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My partner has changed: How to authentically meet changes in your long-term partner?

The person you fell in love with is different from the person you live with today. Not only have you changed over the years, but so has your partner. It's an obvious fact: the longer you're in a relationship, the more you'll have experienced with your partner. All these experiences have an impact on the way you and your partner feel closer or further away from one another today.

As you are constantly evolving, the most important thing is that you understand and embrace that reality, rather than resisting it. If you cling to certain ways of feeling and being with your partner, the consequence will be disconnection. As soon as you wish things were "as they were" or use phrases like "I miss the person I fell in love with", you are resisting change instead of accepting it. Yet, only through acceptance of what is, change can happen.

It's not change that's the challenge of a long-term relationship, it's how you manage change and adapt to it together.

Imagine the following: Two strands of ivy growing upwards along the wall of an old building. Have you ever seen two strands of ivy growing parallel to each other, from the bottom to the roof? I don't think I have. On the way to the roof, the sprigs of ivy cross each other, move apart and come together again, and so on. This example leads us to an important recognition for any long-term relationship: Trust to give space for individual growth.

Allowing space for individual growth and learning is crucial to sustaining a long-term relationship. Yet, sometimes the changes in our partners can frighten us, and it's understandable that we want to re-establish familiarity in moments like this. A good approach is to own and openly share your uncertainties and fears about changes in your partner in a conversation with them. This type of conversation is very effective, because it allows you to feel genuine empathy for each other about the change you are both experiencing, from your own point of view.

Unfortunately, more often than not, we don't have such conversations when they are most needed. Instead, we express our fear of the observed changes by judging them, getting angry or trying to control the other. We then say things like: "You're never home!", "Where have you been?", "This new hobby is far too expensive!" It's really sad, because what we want to say is "I miss you." "I miss spending time with you." "I miss knowing you more than anyone else." We want to be closer to our partner, but we drive them further apart in our desperate attempt to express our unfulfilled needs through judgement.

A 'mantra' that can help you relax in the face of changes in your partner might be the following statement: I'm here to support you connect with the person you want to be. This means that I'm not trying to promote the potential I see in you, but the potential you see in yourself.

If you don't know what the partner wants to learn, what they are longing for, how their values and intentions are changing and who they really are, I encourage you to be curious. Which brings us to a key element that helps us cope with change in our relationship with our partner. Curiosity about each other and our shared life is one of the strongest glues that keep relationships not just together, but happily together. Not understanding your partner, their new passions and way of being is not a bad thing. It's simply an invitation to be curious. Nurturing and cultivating curiosity in a relationship can be an amazing asset, especially in the face of change, because it can encourage us to overcome resistance and turn it into openness to the unknown.

So, to leave you with a random every-day-example; the next time your partner wants to follow their new passion for, let's say, clay pigeon shooting; be curious. Yes, even if you identify as a pacifist and part of you feels like throwing up - be curious. You might like it to your own utter surprise. Or you might not. However, even if you don't like it, take a few seconds to glance at your partner's face before ranting about their poor choice for a Saturday afternoon programme. The smile on their face might be enough for you to go home smiling too.

By accepting your differences, talking honestly, welcoming the unknown and supporting the others' own potential beyond your own fears and uncertainties, your relationship can keep growing through and with change. And if you don't fully understand the changes in your partner, then don't worry - then you have just found more reasons to be curious about.

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