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?
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?
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?
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