank you for your wise words!

  • Gretchen

    So many couples out there experience this exact same thing, myself and hubby included. It’s very ironic that lack of love almost always is never the issue but learning to love each other through the change of your relationship seems to be one that is. Thank you for sharing your beautiful experience; I hope you and your wife cultivate a connection that lasts forever! Be well~

  • Vera

    Loved your article! Definitely hit home for me & my partner. We started dating at age 21 and have been through a lot of changes together in the past 7 years. We have worked very hard to grow together through many, often difficult, life transitions & experiences. I wholeheartedly agree that direct, compassionate communication & expression of deeply rooted internal conflicts is absolutely essential. Who else to help you fight your darkest demons, if not your partner. 🙂

  • Crystal

    I can agree. I try to communicate with my partner but he rather not listen to what I have to say as long I as listen to him, it makes the day better. I am the blame for everything and he says I must change. What advise can you give me?

  • Roxy

    Hi Terence,

    I know you wrote this a couple years ago, but the relevancy is incomparable to what I am going through today.

    I do have one question to ask you: At what point do you realize that some things are just unfixable, or not mean to to be?

    My boyfriend and I have been together over 2 years. We recently split up due to years of resentment, similar to your story. He is white and I am Asian. I never truly felt like I was able to receive the proper emotional support from him, as he is very opinionated and can be culturally insensitive at times (both intentionally and unintentionally). We have talked about our issues numerous times, yet we still fail to change, as he is hot tempered and I always bait him into precarious situations. We have both caused each other so much pain over the years with our words, tearing into each other like mortal enemies. During many times in our relationship, I had asked him why he is still with me, after all the hurt we have caused each other. His response every time was that he loved me.

    We are truly broken up now. And the pain surmounts any of the fights we’ve ever had. I suggested to him we see a therapist. I’m not sure if we can salvage the broken pieces. Sometimes I also think, man, maybe would be easier to just find someone who is truly compatible and supports me unconditionally. But love is never that rational, now is it?

  • Kyaramae Oliva

    Hi,
    I know it’s been 9 months since you’ve posted but I had an urge to reply. I’m in a relationship and I’m also Asian (Filipino) and my boyfriend is white. Growing up in two different cultured families have definetly made an impact on who we both are individually and there’s no doubt about it that our worlds clash. The part about a commitment that people don’t consider a lot is the ‘real’ part in Relationships- The insecurities that turn us into demons doubting the trust we have for the partner and the potiential for the relationship, the small things that aren’t said or done that hits your soul, heart & mind at the same time…. those are the only some of the facts. But if you focus on not the facts but truly deeply about who the person you love is. Why this person makes you better by just existing, get REAL with yourself. Could this guy be your husband? Do you think he can assist with helping put together a home for you, working together financially for a steady income to support a life for you guys, do you think he would be a good father?
    Yes there are factors to determine in a relationship but it all comes down to who this person is. And let me tell you, there are guys that are just there for the moment for us to learn from, and there are keepers. I hate to say it but when you know, you just know. It’s not easy though, relationships are hard motherfu**ing work and you WILL have your doubts because we are all human, but it’s all about determination, dedication and discipline and a will to believe if it doesn’t work now- if you push through it WILL. And girl, believe one day you will find a guy who you will looked past what the fuss about relationships are, and focus on a true bond because nothing and no one will ever beat that.