“It’s incredibly easy for couples to grow apart because we have such busy lives,” according to Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW, a psychotherapist who specializes in couples therapy. Life, with its myriad commitments and responsibilities, will pull you apart, unless you consciously resist, she said.
These are some red flags that you’re growing apart, according to Bush: consistently spending less time together; going to bed at different times; making big decisions without consulting each other (and forgetting that you’re a partner and a “we”); keeping secrets; feeling lonely when you’re together or not enjoying each other’s company; and not having sex.
Fortunately, there are many ways you can reconnect and grow together. Here are six suggestions.
1. Talk about it.
Let your partner know how you’re feeling, and brainstorm ways you can grow closer, Bush said. For instance, you might say, “I’m not feeling as close to you as I used to, and I really want to feel that again,” or “It seems like we’re growing apart, what can we do?”
“This invites collaboration,” instead of playing the blame game. Maybe you decide to schedule more time together, get away for the weekend, read a relationship book or seek couples counseling, she said. “Sometimes as few as five therapy sessions can make a difference.”
And the earlier you come in, the better. Research shows that couples wait around six years before seeking help, so when they finally start therapy, it’s often too late, Bush said. The relationship is too damaged.
2. Prioritize sex.
“Couples who do not grow apart continue to maintain a satisfying physical relationship,” said Meredith Hansen, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist who works with couples in Newport Beach, Calif.
In fact, sex can be a good barometer for how healthy a relationship is, Bush said.
Commit to making sex a priority, Hansen said. Everyone’s needs and desires are different, so talk about it, and try to meet in the middle, Bush said. Scheduling sex can help, she said.
3. Bring back old habits.
Sometimes, it can help to recall the things you did together when you were falling in love, said Bush, also co-author of 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage: Advice to Recharge and Reconnect Every Day. What activities did you like? What helped you grow together?
For instance, maybe you loved exercising together or watching baseball games or attending concerts.
4. Try new things.
“Relationships thrive on novelty,” Bush said. It’s important for our brains and keeps things interesting and exciting, she said. For instance, try a new restaurant, start a new hobby or visit a new city.
5. Plan recurring date nights.
“Plan a regular date night and commit to talking about anything but the kids, reminisce about [your] dating days and share something that the other doesn’t know about that period of time,” Hansen said.
6. Ask meaningful questions.
“To avoid growing apart, couples must remain interested in one another,” Hansen said. One way to do that is to ask your spouse meaningful questions. They “help deepen the conversation and allow us access to our partner’s inner thoughts and feelings.”
For instance, if your partner reveals that they’re frustrated about work, instead of suggesting solutions, “ask them how this makes them feel, what would help them get through this difficult time [and] what they need in this moment.”
If you’re new parents, talk about how becoming a parent has changed you, what you like most about it, and what’s been the most surprising change, she said.
She also shared these additional questions: “What are you happiest with in life? What would you like to see change in our life/your life? How has life surprised you? What goals do you have for our family/work/our children over the next year/five years/10 years? How can I better support you as a spouse? What are you most proud of?”
“Your relationship is like a gift in your life. You want to nurture it, be grateful for it and do everything you can to keep it thriving,” Bush said. If you’re feeling distance in your relationship, your partner probably is too, she said. Be open with each other and decide how you’d like to grow together.
* If you or someone you know is struggling with changes in their relationship, contact Aspen Counseling Services to schedule an Initial Assessment.