Change and growth is a process, a process of life, especially in relationships..
It is important to understand and trust your own process, because relationships are either growing or dyeing..
Understanding your own process is your pathway to discovering your own sweet spot…
Because, we all want what we want, and we all desire happiness.
Achieving personal happiness and contentment in our lives and relationships is a process that happens over time and does take effort, regardless of how many ‘quick fixes’ we might hear about along the way…
Any change in relationship that will last the distance and achieve sustainability, to deepen into trust takes more than that instant or two.
Most of the time we know this, but there are times where this can be tough to remember, especially in tight places that do happen in long term intimate relationships.
Sometimes immediate change happens and then it seems to disappear…
That new connection you felt, or the new way your partner was treating you, or your own new habit of looking for the best in them seems to have fallen by the wayside. This is not because it wasn’t real or that you or your partner aren’t trying.
It’s because we each have an internal thermostat that regulates our psyche, just like the one in our fridge.
When we open the door and put a whole bunch of fresh food in the motor works overtime to return the fridge to its set temperature.
Your psyche also wants to try and return you to your internal set point because it is ‘familiar’.
It’s important not to think you’ve failed but to understand it takes practice to raise the overall set point in your psyche so that it becomes your new normal.
The Dynamics of Relationship Change
There is a special dynamic of change that happens in relationships.
We’re not talking about small changes here, like finding a new restaurant to try or spending more time together on Saturday’s, but deeper, lasting and life altering change.
Most times this kind of change doesn’t happen in both people at the same time. More often one person will make a shift and the other person will be left to shift (or not) in response.
This is particularly challenging when the one left behind doesn’t understand, agree or support the change that has occurred.
One partner can make an actual behaviour change.
For example, Steve starts to actually share more about what is happening for him emotionally and his partner, Sue realises she now has to drop her familiar complaints about his emotional unavailability and really listen without judgement.
Another example, is Yvonne decides to get healthy, going regularly to the gym, bringing in healthier eating ideas and passing up the extra glasses of wine she used to enjoy with Mark during dinner.
Even though this is a healthy change it has taken away an intimate ritual they used to enjoy. It’s also shown an uncomfortable light on Mark’s less than healthy lifestyle choices that he now has to deal with.
This is the ‘sweet spot’ where our differences challenge us.
Over time couples get used to this dance of change and welcome it, understanding it’s a process and rather than seeing it as an ending know it’s an opportunity to grow in relationship.
Change doesn’t have to be about ultimatum’s
We see this often in our work where one person in the relationship draws a line in the sand for themselves and says “I can’t do this anymore.
I need things to change”, or “I am feeling suffocated in my relationship and this is making me feel resistant to intimacy with you”.
This is a healthy boundary rather than an ultimatum, not a “You must… or I will”.
Ultimatums are an attempt to manipulate your partner to give you what you want.
Instead a healthy boundary is a recognition of where you’re at, that helps yourself and your partner see and feel your situation more clearly.
Such a boundary leaves it up to each person in how to respond. In the example above Mark now has a choice to join Yvonne in her lifestyle changes or re affirm his own choices for himself without disrespecting Yvonne’s by trying to cajole her into an extra glass of wine.
Working together can be about doing your own thing
Even in a relationship where both people recognize things aren’t working and agreeing together to work towards change we find the process isn’t actualized by both people in the same way at the same time.
Most often one person will gain some insight and make a shift, leaving their partner feeling put out of their comfort zone, perhaps digging their heels in trying to force the other to go back to the way things were.
This resistance may be quite unconscious, so it’s important not to blame them for their position.
For example James makes a shift in his lovemaking to where he is more present, able to last longer and access more pleasure in himself. His wife Abbey drops into a place of not feeling good enough when her own blocks to deeper sexual pleasure show up as a result and pulls away from sex.
Abbey requires a period of adjustment as a result of James’ original change. It’s important that James doesn’t shut down in the face of Abbey’s resistance.
