7 Unexpected Differences Between Going Through A Phase Vs. Growing Apart From Your Partner

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It can be a really confusing time in your relationship when you've started to notice some distance between you and your partner. For some, the distance could just be a phase that couples go through. For others, it could be a sign that you're actually growing apart. Telling the difference isn't always easy, but according to experts, there are a few key things you can look out for.

"Time can tell the difference between a phase and growing apart," New York–based relationship expert and author, April Masini, tells Bustle. For instance, some people tend to get moody and reactive if they're having a bad day. Because of that, they may pull away for a bit or ask for space, which is common.

But if they're constantly moody and in need of space, that can be a red flag to watch out for. As time goes on, your partner's patterns will start revealing themselves to you. As Masini says, "These patterns will let you know whether someone’s behavior is simply a phase that's triggered by something in other parts of their lives, or if it’s not a phase and something that doesn’t end."

If it's the latter, their behavior will intensify in some way. Time can reveal a lot, but when you're in the middle of it, it can be confusing. So here are some unexpected differences between going through a phase and growing apart, according to experts.

1. It's Just A Phase If You're Clear On What's Going On With Your Partner

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When there's distance in your relationship, it's so easy to come up with all kinds of assumptions on what's really going on. But when you start assuming things, it can make the situation even worse. So as therapist Brie Shelly, MS, LMHC, tells Bustle, "It’s important to examine the objective facts." For instance, why is your partner acting differently lately? Is it work-related or maybe something that's related to their family? If you know the answer, there's nothing to worry about. "By looking at the objective facts, you can properly re-examine the relationship by putting the emotional, subjective side in the corner," Shelly says.

2. You're Growing Apart If Your Partner Puts All The Blame On You

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Whenever you're going through a rough patch, communication is key. If you ask your partner about the issues in your relationship and they're quick to put the blame on you, don't ignore that. According to psychotherapist Laura Dabney, M.D., it's "way more than a phase." You should consider that a red flag and figure out if this relationship is really the right one for you.

3. It's Just A Phase If You're Willing To Accept Your Partner No Matter What

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As time goes on, your relationship will go through changes because you and your partner will change. For some, change can make things uncomfortable, especially if one person is growing individually and the other isn't quite there yet. But if you're in it for the long haul, you'll welcome it. As Nicole Richardson, LPC-S, LMFT, tells Bustle, "You are ready and willing to accept your partner no matter what changes may come." As long as those changes are healthy.

4. You're Growing Apart If You're Uninterested In The Changes Your Partner Is Making In Their Life

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You may be growing apart if you have zero interest in the changes your partner is making in their life. These don't have to be major changes either. This could be a small change like taking up a new hobby. According to Richardson, being in it long-term means that you always have to be curious about your partner, and what they're interested in because they're invested in it. When you care about your partner's interests, and vice versa, both of you can be supportive of each other, and it will keep the relationship strong.

5. It's Just A Phase If You Both Recognize That Relationships Go Through Rough Patches

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When you're in a long-term relationship, there's going to be rough patches. Relationships go through phases. Some are great and some are not so great. "The key to a successful relationship isn't keeping things the same forever," Richardson says. "It's figuring out how to make both people feel accepted and valuable in each phase of the relationship." If you both recognize that a rough patch is just a temporary thing, your relationship is on a good track.

6. You're Growing Apart If You've Started Playing The "Equal" Game

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When you're growing apart, you stop thinking of your partner as your teammate. You also might have stopped thinking about what's good for the relationship and you've started thinking about what's good for you. If you really want your relationship to overcome distance, Dr. Dabney says it's important to avoid playing the "equal" game, or keeping score. "There is no equal amounts of housework, childcare, etc.," she says. In a healthy relationship, you shouldn't feel the need to keep score because you're not competing with each other. But if it does feel like there's a serious imbalance, address it with your partner so you can work through it together.

7. It's Just A Phase If You Still See A Future Together

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If you're going through a rough patch and you haven't thought about breaking up, that's a good sign that it's just a phase. "Couples can overcome growing apart if they are both invested in doing so for the long-term and for the right reasons," Shelly says. It's important that both you and your partner are willing to put in the work to overcome any challenges your relationship is facing. If it's just one person doing all the work to repair things, the likelihood of it working out long-term is not good.

Regardless of whether the distance in your relationship is just a phase or a sign of growing apart, it's important to talk about it. Have an open conversation about your feelings and what's going on in the relationship. Once you have all the information out on the table, it will be easier for you to decide how to move forward.