Do People Change In a Relationship?

by Alina on February 8, 2013

in Am I Good Enough?, Decision-making, Gut Feeling, Happiness, Need a Change, Power

If you are looking for a short answer, and don’t feel like reading the whole article, here is the answer: no, people don’t change in relationships. (Did I just hear you gasp?)

I know, I know, it is heresy for a life coach to say that people don’t change, because the coaching business is based on the premise that people can make changes in their lives.

“Changing oneself” and “making changes” are not the same thing, though. When you ask whether people change in relationships, you will get a different answer depending on which type of change you are talking about. I believe that people don’t change in relationships, but they can make changes.

Let me explain.

I am sure that you’ve heard the following lines during your own break-ups, your friends’ break-ups, or movie break-ups:

“I’m not the same person I used to be.”

“I hardly recognize you anymore.”

“You never really knew me.”

“You’ve changed.”

“I’ve changed.”

Perhaps, you may have even heard the following lines during marriage proposals, moving-in suggestions, and reconciliations of sorts:

“I am a changed man.”

“I feel like a completely different woman now.”

“I am not the same person I used to bewhen [insert a circumstance when things didn’t work between the two of you in the past]”

Do people really change?

When I say that people don’t change in a relationship, I don’t mean that they always make predictable choices.

Here’s what a person can change about himself, with a great deal of work and time:

– Ability to control impulses

– Capacity to forgive

– Preferences for pastimes, foods, clothing, personal styles

– Perception of his/her place in the world

– Ability to act in a way that is expected of him.

What doesn’t change is the person’s core essence, so the nature of whatever the person brings of himself into a relationship doesn’t change. “Core essence” is not easily defined, although I think we all have a sense for what it means. Psychology defines the person’s essence in terms of personality. The Big Five personality traits (extraversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness) are considered to be consistent and stable, especially when tied to a specific social context (for example, an intimate relationship).

So, what does it mean for your relationship that your partner’s (and your own) personality is stable?

1. If your partner is an extrovert, she will consistently draw energy from large, loud gatherings. She may learn to enjoy quiet activities for just the two of you, but she will still need frequent opportunities to be the life of a party in order to feel like herself.

If your partner is an introvert, she will draw energy from quiet, uninterrupted time. She can learn to accompany you at large family gatherings and corporate parties without making faces. You will still see her taking frequent bathroom breaks, smoke breaks or browse on her cell phone – anything to steal a few minutes of solitude during large gatherings.

In both extraversion and introversion cases, you may still sense irritation or frustration from your partner when she is expected to act “outside of her type” for too long. Can you both live with that?


2. A neurotic partner is prone to anxiety, anger, guilt and depression. He would also exaggerate life’s minor stressors and frustrations. That won’t change. What may change is your partner’s coping mechanisms. He can learn stress management techniques, and through cognitive or behavioral therapy learn to not get carried away with guilt or anxiety. If you are hoping that your neurotic partner will turn into a light-hearted “take it easy” character, it is probably not going to happen. Are you ok with that?

3. If your partner scores high on openness to experience, the chances are that he or she is intellectually curious and prefers variety to habit; if your partner has low openness to experience, his or her habits will be difficult to change. If you are the kind of person who prefers taking a vacation in a different location each time, or is open-minded to an idea of open marriage, committing to someone who has to have everything “just so” may make you feel trapped. Maybe, not right away, but in the long run. If your level of openness to experience doesn’t match with your partner’s, it is worth a discussion. See if there are areas of life in which each of you may be willing to give up habit or variety, and this is definitely a two-way street.

4. Agreeableness is a personality trait that determines the extent to which your partner is warm, kind, considerate, and cooperative. If your partner is argumentative, suspicious, and eager to manipulate others in order to win, then he is low on agreeableness. This is not something that is likely to change. So, if you crave warmth and support from your partner, you are probably not going to get much of it if your partner is low on agreeableness. You can condition your partner to call and check how you are doing, but you can’t teach him to be concerned about your well-being.

