A statement that sounds like wisdom is that you shouldn’t have to change for love. But how wise is it really?
“I’d like a relationship, but I shouldn’t have to change for love”, she said. An interesting statement that I’ve heard many times. Having brought the dating arrangement to an abrupt end, she was pretty adamant that his desire for her to change was what was ruining things. “That’s right”, her friends said, “you shouldn’t have to settle for someone who wants things to be different”.
I agreed. There was too many compromises being made in that relationship. They were being suppressed and going against the core identity and value of who they were.
This is a conversation I’ve been involved in many times before. A relationship breaks off or fails to start because one or both people don’t believe that they should change that much. Too much denial of self, too many adjustments to be made, too much to allow two to become one…
Wait a minute, that sounds like exactly what we encourage people to do when they’re in a long-standing relationship.
I’ve been recently thinking a lot about the seeming hypocrisy present in modern relationship advice when it comes to whether you should or shouldn’t have to change for love. With one hand, we tell people to be themselves and live a life of pursuing their dreams and goals. And yet with the other hand, we tell people that love is all about give and take, about not always having your own way, about putting the needs and desires of others above your own.
Single people face this dilemma in a more immediate fashion than others due to the severe life change that a long term relationship represents. If you get married, then what happens to your dreams? To your goals? To the person you wanted to be? To all the things you still have to do with your life to make you feel like you’ve made it?
And what if he wants me to be different? Or she doesn’t like some of my qualities initially? What if they decide a few years in that they do want to see some more changes?
But you shouldn’t have to change for love… right? This fundamental principle we have adopted from somewhere becomes the driving piece of advice and the statement that results in relational turmoil further down the road.
And what if you are with someone and they suddenly start asking for change?
I would like to submit to you that I don’t actually believe this cornerstone piece of advice is actually as wise as it sounds. I mean, sure, it does sound like wisdom and it has some true dimensions, and where there is excessive or dangerous compromise involved perhaps as in the earlier case, but I think it’s an attitude that can become the ultimate obstacle to true relational freedom and the expression of love. So here’s one reason why you shouldn’t have to change for love, and five counterpoints where I believe there is more wisdom in being open to change.
You shouldn’t have to change to love because…
#1: Your individual dreams, giftings, and safety are important
You have a unique purpose in life. You do have giftings for a reason. You do have callings and dreams that are important.
No one wants to enter a relationship where these things die completely. Where you are suppressed and you deny your very reason for existence. Without you being you, the world would be a worse place.
And it goes without saying that you need to be in a safe place where your rudimentary needs are being overlooked or are being jeopardised.
That said, I believe you should have to change for love because…
#1: The other person’s dreams and goals are important too, and you become the suppressor with this attitude
I have seen it too many times where people are crushed in the name of dreams and goals. Where relationships are cast aside because one person believes their individuality is the most important thing.
Such people can’t sustain long-term relationships, because this is the attitude of the suppressor who thinks they’re the ones being suppressed.
To be in relationship with someone means that it’s not just about you anymore. It’s not. And if you’re unwilling to ever get to a point in your life where it’s not about him or about her, but about us, then you’re going to break hearts, not listen to your partner/s, and be frustrated trying to find someone who is exactly identical to you in all respects and where there will never ever need to be a joining together of lives.
And do it all in the name of your seemingly noble cause of pursuing your dreams. Well done. You are perpetuating a cycle of selfishness where you will only ever see people as obstacles to your own personal success. Maybe it’s time to learn how to dream for two rather than one.
#2: Because two are better than one
I think one of the greatest things about relationship, whether it be romantic, business, or even friendship, is the potential it represents to reach beyond your own life. Name the number of one person companies out there who have had any measure of success. Or the number of soccer teams who’ve one the cup with one person alone. Or the number of churches, not-for-profits, charities around the world, that have made a difference whilst being comprised of an individual? I mean, it’s possible, but difficult.
Why do we think love is any different?
When we say we shouldn’t have to change for love, we diminish our potential together for the vain ambition of one. By serving the common dream, we reach further than we ever could on our own. And we don’t do it alone. We do it with support, we do it with someone to bounce ideas off, we do it together.
There is so much strength and power in together.
#3: Because two can’t walk together without agreement
Have you ever tried to walk hand in hand with someone while going two different directions? The first metre or two might be okay. You started relatively the same, but eventually the pull of your separate drives will result in you either hurting one or both of you, or letting go of each other.
And this is exactly what we do when we think that’s it’s my way or the highway. I know we don’t say that, but in our heart, when we’re unwilling to change, when we think we’re the most important part of the relationship, then we’re the person who’s yanking the hand of the other, trying to get them to go wherever we want them to go.
And hey, there will be places that she wants to go and that you want to go that aren’t always the same place. But in agreement you can go to them together. Or in agreement you can decide against it. But to preserve the bond of peace in your relationship, or the relationship you want, you need to develop the ability to agree.
