One of the most challenging aspects of a committed relationship is the need to manage change, whether that change is perceived as positive, negative, or neutral. In a simple sense, change means that things are no longer and may never again be the same. It disrupts existing activities and feelings, and it may require learning new ways of doing things. Managing change often means letting go of illusions, accepting a new reality, and focusing on new possibilities. Change may require working out new agreements and finding tools to move forward.
Change is inevitable, and its impact can range from devastating to thrilling. When a significant life event occurs, a couple can manage the change and enrich their relationship, or they can choose not to manage it, thereby decreasing their odds of attaining satisfaction.
Change of any kind usually requires some sacrifice and the experience of loss, even if it is simply a matter of giving up something familiar. Not everyone is comfortable with change. Those who aren't may offer resistance temporarily or for a prolonged and potentially disruptive period.
One way of getting more comfortable with change is to learn to respond to it in four phases:
- Understand what has happened
- Accept what can't be changed
- Put the past behind you
- Recommit to the relationship
Understand What Has Happened
The first step involves describing the event and identifying how you feel about it. What occurred, and what was its significance? Does it create new demands on you, your partner, or your relationship?
Events can be unexpected or anticipated; positive, negative, or neutral. Unexpected events may include sudden death, job loss, or a disabling illness. Anticipated events may include getting married, getting a promotion, buying a car, or becoming a parent. Soon after these events occur, the demands they create become evident. These demands include learning new skills, finding support, or letting go of old beliefs or behaviors.
Identifying how you feel requires the ability to label your inner experience in relation to what's happening. Most events that create a demand for change bring about strong feelings. A death in the family can call forth uncontrollable feelings of grief, while a change in work responsibilities might bring out feelings of excitement, fear, or both.
Accept What Can't Be Changed
Many life events are outside of our control: the process of aging and dying; the inevitable demands of life transitions; the coming of disease, disruptions, and disasters. Events can challenge people's assumptions about the world and themselves. By their very nature, life-changing events mean that things cannot continue the way they were. Responding to such changes in a healthy manner requires accepting the actuality of the event and its meaning before moving on.
Put the Past Behind You
Putting the past behind you involves accepting it without being trapped by it. Accepting means more than letting the event sink in emotionally; it means letting go. Putting the past behind you takes time and often includes a recycling of the acceptance and understanding processes.
Recommit to the Relationship
Understanding without action is rarely productive. Beginning again means acting on the desire to make something happen. Taking action decreases the odds that you will go through the rest of your life anchored in the past. It increases your chances of creating a new vision of what's possible for you as an individual and as part of a couple. It is an expression of your commitment to your future and to your relationship.