Being the best partner — 04 October 2005
The challenges of personal change

If you could change one thing about yourself or your relationship, what would it be? How easy would it be to change that troubling issue, habit, behavior or interaction? Probably not easy, otherwise you would have already done so. Change in oneself or within a relationship is often wished for but not easily undertaken.

Why is change so hard? Because change requires: the admission of imperfection, acceptance of criticism, (from self or others), fear of the unknown, effort and perseverance.

When a partner, friend, boss, child, or anyone else tells someone that s/he needs to change, the first response is often defensiveness, denial and resistance. An individual who is told that his habits interfere with his relationship, may deny the depth or severity of the problem, or even its’ existence. S/he may attribute most of the responsibility to the complainer. If resistance is strong, it may even cause the listener to react with anger and /or attack.

Being told that what we do is not acceptable – is criticism, which naturally evokes defensiveness. Even when the observation is correct and well intentioned, it is not likely to be well received. Most adults cherish the privilege of making their own life’s decisions and resist unsolicited advice and guidance.

When an individual identifies for him/herself the need for personal change, this too is fraught with internal resistance. People are comfortable with what is familiar and fear change, even for better circumstances. Children, for example view with excitement and trepidation the transitions from one school to the next, from elementary to junior high, high school and even college. Not knowing what to expect in terms of routine and new relationships dampens the joy of the anticipated experience.

When a change in habit is considered, it requires a plan, and follow- through energy. It takes repeated practice to change a simple ingrained habit. If one decides to change eating habits, exercise more, study better, improve parenting attitudes, or be more loving toward a partner, the idea is more appealing than the process.

Our minds are conditioned to conserve the familiar patterns that are already well rehearsed. As desirable as the new behavior may be, it requires active awareness and a disruption of an old one in favor of a new way. For example, people who tend to snack during commercials while watching television are accustomed to doing so without thinking. To abstain from this habit, they need to consciously observe themselves heading toward the pantry, stop it and replace it with a new habit, such as heading to their computers to read their mail. A new habit must replace the automated one for successful change to occur.

In relationship issues, deciding, for example, to abstain from fighting is not sufficient unless the partner repeatedly substitutes the previous response with a new phrase. “I love you and I do not think that hurting you will solve our conflict”, can replace “You always attack me and this is why we never solve anything.”

Change is a PROCESS, not an EVENT. Partners who say: “I tried it and it did not work, most likely expected a change in the mate, or interaction, after one or two trials. Perseverance is essential to establishing healthier relationship patterns.

• View change as a welcomed improvement in yourself or your relationship.
• Understand that recognizing the need to change is not a realization of failure, rather a beginning of success.
• Fear of the unknown is normal, healthy, and self-preserving and needs to be used as a guide, not as a deterrent to change.
• It takes courage to decide to make necessary changes in oneself to improve interpersonal connection. View it as a challenge, not an impediment.
• A decided upon change is often a positive step toward greater personal health.
• Will yourself to follow through with your decisions for self-improvement, as hard and slow as it may seem.
• Expect the process of change to have setbacks, do not use them to give up on yourself. Accept the slip, and resume the new healthy way.
• Never undertake to change anyone else’s ways. Change your way and your partner’s reaction will naturally follow with time.
• Individuals and couples who are committed to their change goals, determined and persevering in their process, will successfully gain the higher level of individual and couple satisfaction.

Related Articles

About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

(0) Readers Comments

Comments are closed.