In some ways, I'm still the same girl I was at 17. Many of my hobbies and personal qualities are well intact. The difference is that I've grown. My interests have bloomed. My career has developed. My values and beliefs about the world have shifted. I have direction and predictability. Mostly, I'm no longer that girl—the girl my husband fell in love with.
How does that work? How can we change so much and maintain a relationship that continues to blossom? We aren't the same people—time has matured us. The world has fine tuned the people we are now.
Yet, somehow, we still work. As do many couples. So what's the trick?
There has to be mutual evolvement for couples to function successfully. Not only that, the couple has to appreciate that growth. There has to be a desire to see the partner develop. If not, bitterness, resentment and conflict will likely result.
We all know a couple who grew apart in ways that no longer blend together. Sometimes, one partner is stuck and has difficulty moving forward. Thus, watching one's significant other grow and change is frustrating and scary. It's hard to watch someone be successful if it's something you're struggling with.
Maybe the toughest part is that couples often grow separately. We pursue our ambitions apart from our partners. We figure out who we are, where we fit in and how we will take on the world in our own ways. This allows us to mature and distance from who we once were—taking some of our old qualities with us, but harvesting a lot of new ones, too.
Therefore, our partners mostly serve as spectators. They get to marvel in our successes and comfort us when we fail. We do the same for them—as objective bystanders.
Our partners can either distract us from growth or catalyze our growth. Sometimes they do both at different points in time. Ultimately, we all want partners who serve to catapult our development as human beings. Someone who challenges, supports, inspires and empowers us. Someone who knows what we came from and who we are capable of becoming. Sort of like a fortune teller—having an image of us that we can't see ourselves. They dare us to take paths we've never crossed before because they're much more certain of the outcome.
Of course, this isn't the case for plenty of couples. What if the relationship has gotten off track? What if there isn't a sense of mutual growth? What if both partners are stagnant? What if so much has changed, the original person is no longer recognizable?
I found some tips at www.sheknows.com. They are useful for the couple who is well-balanced and for the couple who has been struggling to support the other as they evolve. The key is taking time to grow together.
The first suggestion was to take on a volunteer project together. Spend time at a local agency or shelter. Go on a mission trip of some kind. Time spent focusing on a cause allows personal development. This enables the couple to grow as individuals and to grow together.
Further, couples can also learn a new skill together. Try a cooking class, a sport, a skill of some kind and work on supporting one another throughout the process. The time spent bonding and learning something new will help that evolvement take better form.
Travel together. Go somewhere that requires thought, collaboration and working together. See sights you haven't seen before. Experience parts of the world that inspire. The website suggests stepping out of your comfort zone, like visiting a foreign country, where you have to work as a team to figure out the language and cultural differences.
Lastly, figure out what your ultimate goals are as a couple. What do you want to do together? Where do you want to end up? Determine the steps necessary for this and work on them.
Maybe it's a matter of getting to know the partner who has changed over the years. There's nothing wrong with backtracking and dating all over again. And of course, as always, it's important to keep the lines of communication open. Don't assume your partner knows what your thinking and feeling. Be honest.
Change is scary for everyone. Evolvement is slow and gradual, and you may find yourself reflecting on your relationship, wondering how things changed so much.
You can resist it. You can demand the same dynamics you had when you were high school sweethearts. You can stay where you are as a person.
Or you can embrace it, appreciate it and learn from it.
After all, you've probably got a great guide.
Published: September 7, 2012