So often, one or both members of a couple are shocked to discover their beloved partner has become a stranger. And sometimes it’s even more distressing — we wake up and find that not only does our partner, boyfriend, or girlfriend not just seem to be a stranger … but someone with whom we can’t imagine ever having joyfully coexisted.
The truth is, this is not an uncommon experience. And more importantly, it’s not a sign that your relationship is doomed or over. It doesn’t mean you married the “wrong” person, and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure in romance. It does often mean that our relational skills rarely keep pace with our individual growth processes, and we often don’t notice it’s happened until the lines of communication have ground to a halt.
Hopefully, we are all continuously growing in meaningful and often surprising ways throughout adulthood. Growth means some kind of change. We frequently forget that when we initially learned to communicate with our partner, it wasn’t crystal clear from the get-go. There were bumps in the road, misunderstandings, and even deeply hurt feelings because people who are new to each other don’t know each other well enough yet to create smooth and effective conversation. And just about the time we really think we’ve got it down to a fine science, we discover we’ve evolved just enough as individuals that we’re overdue for a sort of re-familiarizing and exploration of this new version of ourselves, and a fresh introduction of that new self’s communication needs and nonverbal messaging. We might become frustrated with our partner’s seeming inability to appreciate how we are now doing business, and interpret that as a newly discovered shortcoming on their part or even a sign of trouble in the relationship itself.
Here are 5 great ways to help you rediscover the partner you want in your relationship:
1. Remember that people change, and that’s not a bad thing. It’s just new.
Most of us expect that communication abilities with our partner are a bit like recipes we learned by heart long ago. A chocolate chip from 1998 is fundamentally the same as a chocolate chip from 2018, and so using the same chocolate chips should get you the same results every time. We’d all be pretty irritated if Grandma’s chocolate chip cookie recipe suddenly ceased producing delicious treats and we’d done nothing differently!
But as individuals, we aren’t chocolate chips. Even if we don’t realize we’re different than we used to be, the classic recipe may not produce the same delicious treats. We need to look for a new one that accounts for the wonderful new ingredients that admittedly have different properties than the old ones. We need to look forward and focus on our goal of delicious treats made with the ingredients we have now.
2. Old dogs can definitely learn new tricks.
When people grow, and their needs, wants, and deepest selves evolve, they often feel that their relationship or their partner cannot possibly accommodate these new qualities. This creates a sense of competition for space in the relationship, and one or both of the individuals may have the sense that there is only enough “room” for one person’s feelings, needs, or desires at a time, to which the other person must yield. The truth is that, regardless if one person or both individuals have changed or in what direction, most relationships often can accommodate multiple and seemingly irreconcilable individual growth.
3. You can both be right, and no one has to compromise.
One of the greatest communication skills that any couple can cultivate is that of collaboratively allowing for the peaceful, nonthreatening existence of feelings that are seeming in conflict, without “surrendering,” “giving in,” or “compromising.” When we become attached to the idea that only one thing can be true or right at a time, we limit ourselves, our partner, and our relationship. The two little — but so powerful — words, “yes, and …” validate the importance of each individuals’ perspective and contribution, while directing the focus towards a larger cohesiveness that surpasses individual differences.
4. Know your attachment style and your partner’s. And don’t forget it.
People respond differently to the threat of distance, abandonment, and relational strain. It has a lot to do with family dynamics from childhood. But you’re not a kid anymore, and neither is your partner. Read up on attachment styles so you can own your emotional responses and not ascribe them to your partner as something he/she needs to “fix” about themselves so you can interact more peaceably.
5. Keep your eye on the important stuff.
Have a good heart to heart with yourself and find out if you’re more focused on being right or being happy. There’s a good chance the two have very different pathways.
Allowing for multiple truths to co-exist can feel threatening, initially. But ultimately it creates a space of ultimate safety for both parties that frequently brings them closer, because they feel they can share themselves (including the newly discovered parts of themselves) in the deepest possible way with their partner without fear of being judged. The confidence to be genuine and authentic is a powerful bonding force between intimate partners; one that transcends the “differences” that constitute the subject.