In my last post I looked at whether or not you should have to change.
My take is no, no one should ever *have* to change. Your partner should be able to accept you for who you are, flaws and all.
And we do have flaws. All of us.
So if we can accept that we are all flawed, then it’s important to accept that a relationships involves two flawed people.
The notion of “the one” is a myth – there is no magical person who will make everything perfect. Yeah, some people are better fits than others. But there are many facets to people and relationships. So believing that you just need to find the right person is actually pretty unhealthy, because it implies that relationships don’t have to require effort.
We are different. We have good sides and bad sides, and sometimes this causes conflict. It’s easy to get along when things are going well, but how you deal with adversity says a lot more about your chances for future success. In fact, many seemingly “great” relationships are ruined by a lack of willingness on the part of one or both member to do the dirty work.
When we talk about “change” in a relationship, it’s not actually intended to be change in the other person. Instead it’s about change in the dynamic. In the way a couple communicates, interacts, and deals with their areas of conflict.
So while we should never have to “change”, we should all be willing to try and improve ourselves and work on our relationships. Communication is a skill. Relationships are a skill. And they can both be improved with consistent effort over time.
When we don’t? That’s when we run into problems.
The Need For Change
Relationships often fall into unhealthy patterns where they need to make some sort of changes (or at the very least it would be beneficial for the couple if they could).
If you are feeling as though you need some sort of change, you need to first ask yourself what changes you are looking for, and why you need them.
Commonly the problems a couple faces revolve around needs that are not being met. Common conflict points are sex (different drives), money (different spending habits or priorities around money), kids and time spent together.
Whatever the issue(s), it’s important to remember that relationships are a team sport. Both people matter. Both peoples needs are important.
Usually a need for change is an attempt to have your partner change to accommodate you. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if so, what are you doing to accommodate them?
It’s not unreasonable to want changes. But you need to be able to find a middle ground somewhere that works for both partners. It may not be ideal for either partner, but that’s better than things only working for one person.
Need vs. Want
For any conflict area, it’s important for the couple to accept that this is an issue that impacts the couple (not just one person). If it’s a problem for one person but not the other, guess what?
It’s still a problem.
When one person refuses to deal with an issue because “it’s not an issue to them”, that is disrespectful to the needs of the other person. An issue for one person IS an issue for the couple, and left unresolved can poison the relationship.
In trying to deal with issues your options are as follows:
- Accept things as they are, recognizing that while it may not be perfect it’s good enough. If you can do this, then the issue in question is a “want” and not truly a need.
- Alternatively you can work on any issues and try to improve them. Generally this requires communication, and an acceptance that things may be more or less important to the different people in the relationship. It may always be an issue, but it needs to be reduced to a level that is acceptable for both people.
Those are your options. That’s it.
Well, those are the only good ones. If you can’t accept the current situation and you are unable to work on it in a way that works for both people, then you are in trouble.
It either continues to be an issue and the couple will grow increasingly resentful about it, or it will cause the relationship to fail.
When there are needs that aren’t being met, you accept it, work on it or walk away. There’s not much else you can do.
Can You Change Someone?
Which brings us back to the title of the post. Can you change your partner?
Some people hold out hope that “things will change”. That they will be able to change the person they are with.
Well, guess what. People generally don’t change, and even when they do you can’t change someone. Change is hard, and people only change when THEY want to and they are ready to. They need to see a reason to change, and understand how it will benefit them.
All you can do is try and show the other person how important something is to you, and what it would mean to you. Perhaps that will influence them to try and make changes, but you can’t ever MAKE anyone change.
Any change needs to come from within them.
Where does this leave you if you are someone who needs to see change in the relationship, but your partner isn’t buying in?
In this case the only thing you can do is set boundaries about what is okay and what isn’t.
Attachment Theory says boundaries are one of the keys to healthy attachment. I would like to think that as adults we shouldn’t need to set boundaries, but the reality is that sometimes we have to.
Boundaries are not intended as threats, or ultimatums. They are about respect, and compassion. They are about clearly stating what we want and need in our relationships.
Although boundaries are not intended as ultimatums, you need to set them appropriately and be prepared to stand by them.
If you clearly communicate to your partner what you need and it is constantly ignored, what do you do? If you do nothing, then you are enabling the bad behavior and at the same time devaluing yourself.
People are adults, and they make their own decisions. All decisions have consequences, and people need to live with the consequences of their decisions.
As much as we may want to shield them, sometimes we have to let them go.
It can be very difficult, especially if there are children involved or you believe in the “for better or worse” side of marriage.
But think of marriage as a contract that involved conditions. Are they keeping up their end of the deal? Or are they getting the “for better” while you deal with the “for worse”?
Both people matter. Your needs matter. The relationship has to work for both people..
I’m not saying walk away at the first sign of problems. Give things time, and as long as there is steady forward progress and it is something you can accept try to hold on.
But sometimes loving yourself means you need to let go.
A buddy of mine shared how he felt letting go of a long term relationship that he still wanted very badly, but it seemed to him like he was the only one.
Nothing is more difficult than watching your relationship die.
Watching someones love for you change and deteriorate while yours still burns strong.
You desperately want to understand it and make sense out of what has become of your life, but you can’t.
So you hold on, trying to repair things, and trying to rebuild what you once had and you know you could have again.
You believe with all your heart that life could be not just good, but great, if they would put in even half the effort that you are.
But they don’t.
You care so much about the other person, but it feels like they won’t even try.
Still, you stay. Even as you feel the relationship shift. As you feel them pull away and shut you out.
And it hurts all the more, because although they are physically present they are a million miles away.
And you realize they’ve left the relationship, but they don’t even have enough respect for you to end it.
So it’s left to you.
Nothing is harder than making the choice to walk away from someone you still love, even after all they’ve put you through.
Unless someone has been there, they cannot understand the pain that comes with making that choice.
Sometimes you desperately want things to work out, but your partner doesn’t show a willingness to work with you to make things better. It doesn’t matter how much you love someone.
Know your value. If you know you have done your best and things still haven’t worked out, never forget that it’s not a reflection on you.