Monday, March 26, 2012
Seeking to Change Your Partner
It's a bad plan. And the reality is that if we simply cultivate a healthy, conscious relationship, change will inevitably come on it's own. Including some of the thing you are currently hoping for.
However many of us are impatient. We want that annoying habit pattern to disappear now. Or for that decision to be made about X to be done yesterday.
One thing that is important to consider is whether or not you can fully embrace your partner as he or she is. Some choose to enter relationships with people who have "issues" they hope to "help fix." The same folks tend to stay around long after it's time to end it out of the hope that someday, what they say or do will spark something within the other person to stop feeling depressed all the time, stop drinking themselves to sleep, stop getting jealous at every little thing you do with others.
It's not that sparking change in another is impossible, but more that your entire relationship with the other becomes warped towards a story of how it "will be" in the future, instead of how it is right now. And this is a recipe for trouble if you ask me.
Last year, I went on a few dates with a woman I'll call L. I felt some attraction to L. and we seemed to have a fair amount in common. However, I quickly realized she was looking for a project. We had only known each other a few hours, and she was making comments like "We'll have to get you driving a car in the spring" and "I'm sure you'll look good with a little bit shorter haircut." At the time these were said, I just responded with a "We'll see," but was mostly thinking that this is a lousy road we're going down here.
When someone seeks to change you, resentment and/or feelings of rejection often come up. You wonder if the person wants to be with you, or with some modified version of you that suits their desires.
I remember distinctly the realization towards the end of a long term relationship that most of the concerns I had about my girlfriend's job - which she seemed to greatly dislike, but couldn't get herself to leave - were really about me. Sure, she might have been happier and more fulfilled moving on to another job. But for the most part, I was upset because she wasn't being the partner "I wanted." I wanted a partner that wouldn't stay stuck in place for years on end, complaining about it, but not doing much of anything.
Although it's true that I became a dumping ground for her work-related angst, it's also the case that I maintained a hope that I would eventually say or do something that would spark her to make a career move, or at least take more risks at her current job. And because I had that hope, I often made comments that attempted to fix things, or offer answers to questions she couldn't answer herself at the time. And this, of course, led to resentment and conflict.
Of course, there are times within a relationship where each of us has to say things that might be about the other changing their behavior in some manner or another. And certainly, some changes might be make or break decisions within a relationship, such as ending patterns of abuse.
But all too often, what you desire to change in your partner really reflects something about yourself you don't like, and/or reflects the degree to which you don't have a realistic image of your partner.
So, it's worth investigating what's behind those desires for change first, before you unleash them onto your date, partner, or spouse.