I received a question on Quora.com that said, “What can a couple do to keep growing together rather than apart over the years?” It’s a great question which more couples in long-term relationships need to think about, as it’s super easy to become lazy over time and take our spouses for granted. Here’s my answer.
I think that part of the answer to your question lies in the question itself.
In order for a couple to keep growing together, creating life and engaging in activities that promote this type of growth together need to be prioritised as a conscious choice.
It oftentimes fascinates me, when working with individuals or couples, how they have a specific result in mind for what they want in life, but nothing about how they spend their focus, time, energy, and even money show that they are serious about the result they say they want.
To keep growing together as a couple you have to make it a priority and put the things in place which promote that growth.
Now, the question of course becomes, what are some specific things one can do to promote growth together, rather than apart, especially over the years.
I think it’s a good question because people often times assume that simply because a couple has been together for many years that automatically means growth – which is a mistake.
It is very easy to grow apart over the years, unless you have made it your daily goal to promote growth together, over time.
I’m also tempted to give you a list of things to do to promote growth together, but I have found that it’s much more helpful to teach people certain relationship dynamics they need to keep in mind, and then leave it up to them to fill in the blanks.
All of our situations are different, and I can therefore not assume anything about your life or situation.
Giving you specific things to do, therefore, might or might not apply in your case.
But here are some bigger dynamics to keep in mind.
They are by no means the only ones out there but will give you a different way to think about this on a deeper level.
World-renowned life coach, Tony Robbins, teaches that in order for a couple to create a passionate and happy relationship, i.e. grow together over time rather than apart, they have to understand what drives human behaviour.
In other words, why we do what we do.
His argument is that the moment we understand what drives our own behaviour, as well as our partner’s, we can build a relationship that actually works.
If I know what drives my partner, I can do things that tap into that.
Robbins has told over the years that we are primarily driven by six basic human needs.
He calls it human needs psychology.
These needs are present in all humans and we find ways (positive, neutral, and negative) to meet them.
Now even though we try and meet all six human needs, there is usually one that we prioritise above the others.
This need then functions as a type of lens we look through at life.
It colours how we see the world, and therefore shapes our behaviour.
He also says that if we are to create a long-term happy and passionate relationship, we need to learn how to meet these needs in our partner at very high levels.
When we do that we fill them up and growth is the natural consequence.
This answer will, of course, get very long if I go into each human need with much depth, but I will touch on each one for you to think about.
There is the need for CERTAINTY.
This includes physical and emotional certainty, security, stability etc.
For a relationship to grow together one has to create emotional certainty in your partner at a very high level and over time.
The moment our partners feel uncertain, and by extension unsafe, in our relationship, it destabilises the relationship and prevents love from flowing freely.
We all have a need for certainty. A certain type of knowing, if you will.
The question for you then becomes – how much certainty are you experiencing in your relationship right now?
Also, what can both you and your partner do to create a deeper sense of physical and emotional certainty or stability in your relationship?
- What do you need?
- Do you need to be listened to more?
- Do you need to feel you can express yourself more honestly, or frequently?
- Do you need your partner to trust you when you spend time on your own with friends?
- What can you do to create certainty?
The need for VARIETY
As humans, we love a sense of certainty, but we also need variety or uncertainty.
Different words for this is our need for change, spicing things up, adventure, some risk, new experiences etc.
For a relationship to grow and avoid becoming stuck in a rut or stale, the need for a variety needs to be met.
- How many new experiences have you had as a couple in the last six months?
- How much is routine governing your relationship, or do you spice/change things up on a regular basis?
- How many new people have you met?
- How many new experiences have you had together recently?
- How are you spicing up your sex life?
Meeting the need of variety is the antidote of becoming stale in your relationship.
This requires stepping outside of our comfort zones from time to time, but it is crucial to avoid becoming stuck in a rut – and grow apart over time due to boredom.
The need for SIGNIFICANCE
We all want to be valued, appreciate it, seeing as being unique, be important, be special, be wanted, etc.
If you want to grow together as a couple, it is crucial to understand that we all have this need for significance.
This is a really important need for men in particular because our biggest fear in life and relationships is the fact that we might be found wanting or be a failure.
It is therefore very easy to shame a man, and by extension undermine his need for significance.
Typically a man will withdraw, or stonewall, or retaliate when that happens.
Women oftentimes perceive a man’s silence as disinterest, but it is actually a sign that he is overwhelmed by possible feelings of shame and failure.
The best way for him to deal with this over emotional arousal is to withdraw.
Women also have a need for significance, but it looks different.
Their biggest fear is that they are not lovable (worthless) or will be left alone.
A man can soothe this fear, and by extension meet her need for significance, by constantly reaffirming her worth and how important she is to him.
Also by being there for her, even if that means as a strong silent type, she will feel important and this need will be met.
