I recently heard someone say that if they get in a relationship, the other person won’t be able to change them. Part of me thought, “Why would you want to be in a relationship with someone who would want to change you right away.” The other part of me thought, “If you get in a relationship and expect that relationship not to change you, then you why are you in a relationship?” It is impossible to not be influenced for good or bad by the people we have in our lives. We can be aware of the effect and choose how we will be affected. The question is not whether a relationship will change us (because all relationships have some effect on us) but rather are we aware of the change and choosing to accept it or not.
Dr. John Gottman calls this process of change accepting influence. It is an important aspect of a healthy relationship. When we become part of a committed relationship, we have to shift from a “me” thinking to a “we” thinking. That means that we consider our partner's needs, hopes, dreams, etc. as important as our own. Our willingness to make this shift or change can determine the outcome of our relationship.
How can we know if we are in “we” thinking or “me” thinking? We can do an inside check and see if we value what our partner has to say about things. Even if we disagree with it, we can still respect their perspective. We can also see if we easily get defensive when our partner shares their thoughts or feelings. This could be a sign of competitiveness and that we view our relationship through a win-lose perspective which means that if one of us wins or is right then the other one loses or must be wrong. Viewing our relationship through a win-lose perspective does not keep us on the same team but rather is always pitting us against each other.
Choosing to accept the influence of our partner is not an easy task. It takes practice and effort but the payoff is a rich, loving relationship that can bring us to be our best selves. If it feels that this process has got you stuck or you just don’t know where to start, ask for help.