When you meet someone you really like, you usually see them through rose-coloured glasses. In those first few love-filled months you’re so enamoured with the way they laugh, how they smell, the sound of their voice, how it feels to be lying next to them in bed that you don’t notice that they leave their dishes in the sink for a fortnight, spend their earnings irresponsibly or let their mother make all their major decisions. We have previously discussed the illusion of perfection and learning to accept your loved one’s flaws, but what if that flaw is a big one that it is driving a wedge between you? Some flaws are not clear deal-breakers, but they can evolve from being a minor annoyance to a major issue before you’ve even realised why you take this bad habit so seriously. Sadly, the truth is that one aspect of an otherwise blissful relationship can undermine the rest of it and threaten your partnership. So – should your partner change, should you get over it or should you simply call the whole thing off?
It’s not me, it’s you
Everyone enters into a relationship with preconceived ideas on where it needs to go – you probably have clear ideas about marriage vs. cohabitation, monogamy vs. polygamy, and dogs vs. cats vs. children. However, most of us have not formulated a rule that says “I will break up with my partner if they get a speeding fine every month which means our budget gets pushed all out of whack”, or “I will end any relationship with someone who won’t make a big deal about my birthday.” Behaviours like this can be annoying, disrespectful and even hurtful, and therefore they harm your relationship. But you still may think to yourself “can I really break up with someone over this?” They aren’t abusive behaviours which are a clear indication that you should walk away at the first opportunity, but they can chip away at the foundations of what you have together.
Sizing things up
The first thing to decide when working out whether or not you need to end it is the size of the flaw you’re dealing with, and you need to be as objective as possible. This is not about determining the extent to which it annoys you; it’s about asking yourself how reasonable your annoyance is. Ask yourself the following questions and have a long think over the answers before you throw a hand grenade under the foundations of your relationship: would everybody think this behaviour was annoying? Does my partner know why this is becoming such a big deal for me? Can we compromise and meet halfway? Am I looking for things to be annoyed about, or do I believe that we can be happy if we sort this issue out? Once you’ve answered these questions you’ll have a better understanding of the issues you’re facing, and then you can really talk about the situation. Most of these kinds of issues – things that are really important to you that are not indicators of serious problems – are something you can work towards resolving.
Changing For the Better
Your partner should want you to be happy, and changing little things for their sake is something everyone in a romantic relationship should expect to do at some point. So, if you’ve realised that your annoyance over a certain issue is really very personal and that many people would let it go – is it still okay to ask your partner to change for you? Well, yes and no. If seeing a person talk with their mouthful is like nails down a chalkboard for you, it’s okay to ask your partner to try to eat more politely. In fact, it might be good for them to focus a little more on improving their dining etiquette. If you’d really like your partner to put more effort into cooking, then by all means ask them to learn a recipe that isn’t beans on toast – this will improve both your lives. But you should also remind yourself that you can’t make your partner elevate the importance of this issue in their own minds, so sometimes they might slip and you’ll have to be okay with that.
But what if you started dating someone who eats meat when you ate meat and now you’ve become vegan and you want your partner to join in this decision? What if you met your partner at the pub but you now want to live an alcohol free lifestyle? This is where things get murkier. There’s nothing wrong with you changing your mind about things and then making changes in your life, but you can’t necessarily expect someone to get on board with you. You can discuss it, sure, but you can’t ask someone to make a big, life altering change just because you have. In these situations, you have to remember that you are with an independent functioning adult with their own thought processes, values and morals. Proceed with caution.
Are You Happy?
Maybe after all this consideration you’ve realised that your preoccupation with this flaw in your partner is just an indication of your unhappiness and dissatisfaction in the relationship. If you fret every time it takes your partner over two hours to text back, it’s unlikely that it’s truly your partner’s communication skills that you’re fretting over. If you blow up every time they forget to recycle a plastic bottle, it’s unlikely that you’re really that angry about landfill. When you’re focusing on nothing but flaws you need to deal with this issue for what it really is. If your partner’s flaw is that they don’t ever make you feel happy, secure and in love then it’s okay to break up with them. Relationships are hard work and if you spend the rest of your life leaving someone because they made bad cups of tea, you may as well give up on love. However, being in a loving relationship is meant make you feel a certain level of contentment and if you’re compromising on that, then move on.
Image from Seinfeld