A big question a couple needs to ask themselves when it comes to this need is, how are we undermining each other’s sense of worth and significance through our words and actions on a daily basis?
And don’t step into the trap of looking for big stuff – it’s usually the small things that erode significance.
Also, ask yourself – how can we promote significance in the other?
The need for CONNECTION/LOVE
It goes without saying that most humans have a need to feel connected to something or someone, as well as feeling and giving love.
I’m of course not referring to psychopaths or others of the sorts.
But again, when it comes to creating connection and giving/receiving love, one has to appreciate the differences between men and women.
Especially when they are in a relationship.
I can’t speak for homosexual relationships on this matter, as I haven’t looked into it that much.
But in heterosexual relationships, in order to create a connection – as the foundation for everything else flowing from it – there are certain things a couple needs to keep in mind.
I’ve written on this before, but here is a short summary of it.
If you want to create a deeper connection with a man, in order to promote growth in your relationship over time, it’s important to understand that men need the following for increased connection:
- Touch (physical – the moment a woman withholds her physical affection, he starts worrying that there is something wrong with him)
- Trust (he needs to feel that she trusts him completely in that he is doing the best he can – even when he can improve in reality)
- Appreciation (he needs to feel that he is doing a good job – even when he can actually do more. Criticism won’t get him to do more, quite the opposite in fact)
- Admiration (he needs to feel that she thinks he is great, he’s doing the best he can, and that he doesn’t fall short in her eyes. He is competent in getting things done – even when that’s only 10%)
Conversely, women need the following for increased connection:
- Time (she needs his physical presence as well as mental attention. She needs to feel important in his life, as time spent with her increases connection)
- Caring (she needs to feel being cared for – his emotional and physical presence, support, and time with her eases her fear that she is not lovable or alone. She needs to feel she can rely on him)
- Understanding (she needs to feel that he understands what she is feeling. This doesn’t mean he has all the answers or the best solutions to her challenges. Quite the opposite. Any solutions offered by him actually prove to her that he does NOT understand her. She needs his attention, nearness, presence, and a listening ear – validating that he’s in her corner and he’s got her back. He loves her, no matter what)
- Respect (she needs to feel that he respects her as an equal and loves her for who she is. She needs to feel his respect for her as a human being and partner. How he communicates, how he treats her, how he acknowledges her, how he involves her – all communicates respect. This soothes her fear that she’s alone or worthless.)
Within this list, I’m sure you can come up with quite a few things that you can do – as well as what you need to stop doing – in order to create deeper levels of connection.
Some experts even argue that communication is not the issue in many relationships – it is rather an issue of connection.
When we have a connection as a couple, communication is rarely a problem.
Even when the man cannot “speak” as well as his wife.
Which again, is typically a biological difference.
The need for GROWTH
According to Tony Robbins, these last two needs is really where happiness and fulfilment come from.
When we keep growing as human beings, happiness and fulfilment tend to be a natural outflow.
One sure way to keep growing together as a couple is to make sure you keep growing as a couple.
Not apart, but expand as a couple.
An important question to ask yourself here is, how much growth are you experiencing in your relationship right now?
- What are you doing to promote growth?
- What are you doing to inhibit growth?
- Are you seeking out new experiences, meeting new people, learning new things together, OR, are you avoiding them?
This is perhaps one of the bigger culprits of long-term relationships – couples get so busy with life over the years, that they stop growing together.
Not growing means dying.
Lastly, the need for CONTRIBUTION
This need is all about giving.
When we give, happiness and fulfilment are usually not too far behind.
The problem with a self-centred society is that we are so obsessed with “getting” as a means to experience happiness, that we have overlooked the ancient wisdom that happiness lies in giving or charity.
It’s when we give beyond ourselves, that a void is filled within us.
As a couple, the question becomes, how much are you giving in your relationship as opposed to getting?
Tony Robbins also teaches that when you go to a relationship to get, rather than give, you’re setting yourself up for failure and heartache.
A relationship is not a place to go to to get – it’s a place to give.
It’s a place of sacrifice.
It’s a place of putting the other first, most of the time, and the other putting you first, most of the time.
That, of course, doesn’t mean to your own detriment, but it does say something about intent.
A relationship is like a bank account.
If you’re constantly making withdrawals without exceeding those withdrawals with deposits, the account will run dry.
So the question becomes, how much are you still giving to each other in your relationship?
Because again, the longer we are together, and the more we take each other for granted, the easier it becomes to neglect each other.
At the start of our relationships, we used to do everything for the other – and loved it.
Over time, however, our own greediness steps back in.
We start looking at the relationship to feed us, make us happy, meet our expectations, and meet our needs – even when that’s at the expense of our partner.
That is a sure way to grow apart.
If you want to grow together over time, you need to find new ways to consistently give to each other.
Meet the need for contribution.
And the great wisdom in this is, it is in giving that we are getting the most.
I know I took you on a massive detour, but I hope it gave you some ideas.