To change or not to change? That is the question in almost any new relationship. The trick is figuring out which changes are healthy. By Rebekah Kendal
He likes fried eggs, you like fried eggs. He loves the outdoors and so do you. There isn’t a Tyler Perry movie he hasn’t watched, and you’re beginning to think the Madea series may just be some of your favourite movies.
Admittedly, when you were dating your ex, you liked poached eggs. And when you were with the guy before him, you were quite fond of scrambled.
We’ve all been known to change a little – consciously or not – for that new guy or gal in our lives. But the conventional wisdom dictates that you shouldn’t change because you are worried about being alone or because you think you need to be thinner/prettier/funnier/smarter to be worthy of your partner’s love.
Treading that fine line
So, just how much change is healthy and how do you know when you are
in danger of losing yourself? Sharon Johnson, a doctor of psychology who specialises in relationship counselling, says it is natural to tweak your hobbies or likes and dislikes to match those of your partner. However, she cautions that it is all a matter of balance.
‘In any relationship, it is important
to keep your own identity, self-care and self-focus, and not get lost in the other person. You’ll need to identify with yourself and know who you are before relating to someone else. Be wary of changing your interests just to have someone to fill a void, which can be like an addiction to drugs or alcohol. I’d suggest a combination of your own interests and time spent together pursuing your partner’s.
‘I know couples who live separate, busy lives with full-time careers, but who love nature and camping on the weekends and in the holidays, which allows them to reconnect with similar interests some of the time. Blindly pursuing your own interests without taking the other partner into account can be the death of a relationship – such as working all week and then playing golf all weekend, without
Compromise is key
Of course, when you enter into a new relationship or take an existing one
to a new level of commitment, some degree of change is inevitable. You’ll need to make practical changes and compromises to accommodate the other person.
When you first move in with your partner, for example, you may have to learn to be less of a slob or a neat freak. You may need to trade in the occasional all-nighter with the girls for a family dinner with his folks. And you may both decide that you want
to eat better and start exercising a bit more. Changes like these are all perfectly acceptable.
‘Relationships go through phases,’ points out Dr Johnson. ‘There is the flush and excitement of new love, the settling down to more mature love, and then the life-long commitment of long-term relationships.
‘As love is not about one’s own needs, but rather about supporting your partner to fulfil their needs, the freedom of true love means you will change yourself, become less selfish and self-centred and look to the other to make sure your partner is happy. Any relationship that is needy and self-focused is not really about love, but about an individual’s personal insecurities. Natural change is about putting that person’s needs before your own, without losing your own sense of self-worth and value.’
Be true to yourself
Dr Johnson cautions against making any changes that do not resonate with your core values, beliefs or personality. ‘Love is not about pleasing the other person all the time – it is about being true to yourself while setting them free to be true to themselves. If you have a strong relationship, you should be able to be true to your own needs and limitations and not pretend to be something that you are not in order to please someone else.
‘Lying about your life, qualifications, or anything else in your past is a very negative way of being in a relationship, and doing so will build an unsteady base, which could easily crumble. If you’re right for each other, you should be able to reveal your strengths and weaknesses, and hopefully the other person will give you the strength and courage to improve in areas which need work.’
So, to sum it up: some change is okay and can even be good for you, but be careful about losing yourself in your effort to please your partner or making changes that don’t resonate with what you know to be your true values, beliefs or personality. Always be yourself. Be true to yourself. But be willing to compromise.