You can change, and so can your relationship.
In fact, you should change over time. And your relationships should come with you.
The perfect marriage, where people are destined to be together forever, is not a story about two perfect people finding each other. In fact, the perfect marriage does not exist.
Instead, a long-term loving relationship is a tale of two people willing to change in order to stay together.
But this can be scary. Even discussing change in a relationship can cause hurt feelings.
Here are some ways to manage this change so that you and your partner can grow together, instead of growing apart.
Honestly evaluate and communicate your own needs
It is easy to think and communicate in terms of what is missing. “I don’t know who I am anymore,” we may say. “This relationship isn’t giving me what I need.”
This is a great starting point, but a lousy roadmap for change. Realizing this is hard. Communicating it to your partner is completely disorienting.
Instead, think deeply about your needs and desires. Explore the absence and clearly identify what is needed to fill the space.
When you can state your needs in a positive, assertive manner, then it is time to share them with your partner.
Here are some examples:
“I’d like us to show more affection in public.”
“I really like it when we have time for just the two of us on the weekend.”
“I feel there are things at work you aren’t telling me. I’d like you to share with me and let me decide if it is too boring.”
“I feel closer to you when we take time to set 5-year and 10-year goals together.”
Big or small, your needs are your needs. Hoping your partner will guess them all and provide them when you need them is setting your relationship up to fail.
To change your relationship, first change yourself
What remains true, whether you are in a relationship right now or not, is that the one thing you have the most control over is yourself.
You must first be the change you wish to see.
Do you want to get fit? Don’t wait for your partner to invite you to the gym.
Set up your own schedule and issue an invitation.
Do you want more openness in your relationship? Set aside some time together and share some new information. Invite your partner to reciprocate, but don’t wait (or worse, merely hope) for them to suddenly change and invite you along.
Once you have identified your needs aloud, you can’t just sit back and wait for your partner to fill in the blanks. This is unfair to them and to you.
In fact, it is a form of sabotage of the relationship.
Complain, but don’t blame
Communicating your own needs and taking responsibility for yourself does not mean that you can’t complain about the relationship.
In fact, those two steps lay the groundwork for a productive conversation about improvement. And yes, that starts with complaints.
You will need to be careful with your language when complaining. It is easier to sound as if you are blaming your partner.
Some common words we use that sound like blaming are words like “never” or “always”, especially when they are in an observation about changes in your partner’s behavior.
“You never surprise me at work anymore,” or “You always used to bring me flowers,” sound innocent enough, but they can make your partner feel targeted.
A better way to share that you liked it when these things happen is to say that you liked it. “I liked it when we met for drinks and you knew my order,” is a way to invite someone to reconnect with you and pay attention to details.
It is a very different tone from saying, “you quit caring about my favorite drink. I bet you don’t even know what it is anymore.”
Intentionally grow your relationship
You have invested a lot of time and energy and resources into your relationship. This is because your partner has many great qualities. However, being closer to one another sometimes creates daily frictions that hide those great qualities.
This may even go both ways. You may not be so great to be around in the mornings, or maybe your clothes are the ones on the bathroom floor?
Or maybe you have become less open and loving, and you are playing a familiar role you learned growing up, leaving your partner confused and longing for a reset.
Acknowledge that your relationship is growing and changing over time. Both of your needs are likely to mature and transform. This is normal, and it is beautiful. It allows your relationship to be more than one thing through the years.
As you grow, invite your partner to work with you on your relationship. You can do several things together to strengthen your marriage, even if it is not in crisis at the moment.
- Read a relationship book together
- Go to a group marriage retreat or class
- Go to a counselor together
You and your partner deserve to be you best selves in the best possible relationship.
Start working on it today by reaching out to your therapist, looking for options at your church, or by getting in contact with a trained online therapist like Sakina Issa by pressing the red button at the top of this page. Find a time that works for you to discuss options for a single session or an ongoing series.