Navigating change in a relationship


"You have all this energy for work - but none left for me", a loved one said to me once.

That always stuck with me, because it was true. I showed up for her - but I was a total zombie, having maxxed my charming hours out with clients.

My acupuncturist told me when you ‘expand’, when you're learning new things, meeting new people and doing things that ‘stretch’ you - you physically and mentally need more space to process it. 

‘How is it that any relationships survive this’, I thought, reflecting on my own experiences and marvelling at friends who's partnerships had endured (and thrived) throughout change and challenging circumstances.

Not only is it a miracle two people (or more depending on your preference) manage to get along in the first place, I thought, but how do they survive when people find their jobs loathsome, when they don't feel fulfilled by the work they're doing, when they even question what they should even be doing with their life.

Feeling genuinely happy for someone as they stretch themselves - it doesn't always come easy, does it. While you want to feel like someone who is comfortable with change - let's face it, no one likes feeling uncomfortable and no one likes conflict. Conflict is bred from feeling uncomfortable.

I wondered whether it is possible for a partnership to be equally supportive, when one person is going through a massive mental shift and needs more space and time to process it. I also wondered what it’s like being the support crew, watching someone you love feel so unhappy and wanting to help them, only to have them somewhat deaf to your suggestions.

I think about this a lot because until recently, I was the unhappy jerk needing space to figure my shit out, pushing others away who had loving intentions.

They say you love the way you want to be loved.

And doesn't always make you compatible to the person you're attracted to.

I'm an 'away' person, I learnt in therapy. Someone who needs space and solo time to think. I feel claustrophobic if I'm around people all the time. I hide in the loos at events between conversations. My dream night includes not seeing anyone but Morrissey D Woofington and the guy at the 7/11 who smiles politely as I buy a Magnum.

I learnt I'd long been attracted to 'towards 'people. People who had a routine. People who were emotionally consistent. It had balanced out my highs and lows, having someone who was consistently calm and measured. When I was exerting myself and exposing myself to the world in new, uncomfortable and exciting ways - they were always there to reassure me I was on the right track.

The problems always came when I needed alone time to think, to work on a new idea, or to just not be around them for a few hours, like any normal human being.

Back then, I didn't have the skills to know how to articulate I needed down time. And so, to our demise, it came out as me distancing myself from them. It was hurtful to them. It wasn't personal - I needed space to regenerate, like many introverted people do.

But, back then, I didn't have the language for it to come out like it needed to. They didn't feel like they were coming along for the ride with me - so they held on tighter.

I wonder whether the behaviours we find challenging in others are the ones that tell us something about ourselves.

Do they trigger a memory, an experience. Do they remind us of something that feels uncomfortable. Do they remind us of the values we’ve been taught not to celebrate, explore, validate. 

Maybe there’s a common thread for all of us in believing, to some degree, what other people say about us.

Change can be confronting and scary. It can reveal something about yourself you didn't know mattered to you.

When one person is doing something different - that can be jarring, challenging, frightening for both parties, just as much as the person instigating the changing.

When you change your job, your lifestyle, your way of doing things - you're not the only person it affects. It can alter other peoples access to you, how much time you have for them and what mood you're in when you do see them.

Change can also piss people off.  What feels exciting and stimulating to you can make someone feel left behind. Because maybe it means you have less time to see them, or your energy reserves are lucked out having given them away to your new, exciting thing.


To those people considering making changes in your lives:

You might feel like your closest humans don’t understand what you’re going through. You might feel isolated and not sure if it’s a sensible decision.

If your closest humans freaking love you and want you to be happy - they’ll help you create that space so you can meet people who are going to help you grow, or at least be open to learning to how they can help you do it. Be mindful, it might not come naturally to them. It might be a new feeling to them. It might be confronting at first.

Friends, family, loved ones - the are capable of surprising you. When you grow, evolve, try something new, it also gives them an opportunity to go on a new ride with you. 

Pose the question and give them time to digest. And if they don't, over time, you might consider editing a little further.

Regardless if you're with someone, solo, seeing a ton of people, at the end of the day, YOU decide if you want to continue feeling the way you do now.

When you articulate what you want, you are telling the world something about you. You are giving people clues to the type of person you are and what's important to you. Traits that others find attractive.

Let the world edit themselves around you - not the other way around. 

And, although tempting, not through ultimatums, screaming matches or sulk-wars, but through grown-up conversations involving actual words.

Patience is a virtue, after all. I can't say it's my fortė - but I'm definitely trying.