Why do relationships grow apart?
Today's question is from Aundrea, thank you for your amazing question. So, your question was:
"When partners are described as ‘growing apart’ (just a term I’ve heard used elsewhere)—what could that be contributed to? I recognized some examples from my own life, such as: the ‘power struggle’ dynamics, as well as the ‘shared values’ importance. I will need to read about the ‘spiral dynamics’ to understand that concept more. I’m sure every partnership is different because of the many variables, but I am wondering how personal growth, conflicts, and changes in values (or even a different interpretation of what a partner believed were shared values / lack of clarity around how those values will present in life) affect a couple’s growth together as a partnership."
That’s such a fantastic question because, absolutely, people do grow apart. People most often grow apart because they either are no longer a match as a couple, or something happens that makes the person re-evaluate the relationship and then decide they’re not willing to work through or communicate about their position in the relationship. The biggest contributor to partnerships breaking down, relationships growing apart, or any other personal relationship challenges that we have, is generally misunderstanding and miscommunication.
If I say 70% of relationships that end don’t need to end, that says a lot. If we only had the willingness to get our teeth sunk in to the relationship, to make it work, to eat some humble pie from time to time, that would make all the difference. But I’m not here to preach to you about what you should do about your relationship. What I can do is shed a little light on the different catalysts for change, or for growing apart in relationships.
The Honeymoon phase
When you first enter into a relationship you enter into the ‘Honeymoon’ phase and you’re so in love. Well, you’re not really in love, you’re infatuated. What’s really going on is that you’re on drugs! You have all these feel-good hormones going through your body, reproductive hormones potentially coursing through your body, and you feel like that person is your soulmate, and you’re getting dopamine hits and serotonin hits and all that good stuff into your system. You’re basically high for the whole Honeymoon phase. And this usually lasts about 3-6 months.
That’s the first phase of the relationship and that's really enjoyable! A lot of people, unfortunately, mistakenly believe that love will always be like that, or believe that if the love is right for them that it should always feel like that. When they start to come off those ‘drugs’ they think there’s something wrong, when in fact it’s just that they’re entering a different phase of the relationship.
Power Struggle - Who's the boss?
The 2nd phase of relationships that you enter is called Power Struggle, and that, of course, is a problem because now you’re coming off all those feel-good hormones and you have to find out where you actually belong within that relationship. What is your status as a person in the relationship, and what is the status of the relationship itself? Is it going somewhere? Are you really into each other? Are you compatible intellectually, and in the ways that give you a sense of where you belong in the relationship?
Now, as the name suggests, Power Struggle is also often all about figuring out who is the boss. Nobody should really be the boss in terms of being the boss of the entire relationship. That’s not a healthy relationship dynamic, unless you enter into a codependent relationship, but eventually that type of relationship will eventually break down because the person who is ‘inferior’ will eventually rise, and potentially end it.
So the Power Struggle phase begins after about 6 months into the relationship. The idea would be that you would both cherish yourselves and the other person just as you both are, and see what strengths you have to bring to the table. The power Struggle phase is often when people come to me for my Myers-Briggs and 4 People Within®️ work because they’ve realised that their relationship is not happy and they’re not sure if they should remain in it. So we look at their 4 People Within®️, how they are actually wired, what are their values and what’s important them, and how they can start communicating those things to their partner so that the relationship doesn’t break down simply because of lack of communication.
This phase is very important in order to enter into a deeper love in your relationship. A love where you see the person, warts and all, and you still love them and CHOOSE to love them. Of course, love is a verb! I’ll talk a bit more about that later. It’s a practice, not something that just SHOULD be there. That’s not how love works. Love is like a bank account where you need to deposit in to be able to make withdrawals when yet really matters.
The next thing I like to look at is Spiral Dynamics. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a vertical model of personal development. If you want more information check out this Wikipedia link here, but basically you work from one level to the next and the next etc, within your own personal development.
All those levels are situational and topical, depending on what the topic is. For example, in finances I could be at level 5 or 6, but in savings I might be on level 3, or in finances I might be at level 6 and in relationships I might be at level 4. If you’re at a certain level in one area of your life it doesn’t automatically mean that you’re at that level in all other areas. You are not! The 2nd thing to remember about Spiral Dynamics is that your Inner Children, your 4 People Within®️ are also all at different levels on different topics.
The Integration process, which is when you integrate yourself, is to have a topic and to have all of you Inner Family working at one specific level towards a mutually agreed upon goal. When that happens you can have a lot of advances in your life in different areas.
