Why Changes in Relationships Are Completely Healthy

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Getting the Love You Want" by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Have you hit a rough patch in your relationship? How can making changes mend your relationship?

In Getting the Love You Want, Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt suggest that you and your partner need to make changes to fulfill your needs. These changes are important for personal growth.

Here’s how to effectively make changes in relationships so you and your partner can be happier.

Mutual Transformation

Through a process of self-discovery, you can become more aware of the unconscious drives that led you to seek out and create a loving bond. More importantly, you can also learn to understand your partner’s unspoken needs. This is where the hard part begins: making complex changes in relationships.

When a relationship is in crisis, we often wish our partner would change to meet our own desires. In a relationship where the couple is conscious allies, we commit to changing ourselves to meet our partner’s deepest needs.

Hendrix and Hunt provide a tool to facilitate gradual transformation: the “Behavior Change Request Dialogue.”

  • In this dialogue, one person brings up a broad-ranging desire that is followed by specific, actionable requests.
  • The other partner can then choose from the options and agrees to follow through on one of the requests.
  • The requests are made in the form of a scripted dialogue, with mirroring, validation, and empathy for each other.

Through this process, you and your partner will make incremental changes to your behavior. However, the Behavior Change Request is not transactional. Any changes you make must be done so freely, as a gift. The fact that you can choose whether or which changes to make ensures that you don’t give up personal autonomy.

It will be easier for you to meet some requests for change than others. According to Hendrix and Hunt, the requests that spark the strongest resistance are those that touch on areas where you have the greatest need for growth. Part of your resistance to making changes may be rooted in the feeling that you’re violating a rule or taboo set by your parents. If you feel resistance to your partner making changes, your caregivers may have taught you that you weren’t worthy of receiving love in that way.

As you and your partner make gradual changes, you create a cycle of mutual growth. By changing yourselves to meet your partner’s needs, you fill in the pieces of your own Lost Self.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Mutual Dependence

It may appear at first glance that Hendrix and Hunt are promoting codependency, in which someone has an unhealthy reliance on their partner for their own emotional well-being. In Codependent No More, Melody Beattie encourages codependent people to detach from their toxic partners and learn to take care of themselves.

This seems to argue directly against the type of bond that Hendrix and Hunt wish to create. However, it should be noted that a truly codependent relationship does not meet two of the basic requirements for a couple taking part in Imago Relationship Therapy: that both partners commit to the therapy process, and that they create a safe space within the relationship for growth and expression.

An Alternate View: Negotiation as a Model

While Hendrix and Hunt stress that personal growth shouldn’t be tit-for-tat, many couples therapists adopt a more traditional negotiation approach (each side giving something) to make changes in relationships. The Gottman Institute recommends that couples discuss their emotional needs using a tool developed by the Harvard Negotiation Project that embodies the following principles:

  • Appreciation for each other’s point of view
  • Affiliation between partners, not adversaries
  • Autonomy to set your own personal boundaries
  • Status between partners recognized as being equal
  • Role of two parties working toward compromise

While there is certainly some overlap between modern couples’ negotiation methods and Hendrix and Hunt’s behavior change process, it was the authors’ experience of the failure of the older, quid pro quo model of negotiation that led them to devise another way.

The Success Rate of Change

Anyone who’s ever tried to quit smoking or go on a diet knows how hard it is to make permanent changes. Polls on the success of people attempting to make personal changes vary wildly. They show failure rates from 50% to as much as 96%. However, the results do show that there are ways to influence your individual outcome.

In Switch, business experts Chip and Dan Heath explain that to successfully make a lasting change, you must engage your emotions and your rational mind, while adapting the environment around you to support the change you want to make. If applied faithfully, Hendrix and Hunt’s behavior change method addresses all three of these criteria.

Why Changes in Relationships Are Completely Healthy

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  • Why rifts often open between your romantic partner and yourself
  • How your childhood defines your future relationships
  • How a struggling couple can learn to talk to each other, heal, and grow

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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