Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Quality Relationships Welcome Change

by Russ Hardesty, PhD

A relationship that accepts change is a vital indicator of growth and maturity. The nature of life and of living systems is expansion. Change wrought by healthy growth that is balanced with a soulful honoring of created memories and rituals gives enduring substance and meaning to relationships.

Failure to Grow

Failure or reluctance to grow personally is the leading cause for relationship failure. If one partner grows and expands their horizons and the other insists on keeping things the same, the space within the relationship becomes filled with tension and resentment. The relationship becomes toxic for the partner committed to growth and expansion. This partner begins to create connections with others as a part of this growth. These new people can be experienced as intruders by the reluctant partner. The reluctant partner begins to create a shrinking world that may eventually have only enough room for one.

“Standing dead”
Clinging to status quo within a relationship is characteristic of the one who desires habituation as a life style. Although each healthy relationship requires some predictability, habituation without attraction and appreciation is the formula for a deteriorating relationship in which one or both of the parties are ‘standing dead’. ‘Standing dead’ could be described as hoping to reach death as safely as possible! The qualities that initially attracted the partners are now despised. In the habituation life style a partner notices only those qualities that are ‘negative’. The qualities that were once attractive seem to be no longer present. Statements and thoughts like, “you used to…”; “you don’t ….anymore”; or “why don’t you…?” become the focus in the relationship. An individual’s growth only threatens the relationship when their partner clings to the status quo.

Change in your partner calls out

Those changes that challenge the way things have been are invitations for growth. Rarely do two individuals mature and change at the same rate. This difference is such a challenge to those who are reluctant to change their thinking and behavior. This change is a sign “that not only are the lights on, there is someone alive in there too!” You are in a relationship with someone that is vibrant, alive and full of passion. Their growth is your call to get with it! Longing for the “good ole’ days” will only widen the gap between partners.

…to the last moment

A most often repeated statement by my father-in-law, who is in his 81st year, is this …“I plan on retiring three days before my burial!” This attitude sums up the nature of a passionate and fulfilled life. Change is constant. Each of us has the option of resisting and denying the changes that occur or embracing, welcoming and authoring much of the change that we experience in our relationship. You can expect change right up to the moment of your last breath. Change is the opportunity for each partner in a relationship to access and more fully express their devotion and love.

Actions Steps:
1) List those changes that have been opportunities for personal and relational maturity.
2) With each change, what did you discover in yourself? In your partner? In your relationship?
3) Share these with your partner in a quiet time – a soulful time of remembrance and celebration.


  1. A change that has been an opportunity for personal and relational maturity? For the last four years my husband has put up with the changes I've been going through as a result of menopause. This has been one of the most major changes in my life except for perhaps having children. However, children are a joy whereas menopause can be anything but that. Not every woman goes through these major jolting changes as I did but I am hearing more and more that it is an untalked about problem in marriages and one of the reasons many couples in their 40s-50s go their separate ways. All of the difficulties we as women deal with regarding menopause definitely affect our relationship with our spouse. Of course the main one is a change in the woman's desire for sexual intimacy. As Suzanne Somers said on Oprah last week. "All the parts were there and still working but I felt like, Sex? No,I'd rather have a smoothie." Associated with this, at least for me, has been lack of motivation, apathy, irritability and lack of energy. My spouse has been one of the most supportive individuals through all that this has thrown me. I've gone through many doctors trying to find a "cure". Most have told me, "This just happens to women as they get older. If hormones don't work then you'll just have to live with it." All along the way I talked with my husband about my problems assuring him that my lack of interest in sexual intimacy was part of the physical changes going on in me and no reflection on him. But as the months turned into years I'm sure he was beginning to wonder. But he still stuck with me and was patient.

    Put just like Suzanne Somers said, I was not willing to just live with this problem especially my total lack of libido. Someone told me about an OB/GYN doctor in town who prescribes bioidentical hormones and a compounding pharmacy that makes the formula specifically to your need. I went and he prescribed a match for me. It took a little over a month but we are back to better than we were before.

    But my point is, physical illness and change as we get older can be opportunities to see our spouse shine in the areas of flexibility, quality and care. Although I would not wish what I went through with menopause on anyone, I can say it has deepened my love and respect for my husband who is patient, kind and loving as ever.

    Many times we really don't know how our spouse or how we will hold up under pressures of such things as physical illness and inevitable changes with age. Although there is no real sure-fire way to know how your spouse will react, I know at least one way is to communicate what is going on with you as changes begin to happen. Illicit their support and understanding. Talk about it. It can help.

  2. Thank you Anonymous! Your comments brings into the light one of those challenges that faces every committed relationship. In a recent discussion regarding ‘equal opportunities and discrimination’ it was stated that some discrimination is based on one’s circumstance such as race and gender, but everyone gets older! The aging process brings many challenges to relationships. I am especially appreciative of your comments. My remarks as a male regarding the challenge of menopause and related issues are little more than an opinion. Most men, I believe, don’t have a clue of what it must be like to deal with the changes a woman experiences throughout her life as the one whose body experiences the bio-physical hormonal changes throughout her adult life.

    Talking about what is going on with your spouse is powerful. It seems that men can adjust their views and expectation if they have understanding – and understanding can lead to a higher level of acceptance and love. The pressures and changes of life define our character. Anyone can seem loving and accepting when everything is just right! These challenges present the opportunity to fix things about ourselves that need fixing. Your statement about a ‘deepened love and respect’ is a great! Men, I believe, experience being loved when they are respected. Respect is honoring the efforts and intent of a man’s expressions of love. Russ


Reader Comments

"...My spouse and I have been married for 32 years and I've experienced our relationship from giggly in bed, to passionate in bed, to mad in bed to "sleeping" in bed...As we grow older the intimacy definition changes for me. Intimacy also for me is just sitting quietly, or driving for miles quietly or walking just hearing our footsteps crunch the leaves, holding hands. My usual struggle in intimacy is in my head - I have to intentionally stop my daily to do list, my past and future stuff and live in the present moment..." Pam

it's ... smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion

“We have found that passion ebbs and flows but we set a goal for our relationship a number of years ago that is working for us. At least every six months we do something that will create a lifetime memory. For us, we love to travel, so it's been pretty easy to find something big to do that will create that lifetime memory, but sometimes it's the finding of smaller things to celebrate that create the real passion.” Steve Rae

What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?

“The "typical beliefs that people have when the “fire” seems to have gone out of a relationship" I believe are a) that you feel your partner should have changed or should not have changed and b) that you feel you should change or that you should not have changed.

Acceptance of yourself and your partner leads to forgiveness. What'll arouse passion more than the feeling of being forgiven?” Brian Massey

A word from Russ Hardesty

The realm of relationship is mysterious; filled with magic, surprise, excitement, passion, intimacy, loss, disappointment and creativity. I am fortunate to have a life partner who is at once a mirror, teacher, lover, nurturer, student and companion. In this place of mystery, I continue to grow into a mature, loving and free man. I welcome feedback, suggestions, and comments – which is a gift to me! Thanks for joining the expedition! Russ