4 Ways to Grow With Your Partner, Rather than Apart
13 years this February.
Thirteen years since my husband (or, “the guy I’m talking to,” as he was so lovingly called back in 2006,) asked if we could be together. Boyfriend and girlfriend. Thirteen years since an awkward exchange in my tiny college dorm room. Has anyone ever been excited about the number 13 EVER? I have and I am. We’re entering our teen years! Personally, 13 was pivotal because I thought my teenage life was going to look like a Boy Meets World episode. It totally didn’t, but the thirteenth year usually means you’re around the corner from a million little milestones that continue all through your 20s. Hell, in my 30s, they’re STILL happening; hence the excitement. But I digress. It’s a year of burgeoning growth; something we’re very familiar with and embrace.
People ask us all the time what it’s like to be with someone for so long while so young. I met the love of my life the same year I left home for the very first time. I didn’t yet know it, but that is A LOT of pressure for an 18-year-old. First of all, I wasn’t looking for more than a friend to lead the way to the campus bookstore and the quickest route to Jimmy Johns on foot. I was ready (but not prepared) for some of the biggest changes in my life, and ‘a partner’ wasn’t really on my radar.
But there he was. Everything I needed in a person without me being anywhere near ready for it.
Like I said: PRESSURE.
Who’s ready to grow up at that point? The responsibility of a relationship. Before then, dating was just that. Surface appeal, friend’s input, and access (did they have a car?). Long conversations were still only reserved for my best (and loudest) friends over Grey’s Anatomy marathons and Chipotle. But I found that I really appreciated someone to talk to all night long and laugh at my nerd jokes. Taking things slow seemed to be the best thing for a couple of late bloomers.
The talk of us being an ‘US’ happened rather quickly. Our friends saw us as perfect matches for each other; no one ever considered us as individuals, early on. We, on the other hand, considered ourselves strongly independent, even within our strong union. We spent a lot of time learning more about each other’s differences, and that started early.
Of course, we are not the same people we met when we were exiting adolescence. THANK GOODNESS. Although, WE ARE also those same plucky kids in a lot of ways. Sometimes, in our big, bustling adult lives, we forget that. It happens, and it’s the hardest when we do. Other times, we’re up all night, dancing and singing to our favorite music, like nothing has ever changed. I will never say it’s easy. Growing up can mean growing apart. I’ve grown out of numerous friendships in my life. Who hasn’t? But it’s taboo, even a little like the-beginning-of-the-end, to say it about your partner, your spouse.
There are parts of your partner you DO grow out of. That’s fact, and that’s ok. It’s necessary. But First and foremost, it is not an act of betrayal. It is a natural part of life to shed parts of you with time. It’s easier to think about how you grow out of things together. For example, I loved drinking games and watching Jackass movies with my then boyfriend (Don’t judge, we were CHILDREN). Eventually, those nights were replaced with good wine and macabre documentaries. It’s a great reminder that our traits never strayed: we’re still those morbid thinking drunks who love a good conversation and a dark laugh. Why does change have to mean a new personality trait threatening your relationship?
Coexist Without Shame
This is where those loner tendencies work on our favor. Ever heard of Parallel Play? It is the act of being together physically while doing something solitary. Like reading a book while your partner paints (that sounds super sophisticated. Ours is nothing like that. It’s a lot of scrolling through my phone while he plays video games.) There’s nothing that I love more on a weeknight than doing our own things in the company of each other. I chalk this up to living in a busy household growing up, where I was never alone, but sought out my own entertainment independent of my family. It’s a lovely trait to become familiar with when your partner works from home often, too. Even when they are home, it doesn’t mean they have the freedom to engage. Being OK with that can be an adjustment, but hey, why not get started on the knitting you’ve been putting off for months (it seemed like a cute hobby to pick up…last year).
Honor New Hobbies
With that said, how about those hobbies?? Big or small, hobbies should be honored and discussed with your partner. They can be shared and admired. They can inspire one of you to also venture into something new. I grew out of the Sex and The City drunk girl phase of my early 20s and found weight lifting. Then that turned into meditation. Then plants. Lots and lots of plants. And my partner thought it was all pretty goofy until he saw how happy and centered the side projects made me feel. He doesn’t always understand them, but he knows how much they mean to me. Growing into oneself means trusting that your partner can grow with you. If they can be your support, they can turn into your biggest cheerleader.
Talk it Out (With a Professional, if You Can)
We started couples counseling a year after individual therapy. Our communication has always been spotty when we’re both stressed or triggered by our pasts. Counseling has shown us how we can healthily cope with those emotions before misunderstandings and arguments can occur. It’s about maintaining a cohesive understanding of each other. It can be difficult to say things on your mind when you’re worried about offending your partner. Counseling has taken the struggle out of that fear. No one wants a rejection of thoughts and feelings, but not saying them could end up driving a wedge between you. It does get easier the more you open your mouth and speak your truth (having a professional to guide you along is GREAT and should be a lot more assessable than it is. If it’s not, there are more attainable options like TalkSpace or The Lasting Marriage App).
Don’t Fear the CHANGE
What happens when you grow up and a little apart? You end up learning something new about the person you’ve been with all this time. You find out that the part of them that grew turned into something to admire if your communication is open to it. Growing apart from your partner shouldn’t be what we all fear in a relationship. Think of it as growing up and MORE OPEN to the world around you. I’ve lived about a dozen lives in the last 13 years with my partner. A new change from the BOTH of us is just a new chapter in the big book of incredible stories we started in that little dorm room all those years ago.
Vanessa McDuffie is a writer, educator, and influencer living in Minneapolis. She lives her life like a cat; on the couch, near a window away from the elements. You can find her on IG.