I Love You, Now Change
Updated: Mar 6, 2020
What happens to you when the relaxed person you were attracted to starts to grate on your nerves because it seems that they have no ambition; the organized person starts to feel controlling; the one who you enjoyed for being a party animal now seems more of an alcoholic to you; or the one who’s close relationship to their family really attracted you, now annoys you because you don’t really want to have to go to them again on Sunday ……… and so on.
There is a psychological truth to the idea that we are attracted to certain character traits in a person, but once involved with them that these can start to become a problem for us and we then spend a fair amount of time and energy trying to change them.
There are probably many reasons for this, but one of those is that we tend to unconsciously be attracted to those aspects in someone which are under developed or unresolved in ourselves. The other less romantic notion here is that , in order to fall in love, we have to sink into a mini delusional state, a kind of besottedness in which we minimize differences between us and frame everything about that person in a positive way. This of course happens without awareness. Call it attraction, call it chemistry, but it happens.
Once this state of limerence starts to wear off, we become more aware of the differences between us. This is when we tend to reframe the personality traits or behaviours that attracted us. The strong minded guy is seen as stubborn, the girlfriend who seemed very affectionate now seems needy, the free spirit seems to lack direction.
The challenge is to live with the disillusionment that this person is not only the good looking, funny, intelligent, kind and generous person you got to know, but can also be stubborn, annoying and not always willing to please you, or feels differently about a lot of things you had assumed you would always agree on.
The next step is to wonder what happened to this person and set about changing them back to the someone you met…… often through pointing out their faults.
When they do not change, the tendency can be to become resentful. This person is not fulfilling their part. It feels as if they are obstructing us in our quest for happiness.
Of course, there are changes that simply are not acceptable e.g. where someone who seemed gentle now becomes abusive. What I am talking about here is where the person has not really changed, but where we have changed the way we see them, because our expectations change and increase the more the relationship deepens.
A related scenario involves seeing the person with all their faults from the outset, but erroneously believing that you can change them with love, acceptance and encouragement. Your belief is that they have enormous potential if only they drank less or found the right job that fulfilled them or learned to be affectionate or …… This latent potential is probably there, however when you set about trying to rescue your partner in this way, it will be experienced as control as it is an attempt to change them to become what you need them to be.
The first reality is that your partner is not an extension of yourself. They are a separate human being with their own value system and beliefs. This is the challenge.
The second reality is that we can’t change someone else, we can only change ourselves and hope that the other person might respond to this change.
There is also space here to change something your partner has requested simply because you know it makes them happy. Some of these things involve little discomfort on your part, don’t intrude on your basic values and keep the power struggles for the things that really matter.
I am reminded of a TV program, which featured a couple who wanted to marry. His love was for old furniture and artifacts. Hers was for a fresh, light and modern look. She found his taste to be too heavy and fussy. He found hers to be superficial. Grappling with this, they had two choices – to end the relationship or to find a way to combine their tastes. The first nearly happened as they could not imagine how these two totally different approaches could be combined without the end result being neither this nor that, an unhappy compromise on both sides.
However after bringing in an interior designer, the creative combination of their tastes achieved a stunning look. The one gave substance and depth and the other brought in the modern, the light and the quirky.
So it is with partnership. It involves creative compromise and an acceptance of what raw materials and differences have to be adapted and be worked with, rather than trying to eliminate the challenging parts of someone else’s personality.
You can try and negotiate that the quiet person goes out a bit more so that the sociable person isn’t as frustrated, that the untidy person clean up a bit more after themselves, that the compulsively tidy person relax a bit. However this is about changing behaviours and involves a buy-in from each person involved.
It is also how you do it. We tend to feel more motivated to try and please the other if things are put as a request rather than a criticism.