What Do We Do When We Fear That Our Partners Will Change?

A Twist In Thinking About The Fear of Your Partner Changing

Posted Feb 04, 2011

In social conversation, we are sometimes prone to saying things that blatantly contradict the way things are.  Yet, we continue to perpetuate several delusions, many of which we would be wise to dispel with.  Below is one of the assumptions we make that is refuted by biology.

"I can't believe you've changed" is a protestation that makes no sense from multiple perspectives.  Biologically, it probably derives from the fact that old habits die hard.  This occurs due to conditioning, a phenomenon that I describe in "Life Unlocked" in great detail.  Essentially, we develop brain habits that make it seem as if our brains never change.  While habits are hard to shake, they are not unchangeable.  In fact, the human brain is wired to change.  And we call this propensity to change "neuroplasticity." So you'd better believe it.

So what can you say instead in a modern romance?  Perhaps you can say "we need to be aware of our brain changes so that we don't fall out of sync." 

Furthermore, people rarely truly change even when they appear to.  In relationships, people evolve "next" to each other, so they often influence each other like moulds.  The personality of one person moulds the personality of the other.  But once you separate, you usually go back to being the way you were.  Instead of thinking that your partner has changed, try something else: give them more space and they will go right back to the way they were.

The idea of "change" challenges the notion of "fidelity" as well.  People feel betrayed when their partners change their ways of being, or when they change their minds.  But what about when they betray themselves?  How can a relationship be strong if you are betraying yourself to escape the indignation of your partner? 

Not changing suggests a life that is trapped, one that is not defined by curiosity or discovery.  Yet these latter traits are what make us feel alive.  Children are always so ebullient because they are always discovering.  We become phobic about this later in life, because we tend to want to anchor ourselves to people as if we can escape death if we do this.

This anchoring is one of the most destructive forces of human nature.  Even when it is disguised as "love" or "friendship" it is most often an excuse not to explore the fullness of who you are.  Who you are is probably not defined by space or time in the way that you insist.  But our tremendous fears of mortality stop us from letting go.

In life, we need to ask ourselves if we can create both fluidity and security.  And we need to embrace this tension more openly.  It doesn't matter how hard we hold onto anything.  We get older and we die.  Recognizing this may help us live more fulfilling lives.

The problem with change is that it engenders mistrust.  "Trust" as we currently conceive of it requires that there are no surprises.  Here again, we have a delusion of control.  While trust is great, in that it is relaxing, it is also the seed of many boring relationships.  It seems that the grass is always greener on the other side: if we have exciting, unpredictable relationships, we crave the rest of trust, and if we have restful relationships with trust, we crave excitement.  The idealist among us would say why not have excitement and trust.  And I would count myself among people in such a group.  Except that in either of these states, life seems asymptotic, the unease never completely vanishes.

So, in these contemplations, I would suggest that neither change nor non-change is ideal.  Transcending the plane of change to understand who we truly are is where the action is.  If we look deeply within ourselves, we will find something beyond the reality that our perceptions construct.  This "something" takes us a step beyond whether we desire our partners to change or not.  It takes us to the root of the fear of change and the threat of the unfamiliar.  Beyond the breakers of the fears of change lies a calmness and a world of self-knowledge.  If we learn how to negotiate these rough seas, we may find the peace of mind to illuminate the illusion of change.

The next time somebody says "I can't believe you've changed", I suggest that you tell them that you don't believe that either.  The person who has "changed" is not the real you.