When Relationships Start to Change – Dig in or Duck out?

Being in a romantic relationship is an emotional journey of self-discovery and co-regulation. Often it is these relationships where we come face to face with our triggers, challenges, shortcomings, and strengths. So, it is natural that these relationships also take us through highs and lows. As with any relationship, romantic relationships also go through change over time. However, unlike other relationships, these changes often leave the ones involved in the romantic relationship feeling a range of intense emotions.

So, if you’ve ever asked yourself the question – “How do I cope with the change in my relationship? Do I hold on tighter? Or is this a sign to move out?”, you’ve come to the right place for some clarity.

Romantic Relationships: What makes them different?

As a psychologist, I find myself often thinking about the factors of a romantic relationship that make it so much different in experience, than other relationships. Clients have helped in easing my curiosity; there is more at stake in a romantic relationship, more investment of time and effort, increased reliability, increased pressure for the relationship to succeed, and a host of other reasons.

Research finds that romantic experiences and the following relationships are important contributors to a positive self-concept, leading to increased feelings of emotional bonding and social integration. We have plenty of evidence pointing to the impact romantic relationships have on our physical and psychological well-being.

Knowing what we know now, it is easier to understand why any changes in this relationship; by virtue of time or the individuals involved in the relationship, can lead to feelings of uncertainty, fear, apprehension, anxiety, loss, hope, and everything else in between.

Making the Call: Dig in or Duck Out?

We are all intuitively aware that relationships change. However, being in the thick of change is a trying time. If you or a partner(s) are going through a period of change in your relationship, the first thing to do is recognise and remind yourself that this is a normal and necessary part of the process. What would a relationship be without change? We’re all familiar to some capacity with stagnant, stuck relationships that feel like they are heading nowhere. Change is a near absolute necessity in a relationship.

Once it’s been established that the relationship is changing, comes the task of acceptance. You might find yourself needing support to accept or reckon with this in your own relationship. Psychologists work extensively with distress arising from relationships and you can rest assured this is as valid a reason as any to reach out for the support you need.

Often our resistance can teach us important lessons about our triggers and areas of improvement. Once the change is accepted, most couples look toward the task of adaptation to said change. Adapting to the impact of the changes in the relationship is a challenging task as it can bring up insecurities and create conflict between partners. There are some questions you can ask of yourself, your partner(s), and the shared relationship at this stage;
What part of the relationship is changing?
How is this change felt by both partners?
What emotions does this bring up for each partner?
Are partners able to regulate the emotions that are coming up?
What conflict is this leading to? How are the partners communicating through this conflict?
This is also the stage at which couples seek out couples counselling or relationship therapy to help address both their individual emotions and shared experience.

However it is made, the decision to end a relationship is hardly ever simple. This can lead to feelings of guilt, pain, embarrassment, failure, hopelessness, among others. Alternatively, the decision to dig in and continue the partnership in the face of change is also not made easily. This could require compromise on your part over something you find challenging or require you to develop parts of you you are not fully comfortable broaching.

One thing is true regardless; active decision making at the cusp of change in a relationship is the only approach that empowers all parties involved.