I hear it again and again while conducting therapy: “I’m not going to change for him” or “I can’t expect her to change for me.” I understand and appreciate the sentiment. And while there is something healthy in there, it’s not completely helpful.
In the healthiest relationships, people influence each other. For instance, Jason and Tamara have been happy together for years despite having very different perspectives on a lot of topics, such as music. Tamara strongly dislikes rap music, but has willingly (sort of) listened to some songs by Kanye West, Jason’s favorite artist; and she had to admit to being intrigued by some of his lyrics. Similarly, Jason has never liked jazz music, but was willing to go with Tamara to see her favorite musician, Wynton Marsalis. While he didn’t love the concert, he appreciated it more than he thought he would and enjoyed talking later with Tamara about what she liked about it.
Why are they willing to expand their musical tastes for each other? Because they care about and respect each other’s thoughts and feelings. They want to understand each other and connect around their different interests. They also want to make each other happy. These are some of the important ways that people develop close relationships.
Still, it’s one thing to be open to new experiences, especially when you don’t fully enjoy them, and it’s another to do things that don’t fit with who you are as a person. Neither Jason nor Tamara turned away from the music they liked – or embraced the other person’s favorite music – just to please the other. How you think and feel about something is key in deciding whether or not you allow yourself to be influenced in a particular way.
For example, Jason really wanted Tamara to wear short skirts because he thought she’d look great in them. However, Tamara is by nature more modest, making her feel uncomfortable at the thought of wearing them, so she didn’t. However, if she was comfortable with the idea of wearing short skirts, she might be happy to wear them occasionally to make Jason happy – which, in turn, would make her happy.
Partners who are not willing to be influenced by each other – who are not willing to change in some ways for each other – are doomed to having an unhappy relationship, or to breaking up. Being willing to change might be as simple as more conscientiously putting your things away because your partner likes a clean house. Would you be changing yourself to be neater? Yes, but is that a problem?
Connecting deeply inevitably means changing, which can be wonderful. Still, it’s essential that partners accept each other for who they are. As you adapt and change to connect with each other, you also want to grow in ways that remain to your true self.