Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Relationships and Change

This is not an easy post to write. It brings to mind too many situations in my own life that I’ve had to face on my healing journey.

I’ve been asked: What happens as we recognize our strength and resilience and capability? (Note that I say recognize because I believe that the strength and resilience and capability have ALWAYS been there—we just didn’t allow ourselves to see it and/or were told by others that we didn’t have these qualities.)

Answer: The dynamics change in most of our relationships.

So the next question is: What happens as the dynamics change in a relationship?

Answer: That depends on everyone involved.

Sometimes people can be happy for us and cheer us on as we recognize our self-worth. Others may feel threatened. If the relationship has been one in which the other person felt superior or had more power, that person may feel threatened or unhappy or not know what to do as the balance of power shifts to a more equal level. If the relationship has been one of mutual helplessness, the other person may get angry because if it is possible for us to change then maybe they will have to look at their life and realize they could make changes, too—and they are scared or unwilling to try.

So it depends. It depends on whether you and the other person can have honest discussions about the changes that are taking place. It depends on whether or not the other person can put aside his or her insecurities enough to be happy for you. It depends on whether or not YOU have the courage to ride out the other person’s emotional reactions. (Odds are you’ve had some time to adjust to the changes in who you are because you’ve been working on those changes--but the other person has not. He or she may be a bit shell shocked to realize changes are happening and the dynamics of the relationship are no longer the same.) It depends on whether YOU need time away from the relationship to figure out how and whether you want to rewrite the relationship.

If both people want the relationship to work out, it can--and it will inevitably change in the process. If both people are willing to be honest and to ride out uncomfortable emotions, it can work out. If the person not changing can see your changes as proof that it’s possible to be happier and use that as encouragement to make changes too, it can work out.

What if very real problems occur because of the changes taking place within you and/or how can you rewrite a relationship?

1) Have compassion. Whether or not the relationships survives, you will be able to handle the changes better and more easily if you can feel compassion for the other person, if you can see the good the person brought into your life, and if you can forgive both yourself AND the other person for any mistakes that are or have been made.

2) Recognize what matters to you. Value who you are. Relationships can be rewritten but they are successfully rewritten only when we respect BOTH what the other person wants and needs AND what we want and need. This will also help you know whether the relationship—whatever it is—can be salvaged or not.

3) Be flexible. Maybe how you’ve always done things won’t work any more. Maybe the other person will have ideas that wouldn’t have occurred to you but make sense now.

4) Understand that relationships aren’t perfect and neither are you or the other person. If you can forgive and accept yourself for being human, you will find it easier to hear what the other person needs to say. If you can forgive and accept the other person for being human, you are more likely to be able to ask for changes in a way the other person can hear.

5) Be willing to think long and hard about what boundaries would be healthy for the relationship. Make sure they are clearly articulated if boundaries have been an issue with the person in the past. (There are few things more confusing and difficult for a survivor of abuse than when boundaries keep changing or are unclear. It is far easier and better to say—or hear—a painful truth about what boundaries are needed than to constantly wonder which of your actions might cause trouble (and worry what kind!) or whether the other person is going to cross the boundaries that you need to feel safe.)

6) Be willing to walk away if you realize the other person is dangerous to your physical or emotional health. That may mean walking away temporarily in order to stay safe as you work either on yourself or on the relationship or both or it may mean walking away completely. YOU matter. Your safety and health and happiness matter. That doesn’t mean I’m advocating running away lightly. If you’ve done steps 1-5 then odds are by the time you get to step 6 you’ll know what you need to do and you’ll be able to do it not in anger but with love—knowing that no one deserves to be hurt. And maybe just by acknowledging how bad things are and that you are willing to walk away you will give the other person sufficient motivation to change. Maybe not, in which case you grieve and go and go on, knowing that you have a right not to hurt or be hurt.

In my own life, I’ve been able to rewrite a number of relationships with people I am so very grateful to be able to still have in my life. Other relationships could not be salvaged—not without someone (me or someone else or everyone) being harmed by maintaining them. New relationships have come into my life and I am grateful for them every day. Some relationships....I don’t know. I suppose you could say they are on hiatus as I wait to see who I am becoming and how they might be rewritten—if they can be.

None of this is unique to us as survivors. Every human being who changes and grows faces these kinds of issues. And the fact that these things are true doesn’t mean we should stop changing and growing! We have a right to be happy and to change and grow so that we can be. If we do, we will draw new wonderful people into our lives and perhaps help those we love find their own path to being happy as well so that the relationships we do rewrite become richer and happier and better for all concerned.

Blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),


Ani Star said...

Hey, I'm Ani. I wanted to let you know that I've added a link to your site onto the side bar of my own. As a survivor I'm trying to connect with as many other survivors as I can, such as yourself. My main blog is at if you want to check it out. If its okay with you, could I add a link to your blog there also? If you'd like you can add a link to either of my blogs here. Thanks so much.

~ Ani

keepers said...

those number sixes really hurt, when you feel you have to move on because they resent your changes or refuse to accept your new sense of self worth. Especially when they are someone you felt would always be there for you.

This was a very well thought out post and we are sure a good many people will benefit from it

we are not sure if our comment was accepted so id this duplicates please delete one of them

Marj aka Thriver said...

Thanks for writing this, April. As with so many of your thoughtful posts, it is timely. I really needed some of these reminders after my visit with my twin.

jumpinginpuddles said...

Our marriage is over right now we read what you said but are too numb to care or want to care. It ended last night, and we need ot get ourselves into a safe place while we ride through this pain. Tahnks for the blog youve written in answer to our question.
many thanks

April_optimist said...


I've linked to you!


Yes, that is the hard part. (((Hugs)))


(((Hugs))) It must be especially hard with a twin.

Jumping in Puddles,

Huge (((hugs)))! My marriage ended after 28 years and the process is a painful one. Stay safe and know that my thoughts and prayers are with you.