5. Last, but not least, conscientiousness is defined as desire to do the task well, along with a need for achievement and high self-discipline. Highly conscientious people are generally hard working, may have tendencies toward perfectionism, and in extreme cases turn into workaholics. It is improbable that your highly conscientious goal-oriented partner will change to become a low-key slacker. He might try to curb his blackberry use just to appease you, but the process of taking things easy will irritate him like an itchy skin rash. The opposite is true as well: if your partner is low-key, and you expect him to become an ambitious careerist in the future, you will be disappointed. So, you are either on the same page about ambition, or you are not.

The bottom line is that your partner may change his behaviors in order to try to create the best fit with you, but his “core essence” preferences won’t change. Disparity between forced behaviors and true tendencies will cause your partner to be unhappy in a relationship, no matter how much you love each other.

Personally, when I refer to the person’s core essence, I refer to the way this person feels to you. Just like having a unique physical fingerprint, I’ve come to believe that every person has a unique emotional blueprint. While one’s fingerprint looks the same to anyone who is looking at it, one’s energetic blueprint may present differently to different people due to the “effect of the beholder”.

Maya Angelou said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” She’s talking about the person’s energetic blueprint and its effect on you.

If you were to forget all the words that you know, if you were completely unable to form words in your mind, how would you experience your partner?

The wordless way in which you experience your partner is his “emotional blueprint” for you. You may feel generally peaceful and joyful, excited and at ease when you feel your partner. In this case, addressing together any specific behaviors that rub you the wrong way is worth a shot, because the bigger picture feels good. If, however, you feel anxious, off-balance, tense or gutted out when you “feel” your partner’s emotional blueprint, it is unlikely that changing specific behaviors will change your overall feeling of discomfort with this person.

And if you are trying to decide for yourself whether you need a change, independently on whether or not your partner decides to change, here’s a resource for you: “50 Signs You Need a Change”.

May you always feel loved.



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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Brig June 19, 2014 at 8:32 am

I just wanna know . For example : if person was behaving with me like after every half year looking for some new feelings and new entertainment so at some point it’s gonna be the same in new relationship. Isn’t? She’s gonna behave the same way?


Alina June 19, 2014 at 8:47 am

Well, it depends. On one hand, we all have patterns that we tend to repeat unless some kind of an intervention takes place. On the other hand, the specific behavior could be about the way this person was trying to get out of a relationship rather than stay in a relationship. Can you share more?


Brig June 20, 2014 at 1:58 am

Well that was on and off relationship. And like u said it was pattern : around 6 months good then nonsence starts . Other half gets bored rutine and this and that and starts looking for somethong new. I always let go but always taking her back when she cones after again half year with tears that im the best. Its was loong 4 year relationship. Of corse we broke up again. I just packet my stuff when she left me and walked away. Straight away she found someone new. That was a shof off for everyone: for family friends. O ther girl even changed profile pic for both of them. And its half year passed. My ex find a reason to txt me vome for conversation … Offered me a fishing toogether comments fb pic even i blocked her . I explained to her : this time ita over . Really. We not honna keep in touch . Im good im happy why to bother me. So i was wandering about pattern: isit again in her relationship scenario as always? Isit again scenario that she tries pul me back? Plus she never mentiones her other half . And never says us: always me. I did. I bought. Thanx for your opinion


Alina June 20, 2014 at 7:24 am

It sounds like you’re not seeing anything new: you’re describing a scenario that you’ve experienced with her before, more than once. The question is whether You want to go through it again. What’s in it for You? It doesn’t matter what her story is, really. What matters is: what do you want YOUR story to be? Based on what you’ve said, to me your story sounds like this: “She calls me back, and I go. Because [insert your reason].” If you were to re-write your story, what would you want it to be? “I’m in a joyful, loving relationship where my girlfriend and I appreciate each other, and deal with each other honestly.” Would this fit? Can this story ever play out with your ex? Best of luck!


Brig June 20, 2014 at 9:49 am

Im not gonna be back. I was just wandering why she was behaving the way she did … And wandering maybe she changed at some point . But it feels like not. I was hoping people can change for some reasons but probably they need to realize that they doing something wrong at first place. Thank you for advice .


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