One of the greatest ways that we can show care, consideration and love in a relationship is through being willing to change to accommodate our partner’s desires. It’s part of the building and strengthening of a loving bond and one of the most selfless and generous acts we can commit.
There’s a danger that comes when we’re swept up in passion or just eager to please, that we lose sight of staying true to ourselves in the process. If we’re too accommodating, we can end up compromising on things that are really important to us. Then we end up changing to an extent that feels uncomfortable and which can lead to unhappiness.
The same is true of trying to solve our partner’s problems or to address underlying issues that they bring to the relationship through their emotional baggage. Trying to fix their problems by changing our own behaviours is like treating the symptoms of a problem rather than addressing the cause.
The underlying issue never gets fixed.
I experienced this in one of the more painful and toxic relationships of my past. That relationship was repeatedly thrown into turmoil by problems originating from her deep-rooted insecurities and by my inability to respond to these fairly and proportionately.
Changing myself to appease her insecurities
In that relationship I regularly had to defend myself against false and unfounded accusations that I was cheating on her. She would accuse me of harbouring a desire to cheat on her with female co-workers, friends and on one occasion, even her own sister.
If she suspected that I’d looked at or even noticed another woman in the street, that too would be enough to trigger her anger.
I would try to defend myself by rationalising or trying to explain-away her concerns. I began avoiding social occasions, dodging phone-calls from female friends and deleting texts or emails from them in case she read and misinterpreted them.
When out in public with her, I’d fix my eyes on the ground and deliberately avoid noticing others in case she thought I was checking out women around us.
I vainly hoped that if she felt like she ‘owned’ my attention and saw that I was having little contact with people outside our relationship, perhaps she’d feel more secure and willing to trust me. I hoped that she’d see she had nothing to fear.
Tackling the symptom rather than the cause
The problem of course was that I was acting like a guilty person through altering my behaviours. I’m sure this was apparent to her, and perhaps fuelled her suspicions all the more.
Changing my behaviours did nothing to challenge the substance of her concerns or the source of the problem; her own inner-demons and her issues of trust.
It’s clear now that while my motives were positive and while my logic at the time seemed sound, nothing was ever going to change in our relationship as she couldn’t trust me (or anyone else).
Her insecurities also put great strain on my relationship with my ex-wife, the mother of my children from my first marriage. This in turn threatened my ongoing relationship with my kids.
My ex and I had parted when our kids were still very young but had always co-parented them equally from the ages of five and two. We still do so to this day, fourteen years later.
During that relationship, my girlfriend harboured enormous insecurity regarding my relationship with my ex-wife. She put up emotional barriers between us, preventing us from communicating with each other as we’d always done for the benefit of our kids.
This was extremely hurtful for all involved, not least my kids who couldn’t understand why I was no longer communicative or even civil with their mother.
The changes in my behaviour toward my ex-wife was again driven out of my own misguided desire to appease and to pander to my girlfriend’s lack of trust. She was certain I had ulterior motives for wanting to maintain a relationship with my ex-wife and couldn’t see that it was about me trying to be an effective co-parent for my daughters.
I finally built up the courage to escape that relationship and realised that I had let myself, my kids and my ex-wife down in how I had acted. I had failed to protect and honour other important relationships in my life in trying to pacify an insecure girlfriend. I felt ashamed for having done so.
It took time, but I was able to repair the situation. I regret to this day that it happened but am fortunate that through the understanding of others I’ve been able to restore things.
I should have been true to myself
Trying to reduce her insecurities through adapting my actions was an ineffective tactic, much like trying to help someone else lose weight by dieting and exercising for them. It completely skewed the relationship between cause and effect.
Instead of trying to appease her or changing my behaviours in response to her concerns, she needed to do the work to overcome her insecurities at source. Unfortunately, in the life of our relationship that was simply never going to happen.
If trust is lacking, it erodes the stability of the relationship whether it is founded in reality or not. No amount of bending and shaping of my own actions was ever going to appease her insecurities. I learned this the hard way.
I remain convinced that one of the keys to a successful and happy relationship is to compromise, to be flexible and to put the needs of the other person first. That is not the same as allowing another person’s selfish desires and emotional malfunctions to force us to change our own actions and beliefs.
To expect compromise is more reasonable than to expect change.
We cannot merely abandon who we are or to stop believing in what is important to us, out of a sense of appeasement for someone else’s issues. Sometimes, the only option is to take a stand, or to question whether what they’re asking is fair or reasonable.
If it’s not, then it’s our responsibility to consider what really needs to change in that situation.