Ideally, you and your partner should be growing together as the relationship moves further along. But as much as it sucks to say, that's not always the case. Instead of growing together, you find that you and your partner might actually be growing apart.
"In my practice, I decode the phrase 'drifting apart' as code for, 'We are not being as reactively nice, loving, and giving.' Instead, they're being reactively nasty, irritated, and withholding," Evie Shafner, Los Angeles-based Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist tells Bustle. "As soon as our interactions feel less kind, they feel more dangerous. Meaning, it doesn't feel so safe to talk with our partners any longer. At that point couples start shutting down, avoiding, what we call in Imago Relationship Therapy, creating 'exits.'"
People make exits by acting out of displeasure and anxiety instead of having the safe, open, and honest conversations they should be having, Shafner says. Individuals don't feel like they can talk it out with their partner. That's why many times couples end up feeling distant from each other.
If you're starting to feel a disconnect between you and your partner, you may be growing apart. But how do you know for sure? Here are some signs you should look out for, according to experts:
1. You Purposely Avoid Each Other
"Avoidance is quite often a sign of partners growing apart," Anya Shumilina, LMSW, Director of Dialectical Behavior Therapy at Behavioral Associates tells Bustle. If you're not sure whether you really want to end things with your partner or not, the first thing you need to do is recognize that your avoidance is problematic. Afterwards, communicate.
"If you need alone time to disengage or maybe even to reevaluate your relationship, it's OK to do so as long as you communicate that to your partner," she says. "In other words, stop avoiding your partner and take ownership of the problem. The only way to grow closer and navigate the issue at hand is to face the reality rather than avoid it."
2. You Don't Do The Things You Used To Love Doing Together Anymore
Whether it's going for a hike together, walking the dog, or trying out new restaurants in town, if you find that you'd rather do those things solo, can't be bothered to find time to sync up your schedules, or would rather sit on the couch and watch TV, these are signs that you're being indifferent and sedentary in your relationship.
"If you’re seeing any of these signs, it’s worth it to pick the right moment to look each other in the eyes and say, What’s really going on here?" Shindy Chen, lifestyle blogger and author of The First Time tells Bustle. "If you respect each other and the relationship, then you’ll be honest with each other as to why something feels off."
3. One Of Your Belief Systems Has Changed And It's Making The Other Uncomfortable
Maybe your partner wants to start going back to church, but you're not really into religion. Or maybe you become more vocal and passionate about feminism, but your partner doesn't really get it. Honestly, you should be free to believe whatever you want whether you're with someone who agrees or not. But whatever new belief system either of you adopts, an open discussion will always be beneficial. Otherwise, it could make one of you uncomfortable and that will only increase the distance between you.
"If your partner can respect, accept, or just make an effort to understand what led you to the these changes, this relationship can continue to grow," speaker and counselor Davida Rappaport tells Bustle. "But if your partner becomes unaccepting or intolerant, you might need to consider ending the relationship."
4. You Stop Talking About The Future
This isn't limited to future-oriented talks like moving in together, getting married or having babies. "If you stop talking about fun things for the future like weekend getaways, longer-term vacations, or holidays, perhaps there is a reason that he or she is refusing to really think more than a few weeks in advance," Stef Safran, owner of Chicago-based matchmaking service Stef and the City, tells Bustle.
If you're not consciously making an effort to make future plans with your partner, it's a subtle sign that you might not see them in it.
5. You Aren't Having Sex Anymore
If you find that your sex life has significantly diminished, it's usually one of the biggest signs that you're growing apart.
"Oftentimes the lack of sex is hard to ignore because it's glaring them in the face. It's not so subtle," marriage and family therapist, Erin Asquith, LCSW tells Bustle. It usually starts by going from three times a week, to once a week, to once a month, and then once every two months. "
That's how subtle it can be," Asquith says. "Couples at this point, don't talk to each other about what's going on with their intimacy and sex life. But THIS is the time to start talking about it. Not after a year, when you realize you haven't any any intimacy whatsoever. Because, what happens over time is when there's no more sex or intimacy, it begins to fizzle out elsewhere."
6. You Stop Being Affectionate
"It is natural for the early honeymoon stage of dating or marriage to fizzle out and at this point, it is important to take a look at why and evaluate your relationship," Susan Trombetti, relationship expert and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking tells Bustle. "One subtle sign of growing apart is when the couple simply stops showing each other any affection."
Showing each other affection by cuddling, kissing, or just touching your partner can keep the warmth in your relationship. Without it, your relationship can feel cold and distant.
7. You're Less Emotionally Involved With Each Other
"There's a matter-of-fact quality to people whose relationship is slightly waning," Wendy Brown, clinical member of the Ontario Society of Psychotherapists tells Bustle. According to Brown, it goes something like this: The emotional energy you put towards your partner and your relationship starts fading. Things that your partner does that used to make you happy or irritated, don't really do that for you anymore. When couples start feeling more grounded in their feelings, Brown says, it's a subtle sign that they're less emotionally involved with each other.
If You Realize That You're Growing Apart, What Should You Do?
"You need to remember that relationships are living things that are either growing or dying," Brown says. "If you notice that the feeling is slipping away, affection and sex are slowing down and there's some emotional detachment between you, that means your relationship is starting to stagnate."
But there's good news. Even if you feel like you're growing apart, don't automatically assume the worst. "Oftentimes, the trajectory for a relationship is something like a lightning rod, so there's no need to panic," Brown says. "You just need to problem-solve and give your relationship a boost." So the sooner you recognize the problem the sooner your relationship can get back on track.