If you and your partner have weathered the storm of a global pandemic and are continuing to grow together as a couple, it’s safe to say you both deserve a pat on the back. To say it’s been challenging to spend every waking minute together, or perhaps spend significantly more time apart, is an understatement. The restrictions on social gatherings and travel throughout 2020 and the beginning of 2021 have forced couples to look to each other to satisfy a wide array of needs, including relational, psychological and emotional, that has understandably caused strain on their relationship, notes Ili Rivera Walter, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., couple therapist and owner of CityCouples™ Online Therapy. “Because most couples are working from home, together, they are also discovering new information about their partners that is, at times, startling, including sexual expectations, working habits and personality quirks,” she adds.
The good news: While you’ve likely dealt with your share of relationship challenges, especially during the last year, what matters the most is how you respond to those challenges. This, Dr. Walter explains, is what embodies your ability to grow together as a couple. “When couples are able to respond to this adversity with renewed relationship commitment, then the relationship grows,” she says. “Many couples are seeking therapy to learn strategies for coping with disagreements, while other couples are developing new, more honest communication habits, out of necessity, in order to manage heightened professional and personal expectations.”
Even if you are confident in your growth as a couple, it’s always nice to know for sure that you are truly making strides. Here, experts share some key signs that show your relationship has grown for the better.
You’re having disagreements more often.
While you might initially think that disagreeing is a bad sign for your relationship, it is often quite the contrary and means you are growing together as a couple, according to Dr. Walter. “These clashes can be alarming for couples, bringing thoughts of impending doom or lack of compatibility, but in reality, disagreements are a source of information that couples can use to learn more about one another,” she says. In order to use these moments for growth, she recommends taking time to debrief. “Discuss your points of view calmly and make requests regarding the topic or your couple communication style,” she adds.
You recover from disagreements more quickly.
If you notice that you’re rebounding from disagreements with your partner more quickly than you have in the past, it may be a sign that you’re growing together as a couple. “Recovering from issues more quickly occurs when partners are able to accept that differences are real, but non-threatening to the relationship,” says Dr. Walter. To notice whether or not this sign of growth is occurring in your relationship, she recommends taking time to reflect and discuss with your partner how you recovered from disagreements in the past, and how recovery happens now. “Take the conversation a bit deeper, by identifying changes you each made, so that the new recovery process could be possible,” she says. “The key to recovering more quickly is to understand that disagreements will happen; they are not a sign of doom, and they are not personal.”
Your partner’s requests don’t make you feel inadequate.
If you’re able to hear your partner out, even if their requests are for you to alter your behavior in some way, without feeling shameful, it’s a step in the right direction, according to Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love. “Being able to see your partner’s requests as positive and healthy for the relationship can allow you to show up in your relationship the way your partner needs you to,” she says.
You are able to be vulnerable with each other.
“Vulnerability can be scary since it leaves you open to rejection or your partner using information against you,” says Chlipala. However if you’re able to be vulnerable and put yourself out there when your partner needs you to, you may find that your level of intimacy increases. “Feeling safe is critical to being vulnerable, so both partners are responsible for responding gently to each other,” Chlipala adds.
You’ve moved away from the “right vs. wrong” mentality.
It can be easy to get caught up into who was right or wrong at the end of a fight or a disagreement, but does it really matter? Neither of you get a trophy for being “right,” and spending so much energy trying to determine who “won” will only stunt the growth of a relationship, warns Chlipala. “Your relationship grows when you can acknowledge and validate your partner, even if you disagree with them,” she says. “Being able to hold two opposing or different viewpoints and consider them both valid can grow not just your relationship but your mind as well.”