There is no denying that life is chaotic. A marriage might begin with making plans, setting goals and discussing dreams, but then “life happens.”
A question we often neglect however, is “when life happens,” how does it impact your marriage? And furthermore, have you let the stressors of life turn into a reason for why you and your spouse have grown apart?
Growing apart has made the top ranks of multiple studies, lists and questionnaires, as to why divorce occurs in couples. However, according to Dr. John Gottman, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, the notion of “growing apart” is not the real reason that leads to divorce, but in reality is “the turning away from one another,” that truly leads a couple to drift apart.
So what does it mean to “turn away from one another” and how do we become aware if we are doing this in our own marriage?
People continuously grow and change throughout the length of marriage. It might be unreasonable to assume that your spouse will be the exact same person you met years ago. On the flip side, one person may change more than the other and if their new beliefs, needs and wants are not expressed, a disconnect can begin to occur within the marriage.
When life becomes hectic and stressors occur, a common pattern in many couples is to turn away from one another and begin unhealthy patterns of communication, or neglect communication altogether. Luckily, working on these communication patterns is extremely attainable through couples therapy, where an open dialogue can begin to occur. By openly discussing how each individual is feeling in the marriage, couples can begin to unravel the constraints that have been leading to a possible divorce.
Turning Towards One Another
When a couple recognizes that their drifting apart may be the cause of turning away from one another, an effective step towards repairing the relationship comes by simply reversing what you have been doing, and begin to “turn toward one another.”
Turning towards one another can be summed up by the idea of reconnecting. Throughout Gottman’s couples research, he found that within this phase of reconnecting, it wasn’t grand gestures, gifts, or liking the same things, that began to change the cycle of growing apart, but more importantly were the mundane, everyday activities a couple took part in.
Reconnecting with your spouse by turning towards one another begins with the simple acts that take place in a romantic relationship, that have begun to be taken for granted. For instance, laughing together, talking to one another and engaging in what is taking place in each other’s lives, are the initial steps in beginning to turn towards your partner. By beginning to involve one another in these small displays of caring and attention, couples can reconnect and strengthen the emotional connection that may have been drifting away.
Engaging in everyday activities is a healthy way to begin reconnecting with your partner and end turning away from one another. Suggestions of activities could come in the form of:
- Doing chores together
- Cooking dinner with one another
- Calling or texting your partner during the middle of the day to check in
- Going to the gym together
- Taking a long walk and catching up on each other’s day
- Talk, talk, talk to one another
- Having your morning coffee together
- Watching a show you both enjoy
- Paying bills together
- Talking about future plans
- Creating a new goal together
- Laughing with each other
By involving one another in these daily activities, couples can begin to reconnect by spending time focusing on their connection in easy ways. Involving each other in these simple day-to-day tasks, suggests that you are not ignoring your partner and you are engaging in time together, which turns you toward your partner, instead of drifting apart from them.
In addition to taking part in everyday activities together, martial therapy or couples counseling is another positive step in learning to turn towards your partner. Counseling gives a couple the opportunities to work together and speak to one another uninterrupted from daily stressors. By opening up communication with one another, a couple can begin to repair the connection that was lost, and recommit to making the marriage work.
Michael Winters is a Psychologist in Houston focusing on marriage counseling and therapy. Michael received his PhD from the University of Memphis and has been practicing since 1991.