Do you know the number one killer of relationship change and growth in my practice? It’s when both partners say, in some fashion: “I’ll change when he/she changes.”
Think about this for a minute. What’s the likely outcome of this situation?
You got it. Sitting around waiting for your partner to change can only lead to a stalemate, which is a trap for both you and your partner, not to mention your relationship.
Moving forward simply isn’t possible if both of you are digging in your heels.
Moreover, when you decline to change unless your partner goes first, what you’re really saying is that they are more at fault than you. You’re also saying that your partner is the real problem, rather than the main problem being the crazy-making communication/behavior samba the two of you keep dancing together.
The truth is that almost every conflict encountered in a relationships occurs in a dynamic in which both partners are, in some way, part of a destructive pattern.
So it’s hugely important to acknowledge our part in any pattern that’s not working and then try to find a way to change some aspect of our contribution, independent of our partner’s movement toward change.
I know. It’s scary to be the one to go first. We’re afraid, aren’t we? Afraid we’ll do all of the giving and changing and then be taken advantage of (we might). Afraid our partner will disappoint us (they might).
But real connection, intimacy and relationship change doesn’t happen without someone, usually two someones, taking a risk or two.
“But what about them?” you ask. “Don’t they have a responsibility here too?
Of course they do. You’re not required to do all of the changing. Just your part.
The ultimate goal is for both of you to change, because it takes two people working hard to make a relationship work. But one of you has to go first. And it truly only takes one person to initiate, and then stimulate, significant relationship change.
And seriously – what has all of that trying to get your partner to change (or waiting around for them to change) done for you lately? Not much, right? Because here’s the sticky truth: you can’t change your partner, even by waiting them out. You are the only person you can change.
So . . . you may have to do some mental gymnastics to get in a frame of mind in which going first feels possible. For starters, you’re going to need to shift from focusing on “what’s fair” or “who’s right” to asking “what can I do?” or “what might work?”
You’re going to need to be flexible, creative, strategic and pragmatic. And you’re going to need to gird your loins against your fear of being vulnerable, the real possibility of disappointment, and your own inevitable impatience.
If you can do all of this, you will likely see one of two outcomes:
- Your partner steps up and meets you halfway. Your change sparks change in your partner and opens up the possibility for real relationship transformation, a virtual cascade of change (a “change” reaction, if you will).
- Your partner chooses to not change. Yep, that definitely happens sometimes. In this case, you may have some hard decisions to make, but you will be able to move forward to whatever is next knowing you did all you could. And you can feel good about having insisted on trying to be your best self in the relationship.
I know this feels like a lot of pressure, And, frankly, it really doesn’t matter which one of you initiates the relationship change. But someone has to. And you’re the one who’s reading this post, so I guess you’re up.
Take a deep breath, gird your loins, and go first already.
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Leave us a comment below to share your relationship change success story. Or, if you’re interested in reading more about change in relationship, check out this post on the way a relationship changes over time, and this one on the importance of honoring emptiness during the change process.
Finally, if you and your partner are ready for some relationship change, drop me a line and I’ll help you get started.