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Growing Together

Couple ice skating under string lights

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh” -Genesis 2:24

In 2015, I enrolled in a graduate survey course about marriage relationships.

My interest was not merely intellectual; I was engaged to be married.

Every article that I read that semester was coloured by my own impending union. I was possessed of equal parts cold-feet and dewy-eyed-anticipation, so I studied marriage relationships with every intention of personal application. Like any bride-to-be, I wanted to be certain that I was making a good choice. I wanted happiness and security for my future.

Therefore, it was with sincere interest that I read an article entitled “Reasons for Divorce…”*.  Obviously I wanted to steer clear of divorce, but I didn’t think it was a very complicated matter. My assumption was that people divorced for really big reasons: adultery, abuse, addiction, or financial distress. It was a reassuring belief, because I felt confident about avoiding those vices. However, this article put down my old beliefs. For most couples, it is not the big things, but the little things, that lead to divorce and discontent.


In a sample of 886 divorcing individuals, the most common reason cited for seeking divorce was “growing apart.”

“Growing apart?!” What sort of vague concept was that? I couldn’t conceptualize it, but it scared me. “Growing apart” sounded more subtle than financial distress or adultery; it sounded like something that could sneak up on normal, well-matched couples. Like us.

We All Grow Apart

When I first read about “growing apart,” it was sobering. Memorable, even. But not remotely applicable. Andy and I were engaged, and as such, we were actively growing together. There were regular dates. There was emotional disclosure. There was physical affection, made more exciting because there were boundaries that couldn’t yet be crossed. Talking was fun because there was still so much territory to cover. We took classes together and exercised together. Growing apart was not a possibility.

Fast-forward three years. Add a baby, multiple jobs, schooling, and church service. Dates? Absolutely, but who’s going to book the babysitter? Dates don’t plan themselves. Emotional disclosure? Sounds nice, but what’s left to disclose? The jokes now play on repeat, and recounted memories are rarely new. Sex? Sure, but when? There is an early morning job, which means early bed times and flip-flopped sleeping hours. Working out together? Hehe, don’t make me laugh! That was a short-lived ploy to impress. Besides, there is limited time for hobbies, and few of our pursuits are shared.

…In short, I can now conceptualize what it means to “grow apart.”

I’ll be honest—sometimes “growing apart” feels like a terrible, scary inevitability. When days pass without quality time, when conversations feel chilly, or when we simply forget to reach out and touch each other, I remember that old article.

Fortunately, we are learning that growing apart is NOT an inevitability! We are becoming more intentional about growing together, and the chasm between us is disappearing.

Closing the Chasm

We’ve been practicing “growing together” again, and with fabulous results. Here are three principles that work for us:

(1) Time

Let’s get specific: You need to date. And what does that mean, my lazy, excuse-making friend? (I’m talking to myself.) As defined by an Apostle of the Lord, a date is (1) planned, (2) paid for, and (3) paired off. That means you have to think about it, preferably before Friday night. And you should make room in the budget for it. Call the babysitter and rack your brain for activities that you can both enjoy.

Still coming up dry? Never fear. When dinner and movies don’t fit the budget, you can check out our list of creative date ideas!

(2) Talk

The second most common reason cited for seeking divorce (reported by 53%) was “not able to talk together”. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but just as easily avoided. Give more compliments and have higher quality conversations.

Apply compliments liberally. While all couples have negative interactions, science shows that happy, long-lasting marriages have five times more positive interactions than negative ones. So load up on the kind words! Compliments are the dual-edged sword of offense. Your spouse benefits from feel-goods, and you benefit from seeing him or her in the finest light. Also, it should be noted that it is impossible to tell a woman that she is beautiful too many times.

Get past “business talk.” I’ll confess, I am a superbly cordial being. I can fill an entire dinner conversation with “How was your day” (because that’s polite) and “What are your plans for the week” (because that’s relevant). This lends itself to practical things, but it is not the glue that makes marriage stick. Growing together requires higher caliber conversation. You might begin with a conversation starter like “Rose, Bud, and Thorn.” Be observant, and practice listening. Tell jokes. Inquire about preferences, memories, and opinions. Discuss news stories and neighborhood happenings. If you’re prone to stuff your emotions, practice disclosing what you’re feeling and why.


Physical touch is a quick, powerful way to express affection and acceptance. You can enrich the quality of touch in your relationship by improving on passion, frequency, or depth.

  • PASSION: Add passion to the peck. Surprise your spouse by turning a habitual kiss into a fiery one: longer, fiercer, more thoughtful. This isn’t a harlequin novel; you know the art. Renew (or instigate) snogging as a daily affair.
  • FREQUENCY: When we were dating, I wanted physical contact all the time (infatuated? Why yes, yes, I was). Marriage is richest when we remember our old ways and touch—a LOT. Run your fingers through his hair. Give her hugs when you come home. Embrace while praying. Back massages. Foot massages. Dancing. Holding hands. Whatever you do, do it more often.
  • DEPTH: Explore the art of the snuggle. Work schedules prevent us from going to bed at the same time, so we religiously observe “pajama time” in our house. It’s not so much about pjs as it is about physical touch.

God’s Plan: Cleaving

God knew that our marriage would be threatened by atrophy; entropy; the simple force of “growing apart.” That’s why, in the beginning, He admonished us to grow together. He said it thus:

“Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh” -Genesis 2:24

Cleaving. I used to think that cleaving meant severing (think: meat cleavers in the kitchen), which left me feeling a bit confused about the doctrine of marriage according to the book of Genesis. Fortunately, Mirriam-Webster offers an additional definition:

Cleave: (verb) “to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly.”

God wants us to adhere firmly, closely, loyally, and unwaveringly to our spouses. Notice the parenthetical notation? It says that cleaving is a verb, and verb means ACTION. So if you find yourselves growing apart in marriage, know that it is normal and natural. But also know that you can do something about it!

For us, cleaving means dating, conversing, complimenting, snogging, and snuggling.

Feel free to comment below. What are you doing to grow together?

*Hawkins, A. J., Willoughby, B. J., & Doherty, W. J. (2012). Reasons for divorce and openness to marital reconciliation. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 53(6).

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Jenny Harris
Jenny is a star-gazing, book-clubbing mother of two. She has a Master’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies, which is mildly comical (but also a boon in parenting and relationships). Her kids will attest that she’s crazy about reading aloud, time out of doors, and creative play. Her family’s goal is the “abundant life,” as prescribed by Jesus. You can read more posts by Jenny here.

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