For some reason, many of us are guilty of looking for a partner who needs to be “fixed”–someone in need of help or growth. Too frequently I’ve listened to girls tell me about her latest beau and all of his problems that she plans on helping him tackle, how she will make him change (for his sake, of course). There are few worse ways to enter a relationship.
Love is about acceptance. When you decide to have a relationship with someone, whether it be a friendship or romance, you agree to take the good with the bad, to accept faults and to appreciate strengths. If you look at a person as a project, the relationship is likely to fail or, at the very least, to have a rocky foundation. True change comes from within, not from a nagging girlfriend. A person has to be ready to change, to make that decision on his or her own, otherwise, that “change” is likely to be shallow and superficial. I know from experience…
I have always had a very strict rule about not dating smokers. Smoke gives me headaches and, frankly, I do not want to be around someone who may be poisoning my lungs with his habit, let alone kiss an ashtray. You can imagine how shocked and upset I was when a month into dating I discovered my now-husband, Jesse, was a smoker. Until that moment, he had never smoked in front of me and had agreed with my tirades about smoking (because, of course, he agreed that it is a terrible habit, omitting the fact that he took part it in). The night I found out that I was dating a smoker, I struggled and I debated ending the relationship. Luckily for the both of us, our hearts had already recognized the significance of the other (we were in love) and I decided that I needed Jesse in my life. Friends advised me to give him an ultimatum: me or smoking. Thankfully, I recognized that changing his lifestyle should be his decision and should come on his own terms. All I needed to do was figure out if I could wholly accept him; could I adapt myself to make the relationship successful? I knew I had to try.
The following morning when we talked, I assured Jesse that my hasty departure was because of personal qualms and not because of him. I explained my feelings to him, but that all I expected from him was common courtesy: don’t smoke around me. Because he already wouldn’t smoke around friends who disliked his habit, he agreed.
For the most part, Jesse respected my request. Yet, as with any challenge, there were moments where our agreement was broken (I won’t pretend to be perfect; I make mistakes more than once too) and we would argue. To me, however, the disagreement was not about the smoking but it was about breaking a promise to me. My friends’ advice to pose an ultimatum would not have resolved the true issue of broken trust.
Nine months into our relationship, as we moved in together, Jesse decided to give up cigarettes. He would still smoke a pipe at work, but he didn’t want to be tempted at home to break my trust. A month into our marriage, unbeknownst to me, he stopped bringing his pipe to work with him. It was only a few weeks after that he confided in me that he was finally ready to be done with smoking. He was ready to make the change.
A year and a half later, Jesse is still smoke-free. I feel confident that if I had pushed him into quitting earlier, he would not have been as successful. He needed to make the decision.
Before you decide that someone is a project or you give an ultimatum, be sure to take a look at your role in the relationship. Love is about acceptance. If you can’t accept someone as is, it is probably you who needs to change. Either change your outlook on that person or recognize that that person may not be the one for you at that moment in your life. It’s okay if someone’s lifestyles are not compatible with yours. It is not okay to force change on someone in the name of love.
Love is about acceptance. Change is a personal decision.