The Truth About Growing Apart: Six Surprising Ways to Strengthen Your Marriage

Worried that you and your spouse are growing in different directions? As long as you’re both growing, that’s okay. A new book by Morrie and Arleah Shechtman explains why.

Boulder, CO (June 2004)—You hear it all the time from veterans of divorce. We simply grew apart. It’s enough to create a sense of fatalism about marriage itself. It may even inhibit your commitment to personal growth, as you reason, “If I don’t pursue my Ph.D. or start the landscaping business I’ve always dreamed of, I can devote more time to my marriage.” Growing apart is the number one reason marriages fail. But according to psychotherapist Morrie Shechtman, there are things you can do to decrease the likelihood of it happening to you and your partner—they just may not be the things you’d expect.

“What people usually mean when they say ‘we grew apart’ is that one partner changed and the other didn’t,” explains Shechtman, co-author, with wife and business partner, Arleah, of Love in the Present Tense: How to Have a High Intimacy, Low Maintenance Marriage (Bull Publishing Company, 2004, ISBN: 0-923521-81-X, $16.95). “Quite simply, a good marriage fosters personal growth, and vice versa. If your partner doesn’t grow, then he becomes boring to you. If you don’t grow, then you become boring to yourself.”

The Shechtmans insist that a fulfilling marriage, like a fulfilling life, is not about comfort zones and status quos. To avoid growing apart, you and your partner must grow together. Not necessarily in the same direction, mind you, but grow you must. They offer the following tips:

-Make sure personal growth is a shared value for you and your partner. As the Shechtmans emphasize throughout their book, good marriages are those in which partners have identical values. One of the most critical shared values is a commitment to growth. If you view yourself as a work in progress, and want to take risks and explore opportunities until you draw your last breath, and your partner wants to work the same job for 40 years and vegetate on the sofa every night, the marriage is probably doomed. Harsh, perhaps, but true. Commit to personal growth yourself, and challenge your partner to do the same. –

Dedicate yourself to your life’s purpose. Give it your all-out effort, making full use of your talents and values. “Marriage is not your mission in life,” write the Shechtmans. “Neither is raising children. In a great marriage, each partner is deeply committed and actively involved in some endeavor outside the marriage. When one partner is dedicated to an outside purpose while the other is dedicated only to supporting his spouse, then the supporting spouse ends up living through his partner in the same way unfulfilled parents live through their children. The one who is fully engaged with the outside world soon grows bored with her devoted supporter.”

-Realize that selfless devotion is boring. Be interesting. In Love in the Present Tense, the authors tell a story about Bernard, a physician, and Stacy, his devoted, physically fit wife who kept the house immaculate, cooked gourmet meals, and pushed her children to achieve. One day, Bernard left Stacy for an unkempt and outspoken photojournalist two years his senior. Why? Because the photojournalist was interesting. The Shechtmans point out that Stacy is a victim, not of Bernard, but of the myth that selfless devotion keeps marriages alive. “As we see it, Stacy had deserted Bernard long before he announced that he was deserting her,” write the authors. “In living through Bernard instead of cultivating a life of her own, she had failed to become a full person and thereby deprived him of a full partner.”

-Assume personal responsibility for your own inner life. The Shechtmans believe that a person’s emotional texture is, in large part, shaped by the way he or she felt in childhood. Your moods or feelings, known as your familiars, can be positive or negative. It’s your negative familiars that stand in the way of fully enjoying adult life with the partner you have chosen. Once you realize this truth, you are free to explore your feelings, grieve the unhappiness of your childhood, and move on. But the important point is that this is your responsibility and yours alone. “In a great marriage, both partners assume full responsibility for their own inner lives,” write the Shechtmans. “This means that you don’t view your partner as the cause of what you are feeling. Nor do you view yourself as the cause of what he is feeling. You don’t blame your partner for your own unhappiness, nor do you blame yourself for his.”

-Challenge your partner. Unconditional acceptance is for infants. The Shechtmans assert that caring for your partner means holding him accountable for living up to his best vision of himself and continuing to grow. “Challenge is a vote of confidence, a sign of respect,” they write. “Conversely, accepting people exactly as they are is a form of abandonment. The message you send when you unconditionally accept a partner’s self-destructive or self-defeating behavior is that you believe she can’t do better. Ultimately, this defeats the marriage itself. When you don’t challenge your partner, you are essentially giving up on her.”

-Don’t confuse physical togetherness with intimacy. Many people fall into the trap of believing that they must spend “X” number of hours per week talking, sharing meals, or making love with their partner. But the Shechtmans insist that time spent together is no guarantee of intimacy. Real intimacy is based on the quality of communication. If all you have is 10 minutes a day, make those 10 minutes count by sharing with your partner what’s happening in your inner life—and listening with full attention when your partner shares with you—rather than engaging in “information dumps.” The truth is, if each partner is living a rich, full life, you probably won’t have large amounts of time to spend basking in each other’s company. You’ll be too busy learning and growing as a person, which in turn will strengthen your marriage.

Finally, if you’ve read these tips (especially the first one) with the sinking feeling that your partner isn’t committed to personal growth, take heart. Shechtman says that most people intuitively choose partners with a strong core values match. It’s just that this truth is lost amidst the “shoulds,” marriage myths, and psychological storms that are ruffling the surface of your relationship.

“It is unlikely that your partner is fulfilled working a dead-end job and watching three hours of sitcoms every night,” he asserts. “More likely, he is allowing himself to be crippled by his familiars. Or perhaps he’s just succumbing to laziness. Either way, rather than abandoning him, you can and should challenge him to confront his issues, grow as a person and shape a worthwhile life—not for you, but for himself. That’s the kind of courage that helps marriages grow stronger rather than growing apart. That’s what marriage is. That’s what love is.”

About the Authors:

Morrie Shechtman is a personal and corporate consultant with thirty years of experience. Morrie’s academic background includes an M.S.W. with a clinical specialization in psychotherapy. He also has his A.C.S.W., the professional credential required for independent practice. He has taught at distinguished universities throughout the United States, has worked as a therapist and counselor, and now also runs a successful management consulting company, Fifth Wave Leadership.

Morrie’s first book, Working Without a Net: How to Survive and Thrive in Today’s High Risk Business World (1994), is widely used as a reference in corporate America. It is utilized as a textbook by a number of universities and is used by many government agencies in management development training.

Morrie’s second book, Fifth Wave Leadership: The Internal Frontier is available on this website at www/morrieshechtman.com/store

Arleah Shechtman is a psychotherapist with twenty-five years of experience counseling individuals in committed relationships. Arleah’s academic background includes an associate’s degree in business mid-management, an undergraduate degree in organizational development, and an M.S.W. with a clinical specialization. She also has her A.C.S.W., the professional credential required for independent practice. Her continuing education has focused on work with adolescents, work with small groups, and work with people experiencing grief and loss.

About the Book:

Love in the Present Tense: How to Have a High Intimacy, Low Maintenance Marriage on this website at www.morrieshechtman.com/store

For a review copy of the book or an interview with the authors, please contact Morrie Shechtman, at (406) 260-7631

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