Spiral dynamics is about the level of maturity of the person in different areas of life. Just because you may be more developed in one area of life than your partner does not automatically mean that you are a generally more developed person than your partner. Your partner will have other areas of life where they’re more developed. Therefore , you can’t say that you have done more personal development work because you don’t actually know how to measure that.
Bringing it back around to the model of Spiral Dynamics, it’s a great conversation starter with your partner to look at where you might be in comparison to one another, and who could help the other person along on their personal development path. What’s your partner good at s that you can ask their help with to get you where you want to go? I have certainly used this tool a lot when I identify in my partner where he’s clearly much more advanced and developed than I am. I continue to ask for the advice of my partner, and this is something I invite everyone to do in their relationship. It does a few great things: it validates the partner and it shows them that you respect them and their opinion. Spiral Dynamics is a great model to start gauging and engaging with your partner.
Growth Mindset or Fixed Mindset?
Another thing that can cause couples to grow apart is within personal growth areas. So, do you have a fixed mindset or do you have a growth mindset? A person with a fixed mindset thinks that they already know how everything is going to turn out and they’re not interested in more input into their perspective, whereas a growth mindset looks like staying open to learning more and asking questions such as “What don’t I already know about this? What else could I be doing with this, what else could I learn here?” Learning to ask those questions is very, very important.
Values and MBTI Type
The final things I want to talk about in response to this question are values and MBTI type. Your personal values are what they are. You have a right to your personal values. So does your partner. Nobody gets to dictate anyone else’s personal values. If you are too flexible in asserting your values into the relationship then there can be a lot of value confusion, where the other person has confusion around what your values actually are, and can’t honour them.
So, the responsibility is on all of us to communicate our values to the other person, whether it’s a work relationship or a personal relationship, whatever the relationship is. It’s our responsibility to learn how to put our values across in a way that is understandable to the other person. Then we can choose to respect the other person’s values or not. If there is a significant clash of values you may end up breaking off the relationship.
The challenge is that many people, usually the more feminine person in the relationship, can tend to be more flexible and to compromise in order to keep the peace. If you find yourself not standing up for your own values you might be doing that as well. Just check in with that and ask “Is there something there in my personal values that I’m compromising in order to keep the peace?” People can only compromise their values for so long before it becomes unbearable to them. After that they’re just going to go ahead and make changes, sometimes drastic ones like ending their long-term relationship when they’re in their 50s or 60s. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do that, let me be clear. If the relationship you are in is not a match for you and you’ve tried to find out what’s going on, you’ve tried to do your own personal growth, and you’ve tried to communicate to the best of your ability, you’ve asked for help with build communication bridges, OR the relationship is abusive, then you’re going to end the relationship. There is nothing wrong with that no matter what your age is!
Finally, let’s look at the MBTI point of view. There are situations that will likely cause conflicts between certain types of people. For example, Feeler Perceivers, who are FPs in the Myers-Briggs system, find it very hard when their values are challenged. If you challenge Feeler Perceiver’s values that will most likely cause a conflict. With Feeler Judgers, challenging their beliefs will very likely cause conflict. For Thinker Perceivers a challenge to their trust or the trust within the relationship will likely cause a big conflict. And for Thinker Judgers, if you challenge their authority over their own lives or their status within the relationship, that will certainly result in conflicts.
I want to say that if we don’t understand, or can’t respect our partner’s natural preferences,
whether that’s values, Spiral Dynamics, Love Languages, or MBTI perspective eventually one or both of those partners will feel marginalised by the relationship. In order to have a successful long term partnership we must encourage our partner to be 100% themselves, not a version that we want to see.
The main key to success in relationships is seeing your partner as who they are and not as who you want them to be.
If you are serious about your personal healing and development, and you want to change your relationship dynamics, I encourage you to join us on our Personality Decoding process. This process will help you discover your relationship strengths and blind spots, and even better, what to do about them. 50% of the challenge is knowing what the problem is and knowing what to do about is the other 50%, and that’s where I can help you! If you're interested in finding out more get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We have 5 spots available in this current cycle.
Thank you for sharing this space with me, and thank you for being a part of our vision of creating more compassionate and effective individuals and leaders all around the world.
Have a day full of wonder!
I’m Merja Sumiloff. I’m the Personality Decoder and I show my clients and people who come to me how to heal and grow your relationships without massive disruption to your day-to-day lives.