It sounds empowering to say "don't ever change for anyone, and don't ever let anyone change you," but in the real world of real relationships, that's actually a giant load of crap. There are plenty of times it's OK to change your partner. In fact, if you and your partner aren't growing and changing together, your relationship is probably in trouble.
Now, here's the difference between healthy and unhealthy change. Healthy change in relationships involves helping each other to become your best selves. It involves compromising and altering your ways so that you're protecting your partner's boundaries, creating your own boundaries, and doing your fair share of the work.
When couples came to see me during my days as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, it was often because one partner wanted to other to change. That will never work. Both partners have to be on board for change. Even if your partner has unhealthy, destructive habits, you can't force them to change. That's the rub. Because ultimately, they're the ones who will be doing the work. If you want your partner to make big changes to their personality and interests, you have to ask yourself if this is truly the partner for you. Check out these nine scenarios that demonstrate times when changing your partner can be a good thing to see if your motivations for wanting change come from a healthy place.
1. Your Partner Wants To Change
If your partner wants to change something about their life, and they've asked for your help and input, then open those sails and ride that wave to a better life. Just keep in mind that although you might have certain goals and expectations in mind for your partner, it's ultimately their decision how, when, and why to make changes. You're can't force your partner into your idea of who they should be. They're still president of their own life. But you're, like, a super high-ranking adviser. And present of your own life, obvi.
2. You Need To Establish A Boundary
Setting and respecting boundaries is a great example of a healthy way we change each other. If you need to establish a boundary that's essential to your happiness, health, or well-being, then your partner needs to bend to respect your boundaries. Otherwise, there's no point in being together. Boundaries aren't a manipulation tool, though. So you can't cry "boundary" whenever your partner does something you don't like. But you can say things like, "I'm not going to talk about this until you can do it without yelling," or "I appreciate your input, but you need to let me figure this out myself."
3. You Partner Has Unhealthy Communication Skills
Have you ever tried to have a serious discussion with someone who has the world's worst communication skills? Yikes. That's something that needs to change, like yesterday, because without healthy communication, there can be no healthy relationship. You can ask your partner, for example, to be more direct, to say what they want and feel, to tell you things that bother them before they build into resentments, and to give you space when you're upset. Of course, you'll also have to change and adapt to your partner's communication style, too, This doesn't sound like a huge change, but trust me, it is.
4. You Partner Is Lazy
A lazy partner is another example of how we can help change each other for good in a relationship. You can communicate to your partner that it makes you feel overwhelmed and stressed out when you have to do all the housework, or handle all the bills, and you can expect your partner to change. Of course, you can't make them change, especially if they really don't want to. But the good thing about that is, you don't have to be with someone who isn't willing to meet you half way. (Oh, another boundary example: "I am unhappy living in such chaos and mess. If you're not willing to help clean up more, I'm not going to be able to live here with you.")
5. Your Relationship Lacks Equality
Relationships require hard work. Sometimes that's forgiveness, and sometimes it's doing the dishes. If you're not doing your fair share of the work, or not setting equal expectations for each other, you both need to change. Bottom line. Inequality in little things, like division of chores, can easily lead to inequality in the balance of power and control. It's a slippery slope that often leads to abuse. Plus who wants to be in an unequal relationship? That sh*t's gotta change, ASAP.
6. Your Partner Isn't Taking Care Of Themselves In A Dangerous Way
When you're in a relationship, you kind of have a responsibility to take good care of yourself, because your life is intertwined with another person's. If you have questionable or scary symptoms, but refuse to go to the doctor, your partner might want you to change that. You don't have to, of course, but having your partner there to motivate you and encourage you can be a great catalyst. The bottom line is that your partner has a stake in your health now.
7. Your Partner Has Low Self-Esteem
Low self-esteem may not seem like a big deal, but it has a significant effect on relationships. It affects communication, boundaries, trust, and sex, just to name a few (big) things. It's not like you can say, "I need you to get more self-esteem" and expect your partner to comply. But you can institute some big changes to help them improve their self-esteem. If they want the help, that is. Often just being a supportive, loving partner is enough to help someone with low self-esteem to blossom, but if it's not, it's OK to encourage bigger changes.
8. Your Partner Has Changing Interests
My partner changed my whole worldview. I used to be afraid of my own shadow, and now I'm a seasoned traveler and explorer. I didn't know I liked these things, but they were important to my partner, so I tried them. And it turns out, I liked them, too. And then my attitude about a lot of things started changing. I don't share all her interests and opinions now, but I am a changed person. You can challenge your partner to try new things and discover new parts of themselves. Just make sure you're not pushing for them to trade in who they are for who you want them to be.
9. Your Partner Needs To Grow Up A Little
I'll admit, I've had a partner before who took me by the hand, whipped my finances into better shape, taught me how to change a tire, explained credit card interest, and convinced me cleaning was good, and fast food every day was bad. I needed it, and I wanted to make those changes. If you need to grow up a little, it's OK to let your partner help change you for the better. If your partner needs to grow up, and also agrees they need to grow up, a few healthy changes for better adulting might make all the difference.
Remember, though, changing your partner should never be about making them into someone you want them to be. It should only be about helping them become the best version of who they already are.
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