Jenny Block answers: How do you grow as a person yet stay a couple?


Sometimes I get an e-mail that really hits me hard. This was one of those emails.

It was from a woman who feels as if her relationship is slipping away from her. It began when she and her girlfriend moved in together. She is more communicative than her girlfriend, she told me, and so talking about how she is feeling isn’t helping much. Her girlfriend is no longer interested in sex and blames it on stress or adjusting to the move.

Her question to me was a huge one: How do I get our relationship back on track and keep her from slipping away all together?

I’ll be honest. Her question terrified me. It’s a huge query and a problem that’s all too common. Why do partners slip away, particularly when a big step takes place like moving in together, getting married, even having a baby?

People grow and change. Major life events can put that process into overtime, especially with couples. Growth and change will happen. The question is: Will the couple grow together or apart?

If you sense that your partner is beginning to slip away, don’t ignore it. The one thing I know for sure is that ignoring the issue will most certainly make it worse.

Start simply: Ask your partner how she’s feeling. Now, don’t do this while you’re both racing to get to work or after a long day when the dishwasher is finally emptied and you have crawled into bed with your eyes barely half-open. Don’t do it during or after a fight. Don’t do it with any expectations. Just open the door to allow her to share where she is in her head.

If she tells you it’s not you, it’s just “stress,” ask her how you can help to alleviate that stress and make a real plan to work together to alleviate the pressure she is under. If she tells you it’s not you, it’s just all the “changes,” ask her to define what that really means. Maybe she misses a certain amount of quiet time or cooking alone or dancing in her underwear to ABBA while folding the laundry. Let her know that she doesn’t have to give up herself in order to be with you.

Sometimes we are frightened to tell our partners just what it is that we need because we are afraid of losing them. But not telling them is precisely how we will lose them if we can’t learn how to evolve both on our own and as a couple without ending up completely unrecognizable from our former selves. Change is never easy. It is bound to be bumpy. But there is no reason it has to be misery or a deal-breaker.

Your partner needs to know that it’s OK to talk to tell you the truth, that it’s OK to keep all of those secret and silly and wonderful parts of herself, that there is nothing she can tell you that aren’t willing to hear because you love her.

My fiancé and I have certainly had our bumps. I don’t like football; she hates to miss a Texans game. I prefer Bieber; she’s more of a Bublé girl. I don’t always have the urge to hit the dance floor; she hates to waste any tune that fills her ears. But we love one another. A lot. And so when we hit a bump, we take that bump head-on instead of quietly sidestepping it in hopes of never meeting it again, because — believe me — whatever the bump, if we don’t address it, it is sure to come up again.

We haven’t completely moved in together, but we do stay together every other week. So we are learning each other. I am not a morning person, while she is Mary Poppins with the break of day. I cannot stand the thought of food before 11 a.m. while she needs fuel before jumping into the day. I am always freezing; she doesn’t even know that you can set the A/C thermostat over 71. But instead of being irritated with one another, we adjust. OK. We do get irritated with one another. But then we adjust. There’s no dissimilarity or change that’s worth losing each other over.

Now when it comes to sex, problems in the bedroom are more often a symptom rather than a disease. There is no right number of times to have sex a week or ways to have it and every couple’s sex life will go through different phases. But if things are suddenly vastly different and both partners are not happy with the new state of affairs, then it’s time talk. Again, it’s possible that she really is just under a lot of stress or feeling displaced after a move or other life change.

But it’s also possible that there is something else at play and she is simply too afraid of your reaction to bring it up. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Nothing is more important than creating a safe space for any and every conversation. That, and that alone, is the key to any successful relationship from family to work to romantic to sexual. You have to talk and you have to be authentic and you have to say what your heart wants to say. As partners we must hold that space for one another.

If you feel you are growing apart, take a deep breath, ask the hard questions, and give the real answers. There’s no point in putting off the inevitable. Relationships that are destined to survive will grow stronger when you do and for those that can’t take the heat, well, there’s no reason to staying in the kitchen any longer.

Block is the author of the The Ultimate Guide to Solo Sex by Jenny Block, foreword by Betty Dodson.

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2016.