Not everybody welcomes change

I often get questions about personal growth and how it changes relationships with friends, romantic partners and family. When people improve themselves in ways that increase their self-esteem and confidence, their relationships will surely change. Every person plays a role in someone else’s life, and if their personality changes, so too will that role. Indeed, it’s often a factor in why some relationships fail.

As individuals change, significant others will certainly have some kind of reaction. Let’s say, for example, that you stop drinking or abusing drugs. Or you start working after living off of your relatives. People who are rational and wish you well will cheer these improvements. But people who liked that you were dependent or feel threatened by your progress will have a different reaction. There will also be varying degrees of skepticism among those who want you to change. Some will celebrate, while others will need time to trust that the change is for real.

No matter how it happens, there is usually a process of “cleaning out’ one’s personal relationships after a major change. People who don’t respond well to your improvements will quite possibly exit your life altogether. Heavy drinkers have no use for reformed alcoholics, and vice versa. Non-ambitious moochers who become responsible are no longer drawn to fellow moochers. In fact, my experience has shown that the ex-moochers are even more annoyed by current moochers because it reminds them of what they no longer wish to be.

This applies to marriage as well as to family and friends. For years, mental health professionals identified what used to be called a co-alcoholic or codependent syndrome. (The principle can be applied to any positive change in a person, not just alcohol abuse.) It was found that some spouses actually responded negatively to their partners’ improvements.

Why? The reasons were usually unspoken and irrational. “He doesn’t need me any more. He’s becoming healthy and will flourish. This means he’ll leave me.”

Indeed, a codependent spouse can actually benefit from having a partner that keeps him- or herself down. Sadly, the codependent partner can never fully benefit from a relationship with someone who doesn’t love life enough to achieve his or her potential. People on self-destructive paths are either going to leave eventually, or will perpetually disappoint. So, from a rational point of view, the partner’s advancements shouldn’t be a threat to the codependent spouse.

But sometimes they are, and it’s quite common. After all, people who are self-defeating and hold themselves back are naturally attracted to people who might love them for their weaknesses. Once that person becomes healthier, the foundation of those unhealthy relationships is lost and he or she will shed those relationships. All of this is not necessarily inevitable. With a bit of introspection and self-evaluation, a codependent spouse can recognize the nature of his or her errors and strive to correct them. If that can be achieved, the relationship will move in a different direction. However, this doesn’t usually happen.

A relationship is a dynamic collaboration. If one person changes significantly, his or her relationship will not be the same as it was. One hopes, of course, that this is a good thing; at least if the other partner is willing to go along with the transition.

Change is not always bad, and not always good. In fact, one of the major reasons relationships end is because one or both partners change. But the end of a relationship is not necessarily a failure, and can actually be right for its time. Ironically, even an unhealthy relationship is sometimes the best a person is capable of, given his or her level of maturity and development.

All that notwithstanding, the key is to always be thinking and growing. Dynamic people may sometimes change relationships, but their reasoning and action-oriented attitudes are what make their lives worthwhile. And the new connections they attract might even be healthier and more fulfilling.