We all have things that we could work on and change. It’s tough to do, but it’s easier when it’s just us and harder when we’re expecting our loved ones to make the changes. In my example, my partner has been incredibly receptive to my feelings and thoughts about our relationship, and they’ve stated that they’re willing to work on these things to better both themselves and our relationship.
I know that change takes time, and I don’t want to ask too much (nor too little). How do I find the balance of expecting a person to change some of their behaviors? What’s reasonable, what should I look for, and what do I do if change just isn’t happening in the way I want it to?
I’m glad that you and your partner are able to talk about your concerns about the relationship, and that they have been open minded. Every relationship faces challenges, but the ones that work out are the ones where both partners are willing to talk about them and weather the storm together.
My therapist once told me, “You can’t change other people, but you can change the way you respond to them.” Clearly, you are aware that you can’t snap your fingers and make your partner change, and you have done the tough work of being honest with them. Now it’s time to focus on how you respond. My main advice? Let go and have faith in the person you love.
This is an analogy that has probably been beaten to death, but human beings are a lot like plants. In order for them to grow, they need to be treated with care. When you’re hoping someone will change, micromanaging or criticizing them is like over-watering them — they’re going to look all withered and sad for a while, then die. Contrary to what many believe, people can and do change — but they need to feel accepted and loved, despite their flaws, to accomplish this. Don’t stand on the sidelines and wait for your partner to fail, or point out where they are not taking your feedback to heart at every opportunity — give them the benefit of the doubt that they will succeed, and root on (hehe, more plant analogies) their best efforts.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be honest when a concern comes up. Chances are, this will be an ongoing conversation, and it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. It’s more about where you are placing your attention. I would encourage you to, instead of looking for signs of change in your partner, recognize signs of change in yourself. This not only gives them a little breathing room, it lets you focus on the one thing you can control — you. A great way to see how things have changed for you as a person and in a relationship is tuning into your emotions.
It’s easy to avoid our feelings. Feelings are icky sometimes, and it would (temporarily) feel better to numb out and avoid them. But emotions are one way your body tells you that something needs your attention.
Let’s say you’re trying to fall asleep but you’re distracted by a nagging sense of anxiety. Instead of running away from how you feel by scrolling through your phone for hours (I personally have done this more times that I’d like to admit), get curious about it. Take a minute to explore where this emotion is coming from, and sit with the feeling (or even journal about it). You may come to realize that your partner agreed to start texting you “goodnight” as a way to communicate love, and they didn’t that night. A need isn’t being met, and while this doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed, it’s important information to take note of.
Ultimately, if things in your relationship don’t improve, there is nothing wrong with walking away. Despite our best efforts, a lot of frustrating but totally valid things can get in the way of our relationships succeeding. Whether it’s timing, a fundamental difference in values, or it’s simply more work than you’re willing to put in, you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to. That is a good enough reason to break up even if your partner works very hard to make you happy.
It all comes down to trust. Trust your partner to do the things that you asked of them, and trust yourself to know when you need to move on.