#4: Because you don’t carry this attitude in any other area of life (successfully)
A lot of people stay at the same level of income for their entire life because they are either unwilling to change their level of expertise, their location, or their level of responsibility. All the complaining in the world about the dollars you aren’t getting won’t make a difference if you are unwilling to do the things necessary to bring about financial improvement.
Similarly, a lot of people stay in the same way in their health by leaving their lifestyle unaltered their entire life. A lot of people stay the same way in their friendships without being willing to put themselves out there and make friends. A lot of people stay single by maintaining the attitudes and approaches of a single person, not ever giving anyone a chance, and by hiding behind their personality when they could be developing a few conversational skills to help them get more of the doors open.
If you want a different result, you have to change the input. You have to change the habit. You have to change the mindset and the accompanying actions.
And if you want to be successful in love, you have to change what you’ve always done. If you have a mediocre relationship, you have to schedule more dates. If you don’t listen to your wife enough, you need to change to become a listener. If you make him feel like he’s no good, you need to become an encourager.
#5: Because you said that you love them
As a bit of a theologian, I was trying to work out if this mentality actually was consistent with the tone of Scripture or not. I mean, we are told that we are loved and accepted as we are, right? That’s definitely true.
But the more I thought about it, the more I see that love and acceptance may help open the door to relationship, but there does need to be measured change to demonstrate that I’m actually in relationship. Faith without works is dead, after all, and my life should demonstrate the belief system I operate under. I was accepted as a sinner, but I should go and sin no more after I have been set free. Unless I change utterly and become childlike, I won’t even get to live out the fulfillment of our relationship. I will still be accepted, but for the relationship to improve, I would be remiss to avoid the requests of the one who loves me.
In the parable of the wedding feast, people from all over are invited to celebrate, but then one person turns up in his street clothes, thinking it’s all good that he’s still dressed for the street when he was invited to a wedding. This was of great insult to the host, and they couldn’t continue while he was ill-prepared and unwilling to even change his attire for such a momentous occasion.
And so many times in our love lives, we do the same, especially when we say that we shouldn’t have to change for love. If you said you’d love this person, you would change from what you were wearing and prepare yourself for the celebration of who they were. You would take out the trash more. You would extend a listening ear and be a safe place for their heart. You wouldn’t be so dismissive of their desires for closeness, intimacy, or even more time together. It’s so important to them – is it really so bad that they get what they asked for?
It’s actually a really terrible attitude to harbour towards someone when we say that we’re unwilling to change for them. It means that they’re not worth you making an effort and applying some improvements. It means you won’t alter your behaviour from that of a single person to that of a person in love. It means that their needs and desires aren’t important enough to you that you should change to accommodate them.
It sounds so high and noble that we shouldn’t have to change for love, and yet the one you love may be dying because of your unwillingness to make a change. It’s ultimately pride. We think we are more important than the other person. And so, we allow our pride to destroy what could be great, instead of reaching out in humility, not considering our current standing as something to be grasped but laying our lives down as a ransom for another.
My wife made a brilliant point to this end in saying that it’s not about having everything changed instantly, or being nagging or aloof of the person who needs to improve, but in doing it together. In the same way God loved us, by relating to us, by going through it with us, so too we can live lives of love when we are both willing to change together.
Because it’s not about you individually and them individually. It’s about us. It’s about the new team. It’s about the new entity. It’s about doing more than we ever could alone.
Isn’t that love? Not that we do it for acceptance, but we do it from acceptance. Because they loved us and have made drastic changes for us, so too do we do whatever we can to build the life of this person we call our partner. Not having a withholding attitude, but being generous and open, endeavouring to do all we can to make this other life better.
And if we don’t yet have a partner, perhaps that we would be open enough to develop the heart attitudes that allow room for another person. Many of us don’t have many other considerations in life besides our own.
Bonus Point: You should never take what hasn’t been given or be in an unsafe place
I do need to qualify all this to say that you shouldn’t take what hasn’t been given to you. It can be very frustrating when someone won’t change, but that never entitles you to take it from them, whether it be sexually, emotionally, physically, or financially. To do so breaks the ties of relationship.
And if you’re in an unsafe place, make sure to reach out. If you’re being made to do something illegal, unethical, or unsafe, there is help available. I’m not talking about justifying abuse, but living in a way where we are giving a person our best.
And so, is it true that you shouldn’t have to change for love? I don’t think it is. I think there are dimensions of this statement that hold weight, but I think we set ourselves up for isolated, individualistic lives when we sustain this attitude. Obviously, there is a fine line between what change would be considered acceptable and what would range into the realm of abuse, but this is where you will have to find the balance together. It could easily be argued that denial of what a partner wants or needs is another form of abuse.
How about you? Do you think people shouldn’t have to change for love?