While some people say that "people never change," others beg to differ. For that second group, the idea that people grow, evolve, and, yes, change over the course of their lives is absolutely true. And although change doesn't happen overnight and you may never feel like you're a completely different person, you've probably noticed that you can, in fact, learn new things, meet new people, and go new places that inspire you to act or think a bit differently than before. When this happens in relationships, things can get tricky. These signs your partner is growing without you — because sometimes people grow at different rates — can be important to notice or acknowledge because the way you both grow and the way you adapt to changes can seriously affect your relationship, for better or worse.
"Connection is the foundation of any relationship and in order to nurture it you have to grow together, this doesn’t mean you have to be the same — it’s very healthy to have outside interests and friendships and individual growth and fulfillment are great for love relationships, the problems arise when you don’t find a way to stay attuned and connected while fulfilling your personal goals," Tracy K. Ross, LCSW, a couples therapist, tells Romper in an email exchange. "These are often things that bring people to couples therapy and we have to trace the root of the problem to understand how they got there."
If you notice (or suspect) that you and your partner are growing at different rates, it could potentially be either good or bad for your relationship overall, but it's not entirely uncommon.
"This can be wonderful for your relationship, if you have the capacity to recognize your partner’s growth and begin to get curious about engaging in your own growth process," Erin K. Tierno, LCSW-R, a relationship expert and founder of Online Therapy NYC, tells Romper in an email exchange. "Your partner’s growth does not necessarily indicate their desire to leave you behind; instead, it means they are understanding more about the ways they engage in their life and in your relationship and want to take more responsibility. If you can acknowledge your partner’s growth, perhaps even let them know you admire their growth, and begin the process of engaging in your own growth then you have the opportunity to build something together that’s even more fantastic than it had been."
On the other hand, sometimes it's not initially all that obvious that one or the other of you might be growing without the other. In that case, it might be a little bit more complicated.
"This can be the kind of situation that is like a slow burn rather than an obvious crisis; it creeps up on you and eventually you realize you’re not as close as you used to be, that your partner is turning to someone else or an outside interest to satisfy needs that were once satisfied by you, your connection is no longer as strong as it was," Ross says.
Picking up on the signs that they're growing without you or trying to work through your connection issues when you do start to sense that something might be off can help you move forward together.
1. They Have A New Friend That They Share Everything With
Of course it's not bad if they're making new friends, but if they all of a sudden seem to be sharing everything with a new friend instead of you, that could be a sign that something's a bit off. Ross says that someone else being their "go-to person" for confiding in, spending time with, or making decisions with could mean that they're doing some growing on their own and your connection might be a little bit weakened.
2. They're Taking Better Care Of Themselves
"You have recently noticed that your partner has begun to make it a priority to stop after two drinks or to have a balanced, healthy dinner," Tierno says. "You’ve been so used to relaxing with your partner via splitting a bottle (or two) of wine or a giant pepperoni pizza, but lately they’re just not interested and no amount of coaxing or cajoling seems to even tempt them to join you in your usual less-than-healthy ritual." If they're suddenly working on their own goals and are doing things differently the way the two of you have always done them together, that could be a sign that there's some growing going on.
3. You Feel Like Something's Off, But Can't Put Your Finger On What It Is
Ross says that sometimes, simply feeling like there's something weird or off between the two of you is, in itself, an indicator that you're not currently connecting in the same way. "They seem less interested in your world, ask fewer questions, glaze over more quickly when you do talk," she explains. There's clearly something going on there, you're just not exactly sure what.
4. They Don't Share What's Bothering Them Anymore
If you feel like you're always the last to know what's going on with your partner, their family, or others in their life, that could also be a sign that they're growing without you and you're a bit disconnected at the moment, Ross adds. If you and your partner used to talk about anything and everything and now seem to be together and talking about these kinds of things far less frequently, something might be up.
5. Your Same Old Fights Look A Little Different
Some (maybe even many?) couples have disagreements regarding the same kinds of things over and over again. You've never been able to resolve that particular issue or come to a compromise, so whenever it comes up you argue about it all over again. "It’s almost comforting to know how the fight is going to go; you say (or yell) your piece, your parter says (or yells) theirs, and then maybe you have fiery make-up sex and go about your business as if nothing happened," Tierno says. "Lately, though, your partner has not been engaging the way they normally. You say the part that usually prompts their customary response and they respond in a completely different way that throws you off track and even aborts the fight before it even gets off the ground."
That could be a subtle indicator to you that something has changed.
6. They Don't Seem Engaged Or Excited When You Share Things
Sure, not everything is worth getting super excited over, but you want your partner to react excitedly to the things that warrant it. Sometimes, it might be that they don't understand how excited you really are, but other times, it could potentially be a sign that you two aren't on the same page, connection-wise.
"Your partner consistently does not look interested or the same energy 'wave' when you are sharing something new or exciting. The key word here is consistently because we can all get tired and feel exhausted by the end of the day," Irina Baechle, LCSW, a relationship therapist and coach, tells Romper in an email exchange. "If you see this pattern in your relationship, try switching up the time of the conversation. So, instead of chatting in the evening after a long day of responsibilities, try a morning or an afternoon when you are both feeling energized and are not using electronics. This will provide you both with an opportunity to have a bonding moment."
7. You Have Someone New You're Sharing Everything With
Just like it's a potential sign when your partner has a new "go-to person," it's also a sign when you have a new "go-to person" that you're choosing to share everything with, Ross says. This doesn't have to be a situation where there's potential cheating, it could just be that you're telling a friend or family member everything right away when you used to share it all with your partner.
8. They Changed Their Routine — A Lot
Baechle says that a changed routine or, like Tierno also added, seemingly different goals can be an indicator that things are off between the two of you.
"An honest and undistracted conversation about what's going on is the best way to address most relationship problems," Baechle says. "Make sure you start by sharing your soft vulnerable feelings ('I feel left out', 'I feel alone,' etc.) instead of blaming and criticizing ('You never include me in your new activities anymore') to decrease the chances for defensiveness and gridlock. And really listen. Active listening is much harder than what most couples think."
9. They're Throwing All Their Attention Towards A New Activity Or Hobby
If your partner has recently taken up photography or decided to sign up for tennis lessons, that too could be a sign that they're growing without you — if it's taking up a lot of their time and attention. Ross says that they might be super excited about it, but not sharing that much about it with you. That can definitely result in feelings that there's a disconnect there.
Though you two may or may not consistently grow at the same (or similar) rates, talking it out, as Baechle suggests, or seeking some help sorting through what's going on can help realign things and strengthen your connection once again.
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