Embracing Change May Be The Key To Long-Term Marital Success

The "I love you's" are often plentiful on the wedding day, as is the desire to spend as much time with your new spouse as possible. The next few weeks or months are commonly approached with curiosity and wonder with your newly acquired status and partner. Romance lingers in the air, and it all feels like a dream as you get to know them on a deeper level than ever before. This version of your spouse feels almost perfect. Over time, however, couples often find themselves knee-deep in a new reality. That way of viewing your partner as nearly perfect shifts as you see them in new ways as they evolve into different versions of themselves.

Change will occur, and not necessarily in the ways you would like or expect, but on a personal level that leaves you with a choice to embrace new development or to allow a distance between you to grow as you both evolve into new and different versions of yourselves.

Pay attention to the phase of your relationship

Everyone is constantly changing, especially when navigating marriage as well as life in general. These gradual changes have the potential to create a chasm that leaves us feeling like we don't know who our partner is anymore or confused by how they've become so different from the day you said, "I do." For example, your spouse, who was once extroverted and the life of the party, could become more introverted over time and inclined to skip the social outing. "Not only do relationships change with time, but people change, which can affect the relationship dynamics as well," Michelle Chalfant, a therapist in Charlotte, N.C., told the New York Times.

There are three phases most relationships go through, which Greg Douglas, an Oregon-based licensed professional mental health counselor, calls connection, disconnection, and repair. The connection phase, popularly known as the honeymoon phase, is when everything feels blissful and romantic. The disconnection phase is when reality sets in, and unpleasant behaviors and dispositions become apparent. This is also known as the power struggle/disillusionment stage. The repair phase is where the couple comes together to work on solving conflict, develop a healthy communication style, build intimacy in the marriage, and share gratitude. It takes a willingness from each partner for this phase to lead to healthy growth as a couple.

Understanding the nature of the phases can help develop communication patterns that allow for vulnerability and understanding as you and your partner grow individually and collectively.

Accept change as a way to grow closer

As we established, every person and relationship changes. The University of Florida SMARTCouples offered some advice on accepting that change, including working on yourself first — inner work and self-care can help change your relationship for the better — adjusting expectations, valuing your commitment, accepting some differences, negotiating disagreements, and remembering acts of love. This can look like being open-minded and patient with both yourself and your partner, expressing gratitude, looking at where resentment may be coming up and addressing it, recognizing that you and your partner won't agree with everything, and, of course, working on communication and getting to know each other as you grow into new versions of yourselves.

Shakti Sutriasa, a Washington-based licensed clinical social worker, wrote for the Huffington Post, suggesting that couples make room for a new normal that allows for new routines as changes occur. Additionally, she suggests that couples make room for change by providing each other with a nonjudgmental space to share. Marriage is a commitment as well as an opportunity for self-discovery and getting to witness someone you love and care about expanding into a fuller version of themselves. Change can be beautiful, and embracing your partner as they change can lead to a deep level of intimacy and closeness.