Is a relationship always about changing for your partner

Haminah asks: I’m 19. And honestly my relationship has been draining. We’ve only been dating less than a year. But known each over for three. My question is, is a relationship always about changing for your partner? I feel like I am changing myself for someone, and it’s not from a good place personally. I don’t like these changes.

Hi Haminah –

I’m going to give you two answers, which will seem contradictory.  And the reason for the contradiction might annoy you, so I’ll apologize in advance!

My first answer is Absolutely.  Even just a friendly relationship involves some changes – maybe you learn to hold back a couple of opinions because you know how that friend will react to them.  Or in a closer friendship, you might adjust your life to them – for example, my human friend Handsome has a friend he meets for lunch every other Tuesday, just so they are guaranteed to stay in touch. 

A romantic relationship really requires it (did you see all those R’s I used?  Yeah, we dogs say Rrrrrr a lot!).  Maybe someone asks you out and you’d really love that, but you’ve promised to be faithful and not date anyone else.  Or maybe you agree to sped a holiday with their family when you’d rather be with yours. 

Now none of these involve changing yourself deeply, changing your essence.  Over time, however, that always ends up happening.  Maybe at first it’ll just be the the way you laugh, or a phrase you catch yourself using that you heard from them.  Over time it can become way more – have you ever noticed how couples with young children start talking in baby-talk even at their jobs?!  I’ve seen people marry someone of a different religion, completely agreeing that they won’t have to change theirs, but over time it happens anyway.  And political or social beliefs are almost guaranteed to shift to match one’s partner over time.

So again, my first answer is Absolutely – changing is always part of relationships; I’d argue it’s part of what defines a relationship.  After all, the way I behaved was awfully different before I moved in with a human who had expectations of my behavior!

But here’s the second answer:

Not At All!  You are your own person, and if someone likes you they ought to accept you as you are – you shouldn’t change for them ever!  You’ve got your own life – you’re exciting, dynamic, learning, becoming the person you want to be.  That’s work enough, without trying to adjust to someone else’s ideas!  And again, if they insist they’re so into you, why would they then say you need to be different?!

The issue that shifts these two answers, and makes them one, is your age.  You’re 19, my friend!  You have your life ahead of you.  You’re not married to this person; you’ve been involved for a year, and that’s great, but you’re still becoming yourself. 

If you marry them, if you have children together, then I’ll absolutely argue that your wish, your plan, is to stay together, and therefore you both should change for each other.  And if you have children, you won’t have any choice – those kids will take over your lives and force you into all sorts of changes no one can imagine!

But you’re 19.  And that means this is the time to experiment, to learn, to grow.  You can certainly try out whatever your partner requests (maybe they’d like you to go to a mosque – sure, go!).  But let your eventual decision on what you’re going to do, or be, be yours.

Because until you fully own yourself, you don’t have a self you can give to someone else.  You have choices we pound puppies didn’t.  Explore them and enjoy them.   You have so much time ahead for the rest!

All my best,


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