As our teleseminar addressing greater mindfulness in our relationships approaches, there are more questions coming up about creating and maintaining healthy, happy relationships. This week a big question that I heard was:
“When does he become the person I thought he could be?”
Hmmm…this is a pretty big topic, and one that can torpedo a relationship if the couple doesn’t know how to understand what’s going on behind the scenes.
Remember that great Billy Joel hit, “Just The Way You Are” from 1977?
That song can bring up all kinds of wistful feelings about having the kind of mate who thinks we’re perfect, even with all of our imperfections:
“I said I love you, and that’s forever, And this I promise from my heart
I couldn’t love you any better – I love you just the way you are.”
What a concept: loving your significant other “just the way you are.” In other words, not “the way I think you should be,” or “the way I hope or wish you could be, someday.” But…is that even possible, really?
And if not, why not? What keeps us from feeling that way about our partner?
Sometimes the very things about our mate that we fell in love with early on in our relationships become the very things that drive us nuts and cause us major frustration later on in life.
Why is that? And what effect does that have on the other person in the relationship?
As an example, the husband in a couple I worked with years ago told me that when they were dating and engaged, he had loved how his partner was always so sociable, how she enjoyed parties so much and was so delightfully flirtatious. It was truly one of the things he just loved about her!
But after many years of marriage, he couldn’t stand her being that way! It just grated on his nerves now how she was “always wanting to have parties,” or go to parties. And it drove him crazy how at those parties she just seemed to flirt with everyone, all the time.
Without really being aware of it, the husband had just assumed that once they got married she “wouldn’t need so much flirting.” Ah…so…did he ever actually enjoy the flirting?
Conversely, sometimes we are consciously counting on something changing – but we never get around to mentioning that to our partner before things start to go wrong.
Some clients have come into my office saying that while they knew some habit or quality was annoying early on, they really thought it would change and get better, or even go away entirely, once they got married.
The “flirtatious” wife in this same couple had originally loved how stable, quiet and dependable her man was. She was also thrilled about how he seemed to enjoy her party spirit, and that she could really be herself with him.
BUT she had also assumed that her “somewhat shy but supportive” guy would become confident enough once they got married to open up and have more fun. Needless to say, that evolution did not take place.
So now, between him changing his mind about her behavior, and her new impatience with his reserved nature, she just saw him as a controlling stick-in-the-mud. Now she just saw him as no fun whatsoever! Staid and boring, never wanting to go to any parties…. And when they did go to one, she was always uncomfortable because she felt like he spent the entire time watching over her, and judging her for having a good time.
What had happened here? And how can we protect ourselves from these sorts of disappointments? What puts a relationship at risk?
Take A Moment To Try This Experiment
If you’ve been in a relationship for any length of time, take a look at your partner. What are the qualities in that person that you fell in love with when you first met? Are they really any different today? Have your perceptions, reactions or attitudes changed in relation to any of those qualities?
If you are just starting out in a relationship, take a look at the mix of qualities, quirks, values, morals etc. that this person has. Imagine that those values, qualities, quirks, values and morals never change going forward. Are you realizing that you’ve been assuming some of those traits will change?
If they don’t, is this someone you will still be able to love? Or are you realizing that you are actually expecting this person to change, and that’s part of why you are staying in the relationship? Can you live with the qualities and quirks and beliefs that they have? Or are they qualities that you can say….”Oh that’s John,” or “that’s just Susan being Susan,” and honestly and truly let it go?
If you’re not in a relationship at the moment, think back to one you used to be in. Can you recall traits you loved in the beginning, and couldn’t stand by the time the relationship ended? Were there any qualities you assumed would change, and dismissed as unimportant – only to find they became intolerable later? Were there any characteristics you loved, that inexplicably disappeared later?
There’s no judgment here, and no need to engage in denial – you’re not a bad person if there are some things that you’re not sure you could live with over the long term. It’s just an opportunity for simple – but possibly important – awareness, then learning some new ways of dealing with what you discover.
There is so much to discuss on the topic of relationships, expectations, conflict, mindfulness, intimacy and managing change. We’ve dealt here with just one aspect of a complex but completely solvable equation.
So, what did you see when you did our little experiment? Have you thought about what changes you thought the other person would make – or didn’t! – when you first entered into your relationship? Have you identified what you can accept in the person you love or care about, and what you just don’t think you could ever live with?
One thing is for sure: If there is something that you find challenging today, it will only become more so later if you ignore it, or just count on the other person to become the way you’d prefer.
If there is something that you feel uncomfortable with or unsure of, it’s time for a conversation – now, before it gets any worse. Now, before you both waste any more time on struggle, frustration, judgment and resentment.
Be sure to join us this coming Wednesday evening, October 2nd at 7:30, as we discuss how to move through relationship challenges with Mari Mitchell Porter. And be a part of the discussion! Email Loren@BeingWellWithin.com with your relationship stories and questions. We’d love to hear from you!