When One Person Changes in a Relationship
We seek relationships for a variety of purposes — safety and security, love and intimacy, to satisfy physical, emotional and spiritual needs, to name a few — and it is through our connections with others that we come to shape not only our view of the world around us, but the way we see ourselves.
Healthy relationships encourage interdependence while supporting personal growth and autonomy. They also place great value in open communication. However, even the most skilled couples and families can experience a breakdown in communication and increased conflict that results in avoidance and withdrawal, mistrust, unbalanced power and control, and an overall lack of patience and empathy.
When a person who is in a relationship recovers from addictions (alcohol or drugs, food, gambling, shopping), anxiety and/or depression, it could be said that the person is following a new path. This path may feel scary at times, but when such a person has committed to the change process, their partner or significant other may not fully be aware of how their loved one has changed and how it may impact their relationship. The mental health of anyone in a relationship can be strained, especially by addictions, depression, and/or anxiety.
In some instances, ones’ partner or significant other may welcome these changes as a healthy outcome of couples therapy. They may feel liberated from their partner’s constant need for support, validation and neediness, and can now focus on establishing a more balanced, healthy and mutually beneficial relationship. Individual counseling can also help to identify the issues you are having in your relationship, but if you are both proactive about opening up and being honest then couples therapy will yield the most benefit.
In other instances, one’s partner or significant other may find himself or herself resentful and pushing back against the tide of what they see as a person they no longer know or understand. This occurs most particularly when their role as protector, defender or enabler becomes undermined through the change in their partner. As one partner changes through the therapeutic process, the balance of power can shift one of two ways; Equality, equilibrium, mutual recognition, understanding and respect come to define this modified relationship; or one partner accommodates to this new arrangement while the other partner finds it difficult or is unwilling to make a corresponding, complimentary change that recognizes the needs of the other.
Maintaining a Healthy Relationship
Generally speaking, it is healthy and necessary for people to adapt to changing circumstances and life events. So, too, it is expected that relationships will change over time. But sometimes partners’ needs change and are not complimentary. Partners may find themselves on different paths or life journeys. While this is not a necessary end-all-be-all to a relationship, it can surely strain the chemistry between a couple.
So, what to do when you find that your needs, wants, desires, dreams, or life direction have changed from that of your partner’s? The first thing you might want to consider is acknowledging these changes. Failure to be open and honest with your partner may only lead to a breakdown of the relationship. Perhaps you truly want out of the relationship and are fearful of confronting this fact. If this is the case, your complacency and lack of openness will passively move you towards what you truly want — dissolution of your relationship. If that is the case, then you’ve saved yourself some time and will be ready to move on to greener pastures.