Michele O'Mara

I was like this when you met me!

Filed By Michele O'Mara | February 05, 2008 9:01 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: advice column, lesbian, relationships

In a recent post I wrote called "Stop Fighting!" I had a question about a statement I made and I'm reprinting the question and answer here because it's one I get a lot!

In my post I wrote:

"Perhaps you've heard your partner defend herself with, "I was like this when you met me," as if broadcasting her lack of personal growth during the time you've been together is somehow redeeming or acceptable; that who we are when we meet is all we are ever required to be in a relationship."

Which prompted the question:

What if the statement has nothing to do with "lack of personal growth", but the feeling that one's partner has the excessive need to control or change an individual or situation? It can be argued that there is a fine line between one being adverse to change or feeling they are being manipulated.

There is one simple question you can ask yourself to determine whether or not your partner's requests are designed to support your personal growth or whether or not they are designed to manipulate and adversely change you. That question is this: "Will making this change lead to a better or worse version of me?" For example, if your partner begs of you to use crack with her, the answer is pretty simple, this will not lead to a better version of you.

If, on the other hand, your partner requests that you take your dirty dishes from the living room, to the sink, rinse them off, and put them in the dishwasher when you are done - well, presumably this will create a more personally-responsible you who is likely more disciplined than the former version of you.

Typically, when our partner makes requests of us they are requests that help us become better versions of ourselves. If, in the scenario above, the dishes in the living room are actually your partner's, then that may be an example of feeling manipulated or controlled, rather than encouraged to grow.

Asking yourself "Will this choice add to, or take away from, who I am designed to be?" is a great question for most life situations you in which you find yourself.

Happy growing!
Michele O'Mara, LCSW
www.micheleomara.com


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OK, but what about in a situation where it's not obvious if it's for one's good or not? What if one's partner is pushing him or her to a career change or to move or something like that that might be better or might not?

I suppose that's why that question is the BIG one....

Nerissa Belcher | February 6, 2008 4:35 AM

You said: "Typically, when our partner makes requests of us they are requests that help us become better versions of ourselves." This is called begging the question. I.E. you ask a question ("Will making this change lead to a better or worse version of me?"), then assume the answer "yes", then use this assumption to "prove" your assumption. Your reasoning is faulty.

Whether a partner helps us become better or motivates us to become worse, for them to expect any change is unrealistic, wishful thinking on their part. We are whom we are - warts and all. For example, if your partner is a smoker don't waste your time and theirs trying to get them to stop. If you don't accept what you see in them then don't start dating them.

Nerissa,

What I'm describing is not actually the same as "begging the question." Though I appreciate the opportunity to clarify. What I'm describing is allowing your partner's opinion to influence you. The emphasis of my point is directed to the partner whose behavior is a concern, not the parnter concerned about the behavior.

Obviously no one can "change" someone else. That is why when we partner with someone whose opinion we presumably respect and whom we believe loves us, it is critical we give that partner a reasonable amount of influence when it comes to helping us be a better person. If we don't trust our partner's opinion, then that's another whole discussion all togehter. It's essential for our self-care to draw boundaries around what works, and what doesn't work for us, when it comes to a relationship.

As for the parnter who is hoping for change - like in your example, the partner who does not want you to smoke - can not MAKE you stop. She can, however, set boundaries around her willingness to kiss you with smoker's breath, or to be in the same room, or house with you if that is a choice you make which affects her.

Relationships are a team sport and if we don't allow our partner to help us become better versions of ourselves then we may want to consider a solo-sport afterall. I coach single people to look for this trait up front - the willingess to grow and change; it's fundemental to a healthy relationship over the long haul. It's no fun to be on a team where you spend all of your time on the bench, never having the opportunity to influence the outcome of the game. That's the gist of my point.

Alex - if it's fuzzy whether or not this is a "good thing" for you, then you have some work to do to uncover your own truth around the topic at hand. If, for example, your partner is suggesting a career change because you come home everyday complaining about your job, then it's probably worth a serious listen. If, on the otherhand, you LOVE your job and you are fulfilled and inspired by your work, but your partner wants you to make more money - because you work for peanuts or less, then you may want to explore with him what HIS motivation is for you to have a different job since you are currently inspired and fulfilled by yours.

My philosophies about this topic stem from my fundemental belief that relaionships are designed to help us become the person we were designed to be - and if we make self-respecting choices when choosing a partner, it stands to reason that our partner is an instrumental part of our personal growth.

Initially I thought your reply was light in substance. The subsequent comments and replies shows this is a "big" question with many facets that definitely need the space for clarification. Overall, I agreed that the question you put forth in the last paragraph would suffice in "most" situations. Your fundamental belief that relationships designate our personal growth is right on. Our choice in partners should reflect the growth we want not only in the relationship, but also for ourselves. I also agree with Nerissa that it is unrealistic to expect change. The "expectations" and manner in which they are put forth is what gives the impression that your partner may not really be concerned over your personal growth, but in actuality has their own issues. Prior to asking my partner to change, I believe it is fundemental of me to ask myself, "Is this request selfish on my part or am I avoiding a change in myself?" and "Why does this action strike a point outside of my tolerance level when my partner is comfortable with it?".