I’ve been inspired by a couple conversations that I’ve had recently about the subject of people making changes in a relationship. The first conversation was with one of my closest friends, whose relationship had just ended because her boyfriend basically felt that if she didn’t want him “as is” then there was no point in continuing their relationship.
The other conversation was with someone I had just met. He had been married multiple times and proclaimed that if things were “meant to be, then they would just work out”, and that he didn’t believe in making changes for a relationship, only minor compromises (like deciding where to hang artwork in a home).
It was like meeting my friend’s ex 20 years later….divorced 3 times but still convinced that he should never have to make any changes.
What is change?
So what is up with change? It can be such a confusing topic. And it seems that most of the messages about change are about not changing. There is the passive “if it’s meant to be” idea of change, and the “never change for him (or her) advice,” or the “this is who I am: take it or leave it” approach.
But those who hold to one of these mantras about change in relationships basically leave their partners helpless when unhappy with some aspect of the relationship. So I thought I’d put forth some of my ideas about change… the good; the bad; and the unlikely.
A little change will do you good.
A healthy relationship provides a safe structure for personal change—the key being healthy. You see, a healthy relationship is one in which both partners express an openness to listen to concerns and complaints, and a willingness to change.
For instance, my husband teases and sometimes calls me “Radar” because I am in tune with people’s moods and changes in emotion; I frequently check in with “what’s wrong”, “did I do something”, “are you upset with me” type of stuff which can get annoying, I’m sure. Although I sometimes I’m not a big fan of that nickname, I must admit that there is truth to it and his insight has helped me to work at letting more go–to notice some things but not always feel the need to address them.
I have been able to make personal changes in my relationship because my partner gave me some feedback and it was important to me to address it because he is important to me. And I know that he gives me the same consideration when I voice something I would like him to stop, start or revise.
This give and take is what makes relationships healthy. So when your partner points something out that is reasonable, by all means, make a change, it will do you some good!
When is change off the table?
So sometimes change in a relationship is just not going to happen. A few reasons change may just be off the table are: you’re being asked to change something that is a deal breaker or would not make you a better person; you are being asked to change something that is more of a personality trait; and, your partner is abusing the right to ask you to change. Let me give some details.
- So sometimes we may be asked to change things that are really important to us or is a quality we like about ourselves, if you feel that the change request is really tapping into something you don’t feel is in your best interest to change then, I think, it’s fair to opt out of changing at that time. However, this shouldn’t be done without a conversation with your partner about why you don’t feel this is a reasonable change. If it isn’t hurting your partner’s feelings or making you a better person then I think some negotiation or no change is reasonable.
- If you are asking or being asked to change something that is a personality trait, then it’s most likely not going to happen. For example, if your partner is an outgoing, loud extrovert and you want him/her to become more laid back then your request may be unrealistic. They may be able to lower the volume or lessen the intensity, but they are not going to become someone radically different. Or if you’re asking a really unconscientious partner to become more conscientious, good luck. You may have to face the fact that this may prove really hard (or even impossible) for your partner to develop.
- Finally, if you are being asked to change things constantly that are not really things that would impact the quality of your relationship, then it may be time to think about whether or not you want to stay in that type of relationship. For example, a guy who wants to change his partner’s appearance, or a woman who wants to change her partner’s hobbies and interests. These may be minor things but also may just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of what change requests may be made.
*Side note: both the guys I referenced above would probably say that they won’t change anything because whatever quality a partner wanted them to change was “important to them” or “not changeable”. To those who date someone with this mindset, I say run!
Being in a long-term relationship with someone so rigid about change, will ultimately drive you crazy and leave you feeling like you’re beating your head up against a wall every time you two have an argument. Also, your commitment will always be fragile, since any time change is requested they will feel that the relationship was not “meant to be”. That’s a vulnerable spot to be in.
So what’s the bottom line?
Partners in a relationship need to practice a level of openness and willingness to compromise and self-improve.
Of course, there are times when requests for change are excessive, or change is not even possible. But in a healthy relationship, change is mutual.
Partner’s see each other’s blind spots and, in love and humility, they prompt positive changes in each other. So you see, in healthy relationships, a little change will do you some good.