Understanding Change in Relationships


Change – Can We Still Love Each Other like We Once Did?

 

“I’ll love you forever, no matter what.”

Does that sound familiar?  If you haven’t said it yourself at some point in a relationship, you’ve probably heard some iteration of it in a movie, read it in a book – maybe even had someone say it to you!

But often, when relationships end, it has less to do with no longer loving the same person you began the relationship with, but rather, the person you began the relationship is no longer the same person. Or perhaps the person who has changed is you (or both).  I think it’s safe to say without citing any sources that human beings do not deal well with change.  The fact that there are a million different books and articles on how to deal with and accept change positively speaks to that.

 

Screenshot of the first 4 results in Google for the search terms “Accepting Change”

Change Results Google

 

Add to that the (reasonable) belief that change is inevitable and often outside of our control (depends on the situation) and we’ve got a veritable can of worms when it comes to long-term relationships.

  • Change can, and often does, cause problems in relationships.
  • Change often leads to the end of relationships.

So, if we believe that it’s inevitable that our partner will change and we have no control over it, then it almost seems like we are lucky to have even a slim chance of success in our relationships – and that’s ignoring the stress and impact other life changes outside of ourselves and our relationship may have.

Since we have little influence over the degree to which our partner changes and in the way in which they may change, our only option is to turn our focus inward when we identify a change that may be impacting our relationship and ask ourselves the following questions:

 

  1. Who has changed? Myself or my partner?
  1. In what way?
  1. If I am the one who has changed, are these positive changes? If my partner is the one who has changed, are the changes positive?
  1. Investigate the changes as neutrally as possible – what brought them on? Can I see how someone might benefit from them?  Do they have a negative impact on anyone mentally or physically?
  1. How do I feel about these changes? How might my partner feel about these changes?  Have I actually asked my partner about their feelings?
  1. How do these changes affect our love for one another?

 

There are a couple of important points to make regarding these questions.

 

Positive or Negative Changes

Positive or negative doesn’t mean you like or dislike the changes – perhaps once you both liked to sleep in late and stay inside watching Netflix marathons together on your days off, but recently you’ve decided you want to start waking up early, going to the gym, and getting out of the house on those days.  This may be a neutral/positive change for you because your interests have changed somewhat over time or you’ve decided that you want to get in shape and use your days off to reinforce a new habit.  Your partner may see it as a negative change, however, because they may feel like you don’t have the same things in common anymore or perhaps you don’t want to spend as much time with them.

On the other hand, maybe lately your partner has been going to happy hour after work a lot more – almost every night of the week.  They may see it as a positive change because they are being more social, strengthening their relationship with their colleagues, or having an opportunity to relieve some work-related stress.  However, you may see it as a negative change because you aren’t spending as much time together or they are spending more money by going out so often – perhaps even drinking more than usual.

These two examples show that the idea of positive or negative relates mainly to one’s perspective.  So the question of whether the changes are positive is really meant to help you separate your feelings (like or dislike) from your evaluation of the change so that you can broaden your understanding and see how the other person may be perceiving the change.  You may also even be able to better understand what is prompting the change.

Important side note:  Some changes can be fairly be termed as unequivocally negative: drug addiction, committing crimes, abuse, etc.  Feel free to judge them as so.

 

As Neutrally as Possible

Oh, oh, oh, this one is soooooooo hard for many people.  Even for me!  Because we are personally invested in ourselves, our partner, and our relationship, it is incredibly difficult to be neutral about things that we fear may have an impact on something so important to us.  However, it is essential that we try to evaluate the change, the situation, the response, and the feelings as neutrally as possible at some point in order to get to some real truth.

Think about it this way – using the “lately your partner has been going to happy hour after work a lot more” example.  If you aren’t neutral when thinking about this change, your conclusion may be “He/she doesn’t love me anymore and that’s why he/she doesn’t want to spend as much time with me as he/she does with that hot guy/girl from work”.

I dare you to tell me a response like that is not coming from an emotional place.  ^_^

Even if this statement may be true, you don’t know that unless you ask (and please, dear god, don’t ask in such a manner! lol).  A statement like this says more about your own fears and concerns than the possible causes underlying the behavior.  Perhaps there is stress at work and he/she doesn’t want to share it with you because they don’t want you to worry.  Perhaps they are depressed for reasons even they don’t know yet.  And yes, perhaps they don’t love you anymore and that’s why he/she doesn’t want to spend as much time with you as they do with that hot guy/girl from work.

The point is, don’t let that be your only conclusion.  There are so many other possibilities and until you hear it from the horse’s mouth, you don’t know which one is the truth.  You’ll only end up freaking yourself out and not dealing with it very well.  Stay neutral.

Oh!  One other point – just because you don’t personally like a change someone else has made doesn’t mean they don’t like it or they don’t benefit from it.  Again, stay neutral.

 

So….You’ve asked all the questions, given honest answers, and now you are at question #6….

 

How do these changes affect our love for one another?

This is the major one.  All the answers to the previous questions should have made the answer to this come to you a little quicker than you expected, even if it’s not necessarily the answer you want.  Especially when that answer may lead to another change that you may find particularly undesirable (the possible end of your relationship).

I really have no idea whether love is mutable.  Some people say it is, some say it’s not.  What I do know is that people do change; that’s observable and knowable and that’s what we have to respond to, ultimately.

 

So, can you love each other as you once did?

I don’t know.  That depends on the types of change and the feelings regarding the change.

You can still love each other – whether it’s despite the change, because of the change, or perhaps the change is ultimately irrelevant.

The best thing you can do for yourself is answer the 6 questions honestly – even if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable to do so.  At least that way you are acknowledging and attempting to deal with the changes, regardless of the outcome.

 

What kinds of changes have you had to deal with in your relationships?  How did you do it?  Leave a message below!

~Michelle

Rather than focusing on loving each other as you once did, focus on loving each other as you still do.

 

Check it out:

Learning about Love from Music – “Thinking out Loud”

The Most Dangerous Question

Love as Cause and Effect

 

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