There seems to be a toxic relationship trope in romantic fiction or comedies. A theme that I find incredibly problematic. It goes like this. A group of friends sit around and talk about ‘training’ their partners. They talk about improving the way they dress, dropping their bad habits or getting them to help around the house more, or with the kids. It doesn’t just happen on screen either. People have commented that I’ve ‘trained’ my partner well. He doesn’t like hearing it and neither do I.
As humans we are works in progress. None of us are complete or perfect the way we are. Although finding someone who believes that about you can be nice at times. Personally, someone thinking I’m perfect 24/7 would begin to grate. So, it’s natural for people in a relationship to continue to change and evolve over time. The aim for the relationship is to make that evolution together. Encouraging each other and making space for each other to do so. Not to enforce change upon them positive re-enforcement or admonition.
Every relationship is different. And your norm will be different for the norms of others. Relationships are all about two people finding a way to live their lives together. With the understanding that you enhance each others’ experiences. But no-one is perfect. We may find certain habits or behaviours that our partner exhibits unpalatable. After all, we all have different tolerance levels. It’s also normal to want your partner to carry their share of the chores. But there’s a way of managing this situation. Through honest conversation about what’s bothering you. And working towards a compromise. Finding the balance of what works for both of you. By being open to trying to appreciate or trying to understand each other’s point of view. All of these will nurture your relationship and help it move forward.
Having THAT Conversation
If in doubt about how to start this conversation, think first about what you’d like to stay. Get it down on paper, record yourself or practise with someone you trust. Then re-frame it by considering how you would receive someone saying this to you. A good rule of thumb is to start with ‘I’ statements about what you’ve noticed. Mentioning how this makes you feel and asking for your partners thoughts on how you can work on the issue together. Encouraging them to contribute and that you want to work together.
Any conversation which begins with ‘you do/don’t do…’ can make people feel defensive. Likewise, if the burden of change is being placed solely on your partners shoulders this may feel unfair. We may also need to acknowledge that starting this conversation may requires ourselves to adapt our behaviours. It would only be natural for our partner to have some feedback for us too.
For The 11 Tips You Need for Effective Listening read here.
Acceptance of Each Other
The idea of changing ones partner is problematic for another reason. Partnerships and relationships should be about accepting each other for who they are. Not who they can one day be. With a little bit of help from yourself. This is, of course, different from helping your partner develop in a supportive manner when they have decided on this course themselves. The problem lies with the subtle, or not so subtle, co-ercion of partners into someone we want them to be.
Whilst I won’t pretend myself and my partner are perfect; we’re not. We do treat each other like adults. We strive to be equal within our relationship. I was ready to accept that there were some things about him that I’d prefer he did or didn’t too. I’m sure he feels the same way about me. In fact, I know he does. Because we talk about it. We give each other space to say how we feel. We don’t promise to change. But we promise to try do better. Or to find a midpoint where we can meet.
I believe compromise and conversation are the way to true partnership and a flourishing relationship. It’s rare, or even impossible, to find someone with whom you’d agree on everything. I also imagine it would be rather boring. What makes a relationship special is both being willing to make the effort to meet in the middle. To find that unique shared ground. The focus being on shared. Not one being forced onto the other’s turf or into the other’s mindset or way of living. Or being. Put simply, relationships work when both partners love each other for who they are. Not who they could be. Relationships aren’t the business of changing each other, but accepting each other.
Is this an experience or stereotyped you’ve experienced or encountered? What are your thoughts? How do you think relationships flourish best? Let us know in the comments below!