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.
On the other hand, if you want your partner to share the “new you” and “your new journey,” it is paramount that you share your thoughts and feelings with your partner. To do otherwise, is sabotage of your relationship. It is natural to want to grow and change, and if you want your relationship to survive, even thrive, it is mandatory that you engage your partner in healthy dialogue that lets them know what’s going on inside of you, the personal changes you are making, and how that may impact or shift the dynamics or nature of your relationship. In turn, you should allow your spouse the space, time and freedom to fully express their thoughts, feelings and needs relevant to the changes taking place.
It is worth noting that just because you may not be one-hundred percent on the same page, does not mean your relationship is doomed. If you feel like you are at an impasse, or simply don’t know where to begin this process of reconciliation, couples therapy can be of great help in defining your respective wants, needs and desires and examining whether they can be accommodated in your relationship or it’s time to move on. It may not be easy to take the first step in reaching out for therapy, but this move can often salvage a relationship.
Therapy is still often stigmatized in this day and age, especially couples therapy. However, this is a healthy outlet that can help you and your partner achieve happiness in your relationship. Issues bringing couples to therapy include, but are not limited to, infidelity, poor communication, money, parenting or co-parenting, work or career issues, lack of physical or emotional intimacy, separation or divorce, caregiver stressors, abusive or other destructive relationships, grief and loss, and life transitions. If you’re struggling in your relationship, remember and reflect on the following quote:
“You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships every day. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” – Epicurus
Schattner, I. (2018). When One Person Changes in a Relationship. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 8, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/when-one-person-changes-in-a-relationship/