I recall once getting a call from a friend who told me that after many years of marriage they were calling it quits and getting a divorce. They were not youngsters and the gentleman explained to me that it was not over anything dramatic such as an affair or significant change in finances but simply that they "had grown apart."
It always saddens me when I hear this to be the reason for the dissolution of a marriage because I feel there was the good possibility that this outcome could have very easily been avoided. I am sure there were many things I am unaware of that went on in the privacy of his marriage and, while I understand that each relationship is unique, there are nevertheless certain truths and rules of relationships that breed success or lack thereof as the case may be.
I think I can probably guess how couples "grow apart.. And what makes this phenomenon problematic is that it is such a slow and insidious process that many couples aren't even aware that it is taking place in their lives before it is too late.
It goes kinda like this:
When a couple first meet they are very excited about one another. There is energy and discovery in the relationship and they spend tons of time together getting to know one another. The courtship process continues this way until the big day, the wedding, and then some. The first years are hopeful, energetic, dynamic and bursting with excitement.
”Who are we to play with hearts and throw away it all? Oh, who are we to turn each other's heads?” – Ellie Goulding
But as the years go by and the young couple settles into a certain routine, new events enter and creep into their lives. There is making a living, a child or two or three show up; they have their interests, some shared, most not. The job(s) have their demands, kids get older; there is carpool, homework, after school activities. They look for and buy a home and that too has many demands of time, energy and effort. Not only is there mortgage, but new furnishings, fixing old ones, a sprinkler system that always seems to be on the blink, redoing the bathroom, getting rid of the old smelly carpet and "shall we choose laminated wood, engineered wood or solid; how about bamboo, I hear it is ecological?"
And so the older the couple gets, the more stuff happens in their lives to involve their time and attention. And while all of these issues are certainly important, the couple finds that they no longer have time and energy for each other. And so their relationship gets relegated to the back-burner because there are so many imminent and important things to take care of.
And, lo and behold, before they know it, not only is that spark from their dating days long dead, there is very little sharing happening between these two folks as they become strangers to each other like two ships passing in the night.
You see, if this couple who are now in their, let's say, 10th or 20th year of marriage would go back in time and revisit those days of early courtship they would find something very fascinating. They would see that when they told their friends that they had "just met the greatest guy/girl in the world", they didn't describe him/her like this: "Hey, he is so terrific, he is going to make every mortgage payment on time and not only that but every car payment too!... and for two cars!... and both cars will be luxury vehicles!!" He certainly did not tell his friends, "She is the best... she is going to be so good at car-pooling and making sure the house is clean and orderly and I just know that she is going to find the best pediatrician for our kids once we have some!!"
And while it is true that making mortgage and car payments on time are important, and finding a good pediatrician and caring for the kids is as well, this is not why you married. You married them because of who they are as a person, because you enjoyed spending time and sharing life with them. You married them for their soul, for their spirit, for who they are and not for what they would do or accomplish.
But people forget this and lose sight of it because when they first dated, it came naturally and effortlessly. But once real life happened and there was more on the table, they forget that now they have to make much more of an effort to be with one another. They didn't shift gears to realize they have to fight for their time to be intimate - and I don't just mean physically, although that too! They never told their kids, "No, it's Daddy and Mommy's time" and didn't do the same to their jobs, their smartphones, their computers and every other important obligation that seemed more pressing and important than one another.
Because if you don't fight for your relationship, if you don't nurture it, if you fail to constantly monitor it to ensure that it is healthy and vibrant, then like every other thing that is neglected, it wilts and it dies. Maybe not the first day or week or month or year, but eventually it will ... ever so slowly.
A couple "grows apart" because they failed to put in the necessary care and time to ensure that they grow together and toward each other. And while every couple is guilty of this on some level, those who have an awareness of its danger have a chance at ensuring it doesn't harm their relationship beyond repair.
So put down your iPhone, get away from the TV, tell your kids to get lost (in a nice way), forget Home Depot and go and grab your spouse, get a bottle of wine, have a glass or two, look her in the eye and capture what was when you first dated her so very long ago.
This essay is dedicated to my daughter, Atara and her fiancé Avi Gordon with the hope and wish that they take its lesson to heart to ensure that they have a long, blessed and happy marriage.