What is realistic for change?
Change is part of life. Some of us resist it and some embrace it. But, like the aspen leaves start as buds in the spring, turn brilliant green in early summer, transform into gold in the fall, and eventually flutter to the ground, you can’t avoid change. We’ve all seen those couples where one of them changes into what feels like a new person to make the relationship work. But, do they really change? And is it realistic for someone to actually change for someone else, or are we all just aspen leaves showing different colors?
What can change?
There are some areas where we can change and evolve significantly in our lives.
- habits and behaviors
- attitude and outlook
- physical or verbal responses
To move forward with change, a person needs to have self-awareness of what it is they want to change and why. They need to have a strong desire to make the change and be incredibly committed to doing the hard work to make the change. Going through this process requires a strong support system and a level of self-compassion for the journey.
What can’t change?
It has been argued that the Big Five personality traits can not be changed.
- agreeableness (trust and sympathy)
- conscientiousness (thoughtfulness and structure)
- extroversion (or introversion)
- neuroticism (emotional stability)
- openness (creativity and curiosity)
Having said that research has pointed out that these personality traits exist on a spectrum, and people do often slide up or down the spectrum over a lifetime. However it is rare to see a significant jump from one end to the other with these core traits.
In addition to the Big Five, it’s unlikely for emotional temperament to shift dramatically as well as mental health (although it can be managed or temporarily situationally impacted).
My husband is time blind. Early on in our marriage, I wanted that to change. Really I wanted him to change, as it was really hard to coexist with someone who doesn’t see time. But, I could have bugged him for our entire life and that wasn’t going to change. That is how he is wired. However, what I did discover is he could adjust his behaviors once he acknowledged that trait and recognized the impact it had on others. And I could embrace the beauty of having someone in my life who is so in the moment, and not thinking forward or backwards!
Is it right to ask someone to change their behaviors around their hardwired traits?
As you explore your relationships, when you hit a point where you want to ask the other person (or they ask you) to change something, reflect on why you are asking them to change. Here are some questions to consider:
- Are you asking them to change who they are at their core, or just their behaviors?
- Is that person interested in that change? And are they self-aware enough to recognize how they are showing up currently and how they want to show up?
- How committed are they to the change, and can you create a support system for the journey?
- If they aren’t able to make the change, are you willing to stick around?
Change is hard, but we’re all a bit like the aspen leaves. We might change our colors, but that aspen leaf is still an aspen leaf through it all. So it comes down to what are you willing to tolerate in your relationships. And what behaviors are you willing to change for someone else while still staying true to your true self?