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The Right Relationship IMPROVES Not CHANGES You

When it comes to love, you might think that change and improve mean the same, but as you're about to see...they don't.

Dating

Do y'all remember the movie The Wedding Planner (Jennifer Lopez, Matthew McConaughey)? If you do, you might recall how Jennifer's character claimed that a telling sign a marriage was on its way to Doomsville is if the couple's first dance was to Olivia Newton-John's "I Honestly Love You". Well, to me, a clear sign that two people who claim they want to share their lives together should pump the brakes as soon as possible is if one of them says something along the lines of, "I hate when my partner does such-and-such, but I'm hoping that will change after we get married." I tend to hear that a lot and, unfortunately, I must admit that, who I tend to hear this from the most are women.

Although it's not my intention to take everyone to church on this topic, I do think it's important for me to share a theory as to why I personally believe that a lot of ladies are hung up on the hope that they will be able to change their man once he actually becomes their husband. I think it goes all the way to the beginning of the Bible when the Lord said that he would provide Adam with a helper (Genesis 2:18). Help means "to give or provide what is necessary to accomplish a task or satisfy a need; contribute strength or means to; render assistance to; cooperate effectively with; aid; assist". But, for whatever the reason, a lot of women think that "help" means to change someone. Yeah, that's unfortunate. It really is. I think it's unfortunate for a few reasons. Let's dive into why.

What’s Wrong with Trying to CHANGE a Person, Anyway?

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If you're already reading this and thinking, "What's wrong with wanting to change someone if it's going to make them better in the long run?", you're just the individual I am writing this for—and to. First of all, one of the best ways for me to counter your point is to ask you to put yourself in the shoes of the individual you'd like to change. How would you feel if they felt that way about you? Isn't there at least a part of you that would wonder what was wrong with you being just the way you are? Isn't there also a part of you that would feel anxious and even slightly manipulated in your relationship—like you were being seen as and treated like more of a project than an actual person? And wouldn't that make you want to wait for someone who would love, embrace and celebrate you without trying to actually change you?

Case in point. There is one guy I was in a relationship with for a while who was always trying to get me to grow my hair out and to have different perspectives on certain matters. I must admit that all of the "desires for change" didn't fall solely on him. I semi-hated his sense of style and, when it came to his approach to romance and wooing, I was less than impressed. Then there was how he kissed. Eww. Why did we stay together? At the same time, there were countless things that both of us really liked about each other too (which is why we probably stayed together far longer than we should have). Still, by the time we did actually decide to call it quits, there was a significant amount of resentfulness and pain on both sides.

A part of the reason is because we both spent more time, effort and energy trying to change each other than actually enjoy each other. We were out here trying to alter (one definition of change) each other. We were out here trying to convert each other (we weren't on the same page spiritually either). We were out here trying to revise, modify and correct each other constantly, all the while believing that it was a form of love when really, it was nothing more than a manifestation of our own expectations and egos.

But really—who died and assigned us the role of trying to change each other? Greater than that, why did we automatically think that, just because we weren't exactly how we wanted each other to be, for each other, that anything needed to actually change? Maybe it wasn't us who needed to change, it was the kind of relationship that we were in with each other (hmm…).

A very simple definition of the word change is "to become different". To say that we love someone, but we want them to be different, is that really love? More specifically, do we really love that individual? I'm going to lean towards "no" because if we're consumed with trying to make a person different than they are, while we might love the human Build-A-Bear project that we've volunteered ourselves to take on, we don't actually love them if we're not happy with them…as they are—right at this very moment.

Because a part of what love is about is having a personal attachment and warm affection for who someone is—not when we wish they would be or become.

Does that mean that we should sit back and tolerate the things that we don't like? No. But if it's that deep, why are you with them at all? Rather than using all of that energy to try and change them, why not let them go so that you both can be with someone who complements you better overall?

OK, so does that mean I think that couples aren't supposed to challenge each other, motivate each other and inspire growth and development? Absolutely not. But when that kind of focus is healthy (and non-manipulative), what we end up seeing is two people who are less interested in changing each other and more interested in improving each other. And yes, there is a difference between change and improve.

Why Is It Better to Strive to IMPROVE Someone Instead?

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Now improving your partner? That is something that I can totally get down with. The definitions of the word pretty much break down the reasons why. To improve something or someone is "to bring into a more desirable or excellent condition" and "to make good use of". Some synonyms for improve include—advance, better, increase, promote, upgrade (cue in Beyoncé's "Upgrade U" right here), cultivate, elevate, polish, purify and mend. Yaaaaaas.

What I like about all of this is 1) it gives the impression that you already like something or someone, just as they are and 2) what you are striving to do is bring the goodness of yourself to their life in such a way that it won't change their being but take the core of who they are to another level. It's one thing to try and totally alter someone; it's another thing to increase them. See the difference?

Something else that I like about the word "improve" is it keeps the "improver" humble. Take the word "cultivate", for example. To cultivate something requires labor, attention and education. You can't be out here all willy-nilly if you want to be successful at doing it. You have to really study the object of your cultivation. You have to handle it in such a way where you don't harm or damage it in the process. You've got to be willing to put in the time, effort and energy to ensure that it grows—not into what your ego wants it to be but into a greater version of what it was always meant to be in the first place.

And so, when you're trying to assist in cultivating an actual person, there first needs to be a mutual agreement that both parties want to improve (some folks do, some folks don't), then there needs to be communication, respect, patience, love and good timing that goes into the cultivating process. There also needs to be the understanding that not only one person needs to improve—both do. Otherwise, why is either in the relationship to begin with? And what all of this does is create a safe space where no one feels pushed, controlled or unappreciated. It makes both individuals feel like their partner wants to see them win, not change.

Improvements in relationships are dope. Two people out here trying to change each other…is not.

So, take a moment and ponder. If you're currently in a relationship, are you out here trying to change your partner or improve them? Are they trying to change you or improve you? The first word is uncomfortable and a bit insulting, if you ask me. The second one speaks of partnership. Bottom line, a healthy relationship improves two people while an unhealthy one focuses on trying to change folks all of the time. I know the kind of relationship I desire, moving forward. What about you?

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

The 'Pre-Commitment Interview' Every Dating Couple Should Have

This Is How To Feel Emotionally Safe In Your Relationship

I Stopped Texting My Partner For A Week & Our Relationship Changed Completely

After A Breakup, I Moved Overseas And Ended Up Finding True Love

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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