After coming to terms with her discomfort, seeing that James is not leaving her behind but is instead inviting her deeper from a place of love she can make a step forward of her own.
Real change isn’t always about instant happiness
As you can see if the changes are real it’s as likely there will be discomfort as much as happiness involved in the process. For every action there is a reaction, and even a negative one is a sign that significant change is happening. Things will usually seem worse, rather than better for a time.
This is where the person making the change needs support to hold their position whilst their partner catches up in their own way.
Margaret, a mother who has always been there for everyone else and now finds herself drained of energy and momentum decides to put herself first and say ‘no’ more often to others and ‘yes’ to herself.
She needs support to stand firm in herself whilst her family gets used to not having their needs attended to in the old, automatic ways and learn new ways of coping.
It can take time for her family to see that the changes are good for Margaret, that she’s happier as a result. When they get this it will spur them on to support her.
Healthy intimacy is where differences bring value.
In the vulnerability of relationship we can want our partners to make the shifts WE want them to make, that in reality suit our needs but ultimately it is healthier for each person to find their own solutions.
It is better because it allows opening up to new things in their fullest expression, rather than contracting or distorting them in any way, bringing surprising new energy into the relationship.
And who are we, to believe that we know better than our partner’s what is best for them? It’s the ultimate form of arrogance!
This doesn’t mean we can’t share our opinion and express our needs but leaving the end decision to them.
Being willing to be in the unknown
Our challenge is to be willing to be in the unknown, without the guarantee of an expected or obvious outcome, to hold the fort while this change occurs and is integrated into the relationship.
For example Neil is stressed and depressed in his career.
Cathy would like him to take Sundays off to play golf when what Neil would really love to do is take some time out to just sit on the couch and discover what is meaningful in life for him outside of the rat race.
This idea could be frightening and challenging for both Neil and for Cathy, financially and emotionally.
Yet if they can agree on how to manage it, and for what time period, the rewards of such introspection can be profound- a return to life and career with renewed vigour and vitality in all areas for Neil, and a happier relationship for Cathy.
What happens when you change and your partner doesn’t?
You’ve done the hard work, given it your best shot and your partner is still resistant.
You feel indignant about their apparent unwillingness to change, justified in your fear of them being able to do so, or just sad and hopeless at the seeming impossibility of it.
It’s important to ask yourself some hard questions here:
– How fully have you really changed? Are you really going there or just tinkering around the edges? Remember real change brings change as a result, positive or negative.
– Real change has a clarity and a solidness that is hard to argue with, can you feel it in you?
– Are you asking your head or your heart? and really knowing and understanding the difference is when real change begins.
– Are you wanting your partner to make a change that suits you, rather than something that is authentic for them, and are they rightly resisting it?
– Are the changes you’ve made bringing you to a greater wholeness, or are they simply in service of gratifying your ego?
Real change in one half of a relationship forces a reaction in the other, even if it is a negative one such as holding more firmly to their position.
So even where only one person is making the choice to change on their own in the relationship, when the change is real their partner will be forced to shift somehow as a result.
A negative response is still positive as it means there is real momentum happening.
Trusting the process of change and hanging in there will allow time for the second partner to see the old behaviours might not be working anymore and where they can choose to step up.
Or perhaps for you to see where your change is leading you astray and you can shift in a different way.
Sometimes it is just fear of change itself that gets in the way
For example Ian discovers a passion for travel and Debbie discovers a desire for helping those in need, a separation that initially feels like a betrayal of the connection in their relationship.
Over time they learned to combine these interests by travelling to both Indonesia and South America, doing some aid work whist they’re there, making their connection stronger and more fulfilling in ways they never previously imagined.
This is where it can be helpful to have a third person outside the relationship, a compassionate friend or counsellor supporting each of you in the process of understanding what is happening.
When we begin to make changes in our relationships we somehow forget about this process and expect results straight away and start interfering in the process.
We CAN experience immediate and exciting changes, for deeper changes to arise and stick takes trust that they’re going to happen, action to see them through and time for them to eventuate.