You should not have to change to be in a relationship, do you?

You should not have to change to be in a relationship, do you?

You’ve heard it a thousand times: “You shouldn’t have to change to be with someone.”

Or should you?  Well, let’s think about it.  I think this is important, and perhaps the single-most misunderstood thing about successful relationships.  If the word “change” makes you cringe, this post is for you.  Change is inevitable.  Change is good.  Change is hard.  But is one kind of change the same as another? 

Naturally, you want to be loved and accepted for who you are, right now, at this moment, and, ideally, at some point in your life, you find someone capable, whom you also love for who they are, right now.  This goes along very well for, say, three months, eight months, even a year or more?  And then, almost imperceptibly at first, things begin to change.  (There’s that word again.)

Maybe he tunes out halfway through your sentence.  Or she doesn’t laugh at your favorite joke any more.  You both get irritable more quickly than you used to.  You bicker over little things, like how to drive a stick, or where to put the dessert forks.  Add to the mix some everyday stressors – small, medium and large – like a parking ticket, or the kids acting up, or company lay-offs, and before you know it, you’re having fight after fight, and they never seem to get resolved.

So, what now?  What happened to the person who thought you were brilliant and gorgeous and the greatest thing since TiVo?  You were good enough six months ago – what changed?

If you’re a living, breathing human being who’s ever been in a relationship, my guess is you’ve found yourself in this position at one time or another.  Many of us take this opportunity to pack up our toys and leave.  You think, “I guess I picked the wrong person.”  Or, “I don’t know what’s wrong with him/her, but I’m not going to change who I am for anybody!”  You move out, spend some time licking your wounds (or not), and move on to someone else.  You think, “This is the change I really needed.”  A year later, you’re right back where you started – different partner, same situation.  

So, let’s back up a bit, before you pack your toys.  Here we get to the heart of the matter. 

Not all changes are created equal.  There’s changing who you are, and then there’s changing how you are.  Maybe there are people out there – let’s say .00002% of the population – who are born with flawless and sophisticated relationship skills.  Even under the most stressful of circumstances, they’re tirelessly kind and compassionate, they listen without interrupting, they don’t say things they’ll later regret, they don’t even care about being right.  But then there’s the remaining 99.99998% of us who didn’t come hardwired like the Dalai Lama – we regular folks, we have to work at it.   To be in a love relationship – a successful loverelationship – at some point, we have to wake up, wise up, and suck it up – we have to change.  Not who we are.  How we are.  And they’re not the same thing.

There are some changes I would wholeheartedly advise against, were I in the business of giving advice.  You shouldn’t do gymnastics to be someone you’re not.  You shouldn’t perform a major overhaul on your personality, your friends, your body, your religious beliefs (unless, of course, this is something you are curious about and want to explore).  You shouldn’t have to live in fear for your safety, emotional or physical, or the safety of your children and pets.  In my opinion, some things should be non-negotiable.  

But if you once had, or even still have, a good foundation of love, friendship, and mutual respect, you enjoy(ed) each other’s company, and a long-term, monogamous relationship is what you want, changing how you approach your partner can truly do wonders.  Even the savviest of the savvy – that’s right, even couples therapists – go through difficulties in their relationships, and have to look at what things they can change about how they are.

If changing how you approach or respond to the person you love most might make a difference, why not give it a try?  And let’s be honest – do you really believe that being a little less snarky, or letting your partner finish his/her sentence, or letting them know they did an amazing job putting away the dessert forks will change who you are?  I doubt it.  So, put down your toys, get back in there, and let the changes begin!