People grow apart. It’s as natural as people growing closer – they develop different interests, have different time or money demands, or they may begin cultivating new habits or dropping old habits. And in friendships, this may not ever be a concern, as we’re much more likely to still retain a friendship even if it’s only a fraction of the interest we once had. However, in a marriage, growing apart can be fatal to the relationship.
There exists a perfect couple somewhere in the universe, a couple whose marriage is always in a smooth strong upward swing. And then there are the rest of us… Our relationships swing wildly from hot to cold, from spending-every-minute-together to hoping-you-don’t-argue-today, from “true love” to divorce court.
One big factor in the strength of a relationship is the existence of some common ground and a shared dream between the people. It’s a no-brainer, really. We like and admire and love and want to be around people who share similar experiences and want to achieve similar goals.
As a new couple, we spend lots of time together – talking about the things we love and care about, attending events that we both enjoy, and participating in each other’s lives through mutual interests and friends. We may dream of a future together, and may look to build on each other’s strengths for a common dream.
But at some point, perhaps after the birth of your first child, or after one or both of your careers kick in, or you relocate and lose your social group, the common ground you once shared begins to be washed away, right out from beneath your feet. And if your shared dreams get neglected by one or both of you, you may find yourself in a relationship which has no magnetic attraction for you anymore.
Let’s face it, if:
- You want to disappear into a book each night, and she prefers to watch romantic movies
- You enjoy Farmville, and she wants a backyard farm
- She’s working out three days a week and you’re polishing off all of the leftovers
- Talking about your work bores her to tears, and talking about her day is something you try to avoid
- Your version of cooking for her consists of picking up takeout, but she’d rather go to the farmers market
then chances are, you’re growing apart.
And if you both begin to always choose your favorite over theirs, then you’re not going to be growing closer anytime soon. You’ll be on autopilot, going through the motions in your relationship without any of the passion or excitement or shared experiences which add spice and flavor to a marriage.
The simplest place to look for common ground between you is in the past – what did you both really enjoy doing ‘back in the day’? Revisiting some of those things together might help rekindle something of interest between you. It may also simply trigger a nostalgic desire for ‘the good old days’, so looking to the past might not be very successful for you – especially since we want a better relationship right here and right now, between you in this moment and her in this moment. And that means accepting that she isn’t the same woman you married, and you aren’t the same man that she married.
You can build common ground again, though. It takes time, effort, and openness, but who ever said relationships are easy? In my experience, the effects of a stronger, closer marriage greatly outweigh the work involved to get there, and the following are a few ways which can help you begin.
- Ask, listen, learn: Ask about her day and how she is, and then let her speak freely. Just listen and pay attention, asking questions if you want, but not trying to ‘fix’ her problems or minimize her issues. Make a habit of opening that dialog whenever it you can. You’ll learn a lot about what makes her tick, and with any luck, you’ll also find some common ground.
- Ask her to share something with you: Make a point of trying to get her to share some of her interests with you regularly, to show you something new and interesting in her world. Be attentive and attempt to see how those things enrich her life, which in turn enriches your shared life.
- Share something new with her: Be willing to take the time to let her experience some of your world, through you, by sharing something which excites or energizes you. Maybe she’s bored to tears with your interests because you expect her to understand how you feel about it. She probably doesn’t, so show her.
- Do it together: Go with her to something she really enjoys, but which you avoid. Pretend you’re new around here, and approach it with an open mind. Leave the jokes and criticism at home, please, and instead look at how her face lights up when she’s talking about it. Next, invite her to something you enjoy and share your passion for it with her by explaining what appeals to you and how it affects you. Look for an aspect of it that you think she would appreciate.
- Dream a little dream: Start setting aside regular times when you both can talk about and plan for the future. Where do you want to be in five years? In ten years? As individuals? As a couple? Start forging a plan which includes both of your dreams, and look for those pieces of it which complement each other – those are great places to start collaborating and doing things together. Don’t just write the dream out and then shelve it. You need a living dream, not some words on paper, so revise and refine and chip away at it as a shared project.
What ways have you found helpful in finding and maintaining common ground as a couple?
[Image: tipiro at Flickr]