A major problem that people often face in relationships is that they grow apart. One person grows in one direction, the other grows in another (or stays the same). This creates a distance that can be hard to bridge.

The solution I’ve found is to growth together, in similar directions … sometimes, at least. We can’t grow in the same direction, at the same rate, in every way. That’s impossible, because we’re two separate people and can’t be intertwined.

However … if we grow together in some ways, this will keep us from having too much distance. I believe that some distance is good, otherwise we become co-dependent. We need some independence from each other. But having too much distance means we don’t have intimacy and aren’t really sharing a relationship. So finding a balance between independence and too much distance is the key.

Don’t worry — it’s fun. Growing together is one of the best things about a relationship, and it’s how you strengthen the relationship and make it last.

Some examples of ways to grow together:

As you can see, it can be a ton of fun, this growing together.

Build Trust

Why grow together? Because it builds trust: you learn to trust that the other person wants to be with you, isn’t growing in a totally different direction and leaving you behind … or alternatively, stuck where they’ve always been as you continue to grow, worried that they are holding you back. When growth happens in different directions, or unevenly, it can cause some insecurities to arise.

Sure, in a perfect world, both partners in a relationship would be perfectly secure, and wouldn’t need reassurance. But even in that ideal, it’s still important to build trust by doing things together. Without trust, what kind of a relationship is it?

You build trust by showing up regularly, and showing that you’re invested in the relationship. Finding a mutual area for growth is a great way to do that. If you’re taking a class together, you’re going to show up, be committed, and grow trust over time.

Remember to show that this matters to you, that you are invested and that you care. That’s much more important than, say, being better at the Crossfit class than your partner. If your partner doesn’t seem to be showing up or invested, talk to them about your perceptions (which might not actually be how they feel), but without blame. Talk to them about how important this is to you, and why it matters to be invested and build trust.

Start Afresh, Regularly

When you’re growing at different rates or in different directions, the tendency is for this to cause friction, resentment, insecurity … because things have changed. The relationship, and the other person, might not be what we’ve come to expect. The couple might worry how they’ll relate to each other.

This can cause pain in a relationship, but there’s another way to approach it: create something new.

In his book, Journey of the Heart, John Welwood suggests adopting a beginner’s mind when a relationship begins to change. Instead of holding on to a fixed idea about how things are supposed to be, let go of those old patterns and start anew.

Begin afresh, creating a new relationship based on who you’ve both become, not who you used to be. Take one step at a time, seeing yourselves for who you are now, and finding a new relationship, one that can move forward as you do. Let go of your rigid or preconceived notion of who your partner is, and see them with fresh eyes.

Welwood writes, “If two people can face each other in a spirit of beginner’s mind, they will discover that their connection can continually expand beyond domestic familiarity, to include a larger sense of space and mystery.”

Remember to be Patient!

Finding mutual areas for growth, and having both partners become invested in these areas, might not happen immediately. Talk to your partner about these ideas, but don’t force them. Don’t expect immediate enthusiasm, but just start the conversation.

Relationship growth takes time, so an attitude of patience is important. Don’t let yourself become frustrated if things don’t work out exactly as you’d hoped. Stick with it, find areas for improvement, and see each step as an opportunity for growth — for you personally, and for your relationship.