Growth and change are a natural, healthy part of life. In any long-term relationship, from a friendship to a romantic partner, you must roll with changes as they appear. Some changes, however, become untenable and make two people incompatible.
In this article, we will discuss changes in your marriage. We will investigate how a healthy, thriving relationship handles these alterations, and we will consider what happens when changes damage a relationship beyond repair.
The Progression of Romantic Relationships
New romantic relationships tend to follow a similar, psychological journey. Here, we will discuss that trajectory and how it relates to changes in a relationship.
The “Honeymoon” Phase
The beginning of a romantic relationship can be intoxicating. Some even call it “new relationship energy.” You’re experiencing new things, and your new partner is the focal point of those experiences. Everything seems great, and the hope and promise of a bright future fuel this newfound relationship.
This, of course, cannot last. Eventually, reality sets in, and you begin experiencing the raw humanity of your new partner. Some relationships run on honeymoon energy for too long, even into marriage. When the haze starts to clear, you may find you’re not happy with what you see. Something has changed. It’s not necessarily either person. It’s your perspective. When confronted with the genuine reality of who you both are, you may find that you are not willing to continue the relationship.
The “Coming Together” Phase
This is the point at which you’ve “made it official.” You are, indeed, a couple. Perhaps you change your social media relationship status. You begin introducing one another as “boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” “partner,” or whichever term makes the most sense. Even in a casual relationship, this is the point where you’ve agreed on the conditions of the union.
You are officially together, but your relationship hasn’t been put to the test. Eventually, something will happen that challenges your perception of the other person, and vice versa. This might not be an actual change. It could be more of a discovery as you learn more about one another. Some relationships simply cannot survive this test, even those that have lasted for years and resulted in a marriage.
The “Disillusionment” or “Power Struggle” Phase
Eventually, the last remaining threads of blinded, honeymoon thinking are stripped away. You’re left with one another’s raw, fallible, vulnerable humanity. If the relationship survives this transition, its true depth begins to emerge. People get to know one another inside and out, and previously unrecognized differences come to light. For instance, unknown political views, religious differences, or general outlooks on life cause you to see one another differently.
This phase may be more of an uncovering of the truth than an actual change. This is where true compatibility, love, and endurance matter. Many couples find they cannot survive this transition, now realizing their relationship is not what they wanted.
The “Co-Creation” Phase
This is when a couple begins truly building a life together. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. You have found someone with similar goals and a compatible outlook. If you’re able to maintain the same “eyes on the prize” mentality, you can go far together.
However, this is also the phase where genuine, lasting change comes into play. In a healthy relationship, you give each other freedom to explore life individually. Doing so always comes with a risk, though. You never know when one partner encounters a “game-changer,” something that forever changes the trajectory of their life and, by extension, your life with them. Massive upheavals can end an otherwise productive relationship.
Types of Changes You May Encounter
People age, and so do their bodies. We can’t always predict how our health will alter, no matter how much we work on ourselves. Sometimes, unknown genetic disorders can kick in. Other times, we suffer unexpected injuries for which we are not at fault.
We all believe “for better or for worse” when we first say it, but sometimes, health changes become unbearable. Imagine, for instance, your partner suffers a brain injury. Their mood and personality change wildly. They fall into deep, unbreakable depressions. Sometimes, they are joyful and manic, only to experience wild fits of rage the next day. You love this person, and you do everything you can to help. At some point, however, you may find that you are not equipped to handle this situation, and you realize the relationship cannot continue.
Changes You Simply Cannot Handle
Before, we mentioned “game-changers.” This is anything that fundamentally alters the shape of the relationship. Such a change may not be inherently good or bad. It could simply be something that leads to incompatibility. Imagine a couple where one party suddenly becomes obsessed with fitness. Their entire diet changes. They lose weight and gain muscle and definition. Now they are energetic, perky, and constantly on the move. They want to go dancing, ice skating, and rock climbing. Their partner, however, remains a sedentary foodie. Over time, these two could become like strangers, having nothing left to hold them together.
When it comes to these changes, ask yourself what the real problem is before running to a divorce. Using the above example, the core problem is that there are no common interests left. This couple could potentially do some digging and find something that interests them both, then focus on doing that together.
Sometimes, however, these changes are explosive. One partner may discover that they were wrong about their sexual orientation. Maybe someone decides they want non-monogamy. Perhaps a spouse realizes they no longer want children. In situations like these, both parties must recognize what they can handle and what they’re willing to sacrifice. If either cannot bear the change, the relationship cannot continue.
A Partner Becomes Abusive
A common trait of many abusers is that, at first, they are wonderful. They lure their prey in with zealous adoration, compliments, and attention. Over time, their abusive tendencies surface, especially when they feel the other partner is committed and “locked in.” Once the victim has had enough, the abuser reverts to their sweet persona, the one that lured the victim in to begin with. Then the cycle continues.
Unfortunately, abuse is not always obvious. Instead of a clenched fist, it sometimes presents itself as control and manipulation. An abuser can be guilty of “gaslighting,” filling their victim’s heads with lies and false promises. The victim then begins doubting their own, concrete perceptions.
If you’re being abused, either through direct violence or subtle machinations, vacate the relationship immediately. Find a safe place where you can clear your head and get distance from the other person. They will probably come back to you, sheepish and apologetic. Be wary of this. Only through intense therapy and work can abusers change their behavior. Change could take years, and you need to worry about yourself first.
To be clear, the most important determinant of whether your marriage has ended is you. You may be able to roll with the changes and move forward, but you might not. Either response is perfectly acceptable. It is important to be honest with yourself and your feelings. Don’t stay trapped in a situation you find unbearable.
We are here to help when you know your relationship is over. We can mediate a divorce, and, if necessary, we can help you take the matter to court. For a free consultation, call (914) 312-4131 or contact us online.