Ask A Therapist: How Do You Fix A Broken Relationship?

by Roy Fisher

Counselors Roy Fisher and Liz Covey answer readers’ questions for South Seattle Emerald’s “Ask A Therapist.” Have a question about a relationship? Wondering about the struggles of being a parent? Others likely have the same questions and Covey and Fisher bring years of professional experience to provide their insights.

In this article, Roy Fisher addresses a reader’s question about how to repair a relationship that’s grown apart. 

If you have a question, please click here and let us know. We will select two questions each month to answer. The form requires no email address or identification and is completely anonymous. If you are in crisis or in immediate need of care, please contact Crisis Connections at 1-866-427-4747.

Question: How do you fix a relationship that’s growing apart?

Two people coming together and figuring out how to do life together, while rewarding, can be challenging. There are natural ebbs and flows in how we connect as a couple. Figuring out if we are growing apart or if it’s a phase is also challenging. So, what can you do?

Let’s take a trip back to early in a relationship. At this point, we’re trying to figure each other out. We share some parts of who we are, our likes and dislikes. Depending on how comfortable we are with each other, we may share some of our past hurts and negative relationship experiences. We also listen to the other person share their stories and mutually decide if we want to move forward. Over time and successfully navigating telling our stories, we develop an “Us” perspective as we craft language for shared goals, ideas, dreams, etc. Lastly, the individuals become a “We” and partner together in pursuit of those identified goals. At this point, many couples simply focus on “doing life.”

If we’re not paying attention, life can easily contribute to us growing apart because life can change our “I’s.” For example, the birth of a child often changes how parents see themselves, and each other.  Changes in career, moving, deaths, basically any of the expected changes throughout the course of our time together can affect how we see ourselves and our partner. If we don’t do a process like when we were dating, we can feel disconnected.

In my practice, I often hear couples talk about “growing apart,” “falling out of love,” or some version of “I don’t know who my husband/wife/partner is anymore.” They talk about how things have changed or that they don’t understand what happened to the person they fell in love with. I walk them through a simple three-part equation.

  • First, tell each other your “I.” Even though we may have spent several years with someone, and know a lot about them, how often do we listen or share who we are at a core level? This is what I mean sharing our “I.”
  • Secondly, I regularly ask couples to intentionally choose each other. Just because we’ve spent years together, we still need to identify “Us.” What are our shared motivations for being in this relationship?
  • Finally, we need to articulate how individually and collectively we are moving towards the shared goals, this becomes our “We.”

Ideally, we should do this process before any problems are identified and should be a regular part of the relationship. This is more than simply having a date night. This is intentionally engaging in deep thought about ourselves and sharing the results with our partner and encouraging the same from them. When we do this frequently, we minimize the negative impact of “doing life” and increase the chances that we continue to feel connected.

If you are feeling disconnected, I recommend finding time to start with sharing your “I” and providing space for your partner to do the same. This will at least start you down a path to finding each other.

I hope this has been helpful.

– Roy Fisher, MA LMFT