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This is one of the most significant struggles about being in a relationship of any length. We approach and commit to people based on a set of criteria we have. As with making a significant purchase, like a car or a home, there will be some characteristics about our partners that we will not appreciate, but are willing to live with – and some that are non-negotiable. Many of us will take our time committing to someone so that we can be as certain as possible that we can balance compatibility with the differences, the compatibility hopefully outweighing the differences. Unfortunately, we seem to forget – or deny – that people can change. And, as the couples I mentioned above and countless others have discovered, there are no guarantees in relationships. Change is, ironically, the only constant. When couples do not acknowledge the changes taking place, avoid addressing them directly, or simply rail against them, it is much more likely that the relationship will not last.

Partners also need to balance between being individuals with being partners. On the one hand, every individual has the right to do whatever she or he wishes. Yet when a person’s decisions affect another person’s life, decisions cannot be made in a vacuum or without careful consideration of their consequences on the relationship. It is important to remember that relationships are work. For a relationship to succeed, both partners must want it to succeed. Any partner who meets a change in her or his partner with, "fine, then I’m going to…" or, "if you do this, I may not be here" is not looking to reach a compromise or consider why her or his partner wants to make this change, but is, rather, looking to stop the partner from changing. If that were to be the case, the issue in the relationship may be less about the change(s) being made, and more about power dynamics. And relationship counseling would definitely be merited.

Sometimes, couples discover that they have changed too much to stay together, and that they would each be best in relationships with other people. Again, couple’s counseling can help to ensure that the end of the relationship comes – ideally, of course – as respectfully as possible. Having children can make this option much more difficult to consider, let alone exercise.

So, what happened to the couples listed above?

Couple number one divorced. They did fine when they were able to joke together about the opposing political party’s views, but when they turned their dismissive attitudes toward each other, the relationship rolled downhill to an unpleasant demise.

Couple number two decided they wanted to stay together. To deal with their differences around physical attraction, they chose to open their sexual relationship with very specific guidelines and rules pertaining to safer sex, emotional care, and more. They have been together now for 20 years.

Couple number three are "working on it." They were in couple’s counseling for a while, didn’t feel like it was helping, and are considering going back. They are intentionally doing more things together without the children around, trying to find their way back to the compatibility they’d had before the children came into their lives. They do want their relationship to be a success, and with that as the motivating factor, they will hopefully find a healthier way of communicating and maintaining their relationships.

There is a vast number of books available about relationships, some better than others. Please know, however, that an issue as complicated as this one cannot be solved by reading a book. Connecting with a couple’s counselor who comes highly recommended would be your best course of action.