Chapter 21 Learning Objectives
Upon reading this chapter, the student should be able to:
- Identify the factors that cause changes in a relationship, the likelihood of their occurrence, and possible ways to overcome or prevent their being problematic.
Watch this video or scan the QR code to see how couples can grow apart.
There are people who change very little in their desires, interests, and abilities as they grow older, many people do change, and some, quite substantially. The problem is how to select a mate that will change in ways that are likely to be beneficial or at least undamaging to the relationship, instead of detrimental to it.
In one Ben Casey episode a shy, serious female rehabilitation physician falls in love with a Don Juan type doctor who had just become handicapped and who has fallen in love with her while he is in her care. But she is hesitant to get involved with him; she told him she was afraid about the future of their relationship. Would their relationship work, particularly when he was no longer so dependent on her, and particularly in light of his past romantic penchant for temporary affairs. His reply was, “Only manufacturers give guarantees.”
To some extent this is true; there are no guarantees. But there are some risks that are not as great as others; there are some risks that are far more reasonable than others. People whose circumstances are likely to change in the future are also people whose characteristics are likely to change in the future. If one partner quits school to support the other’s educational pursuits, it is likely (but not inevitable, of course, if they work at it) for a gap to appear between them in their interests and abilities. What is important or interesting to them now might change. What they think about, how they think about it, and at what level may all change, as might their friends, the types of friends they seek, etc. Likewise when people graduate from high school and go to college, the army, or to a new job. Or when people graduate from college to begin a new job or career. There are certain stages that people go through in their lives that tend to be more likely than others to bring changes in them. And without some sort of conscious and considerable effort, the more likely people are then to grow apart in terms of satisfactions, benefits, or even attraction, from a mate or loved one. Conversely, the less likely it is a couple’s environment will change, the less likely they are to change (drastically) and grow apart from each other. Hence, marriage before much life experience or before career is permanently under way is riskier in general than marriage afterward.
Reasonably stable environments and circumstances can help relationships remain stable. By reasonably stable environments I do not mean ones that are monotonous, stagnating, and unchanging, but ones that do not make the kinds of drastic changes that would be difficult for almost anyone to cope with and adjust to. Love “on the rebound” is basically love, not whose genuineness, but whose stability, is particularly in question because it occurs under psychological conditions (such as rejection, disappointment, anger, sorrow, sadness, loneliness, depression, lack of confidence in one’s own judgment and/or desirability etc.) that are likely to change, particularly as time and the new love help overcome those conditions. Hence, love on the rebound needs — that is, those conditions need — to be waited out and seen not to be the primary and necessary cause of the love (attraction, joy, and benefit) before long term obligations founded on love — such as living together, marrying, combining property and other financial assets, or parenting — are incurred.
It seems to me there are ways to reduce the risk of growing apart even when one or both partners are going through, or are likely to go through, circumstances that tend to provoke change. First, I think there are general sorts of traits which tend to change less than more specific ones. For example, if one is interested in intellectual pursuits, one may pursue different, specific intellectual interests such as chess, computer programming, music theory, anthropology, or the geometry of Rubik’s cubes. The particular interests may change but the general interest in intellectual pursuits may remain. Periodically, of course, we hear stories about people who give up baseball careers to become geophysicists or who give up teaching philosophy to become non-reading surfers. But I suspect these more drastic kinds of changes are rather rare and certainly less likely than the less drastic kind of changes of specific interests in the same kind of areas. The person who is interested then in intellectual pursuits is more likely to be able to introduce particular new ones to a loved one who is, in general, also interested in intellectual pursuits than to one who is not generally intellectually motivated. Similarly with regard to athletic couples where one partner becomes interested in a new particular sport or training program. Hence, it seems to me that risk of growing apart is somewhat lessened when both partners have general characteristics or general areas of interest that satisfy and are good for each other, rather than just specific or narrow interests. For example, one plays tennis because he or she likes anything athletic and the other plays tennis because it is the only sport or athletic activity he or she likes. If the latter becomes tired of tennis or has to give it up, there may not be any other sport they can happily play together, and that might be an important gap in their relationship.
Further, I would think it would be a great help if both are good teachers or inciters of enthusiasm about their new interests for each other and if both are willing to learn about the others’ new interests. This does not mean that one needs to learn how to play chess, necessarily, but that one may take delight in learning enough about chess to find out there are puzzle books, anecdote books, etc. to get from the library or a bookstore to give further pleasure to the one who has learned how to play even if the two of you do not play together. Or the second may ask questions of the first to show a certain interest, if not mastery, of the game. If, of two sports enthusiasts, one learns to snow ski, he or she may be able to teach the other in a very accessible, fun way so that soon the other can be able to ski well enough so that they can do it together. Or, also in terms of sports, one may take up golf and the other tennis — but they can join the same club that offers both, meet each other’s’ friends, share in conversation about each other’s experiences, and be able to understand and appreciate what their different but similar experiences (such as coming from behind to win under pressure, or the challenge of facing a much more skilled opponent) have in common and mean to each other. One can learn about oneself in playing a sport, and a golfer and tennis player who are interested in each other as people might be able to share that it felt the same to choke a crucial serve as to choke a crucial putt; and one might be able to teach the other how he or she has been able to overcome choking like that.
Something like this is also true of school or different jobs. With enthusiastic and interested communication, one can learn a great deal about how and why the new experiences or courses are important and exciting to the other person, and can learn and grow along with them. But it requires one who is able to tell interestingly about the experiences and their effects, and another who is able to listen with interest and enthusiasm.
Risk of “growing apart” can also be reduced when it is not so much general or all particular interests that help each enjoy the other, but certain particularly psychologically important interests that are not likely to change, regardless of which particular other areas do change. It is conceivable for two people to marry who have very few common areas of enjoyment and benefit but who treat each other well and kindly and who spend enough time and space together doing what they particularly like to do together that the things they do apart do not impede or basically influence the relationship. Perhaps both have separate careers, both like different people with whom they are able to sufficiently discuss areas that are of no interest to their mates, and both have enough time to devote to the things they alone are interested in, but they are quite comfortable with each other when together and have enough in the relationship that the changes in areas outside the relationship do not affect how they treat or satisfy each other. Each may expect the other to change and mature along with her/himself, but not in the necessarily the same way or same areas. Each might respect, like, encourage, and strengthen the other enough, and they might have sufficient joy and good together in especially important areas that they can share their lives, and satisfy and truly (not just apparently or shallowly) benefit each other without being passionately or deeply involved with all or many of each others’ particular, but less meaningful, interests.
- There are variables that can stress or bring harm to a love relationship over time, and some are more predictable and perhaps more avoidable than others.
- Reasonably stable environments and circumstances can help relationships remain stable. Reasonably stable environments do not mean ones that are monotonous, stagnating, and unchanging, but instead, refer to environments without drastic changes that would be difficult for almost anyone to cope with and adjust to.
Chapter Review Questions
- Question: What are some factors which can jeopardize the stability of a relationship which has been functioning well?
- Question: How can the risk of “growing apart” be reduced?