Asking for changes in a relationship
June 14, 2017 7:28 PM   Subscribe

What things are reasonable versus unreasonable when it comes to asking for changes in a partner?

I'm now 30, and I have had two relationships in my life. Both of my previous partners have complained that I keep on trying to change them. I'm not very experienced in relationships, so I'm not sure what people would generally consider reasonable versus unreasonable changes.

Some examples that I've asked in either relationship would be, not interrupting me while I'm speaking, being on time, quitting smoking, meeting my level of cleanliness, matching my love language, being more romantic, shaving their legs (this was when I was 18, so I know it's ridiculous), becoming more physically fit, being more fashionable, having better hygiene

Is this an issue of me being too picky and overbearing (possible), or was I just terribly incompatible with the two past boyfriends? Conversely, how much should one person change for another? (for example, if I have a new partner who asks me to change for them)
posted by eternallyinfinite to Human Relations (29 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Anything about physical appearance is wholly unacceptable. Bodily autonomy is very important.

People are who they are. Asking someone to be more romantic, if you specifically define what you mean by that, is the only thing on your list that I would consider an OK ask from a partner. That and not being interrupted. The other stuff - you either like it or lump it.
posted by sockermom at 7:38 PM on June 14 [16 favorites]

I think this is complicated but there are kind of two streams here.

The okay stream is that you need some give and take in your hate to be late, and you hate waiting, so please be on time is in that realm. Your love language is gifts so please give you something for your birthday is fine. These are changes that enhance and strengthen your relationship and as long as you also are open to change -- maybe it's okay for your partner to be late if you're at a coffee shop so you can sit down and read -- then it's okay.

But the not-okay stream is that you just want a partner who is X THING and so you keep trying to get the live human being in front of you to be X THING. Fit and fashionable mostly fall in this category for me. Sure, we don't want our partners to be dying of lack of exercise and to be dressed in rags, but really...those are about their image, not yours.

The last thing is quantity. If you are asking for a few things for communication and a few things here and there, ok. But if you have a different request every week or month then...that's on you.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:40 PM on June 14 [18 favorites]

In Al-Anon there's this idea that we're responsible for our stuff and other people are responsible for their stuff and if we are unhappy with something we have no control over (a partner's weight, say), we can suck it up or find another partner.

So when I look at your list, I think it's reasonable to ask a partner to stop interrupting you and to be on time. (My husband used to finish my sentences for me because he thought I took too long to speak. So I started saying, "you owe me a quarter" every time he did it and he learned to stop.) That doesn't mean you can make your partner stop interrupting you or force a partner to be on time, however. That's not really how it works.

In my experience, it's unrealistic to expect someone else to meet your level of cleanliness if that person is more messy. (I was the messier half of a couple and I was never going to be as neat as my husband.) It's also unrealistic to ask someone to stop smoking. You can ask someone to smoke outside, etc., but if you don't want to be around someone who smokes, don't date smokers.

In fact, it's a terrible idea to fall for people whom you then attempt to change. If you want a non-smoking, physically fit, romantic, tidy, polite partner, look for that type of person to date. We are who we are and the worst possible thing you can do is to tell someone, "I love you, now change." That feels like shit. It's not fair to the person you supposedly care about, and it will simply lead to frustration for you. So yes, look for people who are a better fit from the very beginning. Humans are not take-out menus where you get to pick out one from column A, column B, and column C and even make substitutions. We're a total package, with a mix of qualities. You are, too. So keep in mind that whomever ends up loving you gets to put up with behaviours and qualities that aren't always perfect.
posted by Bella Donna at 7:43 PM on June 14 [54 favorites]

I think anything related to changing your partners appearance is totally inappropriate. You could watch out of their health, but not to the point of nagging.

I think you were way out of line with these requests previously. You should be considering your partners inner beauty and emotional needs. You should try not to value their legs if you want them to feel loved (for most people).
posted by Kalmya at 7:45 PM on June 14

I think it's important to consider the difference between dealbreakers and requests for your partner to change. For example, I consider it unreasonable to ask a partner to be more fashionable. What a person wears is their business and it is overbearing to dictate to another person what they can wear. But, it may well be a dealbreaker for you that a partner is not what you consider to be fashionable. That's perfectly fine. You don't need to be in a relationship with them.

It might be productive for you to explore the concept of boundaries in a relationship. I say this as someone who has had to do a lot of work in that area. You don't have control over someone else's body or personal choices. You do have a responsibility to yourself and your needs. Finding the line between the two is really important and productive work.
posted by mcduff at 7:45 PM on June 14 [6 favorites]

not interrupting me while I'm speaking, being on time, quitting smoking, meeting my level of cleanliness, matching my love language, being more romantic, shaving their legs (this was when I was 18, so I know it's ridiculous), becoming more physically fit, being more fashionable, having better hygiene

Out of these I would ask a partner to not interrupt me while I'm speaking. Every other one seems like who they are and all seem at least a little bit insulting to comment on.

I think you should choose people that you like - not try to mold someone into who you like.
posted by ReluctantViking at 7:48 PM on June 14 [3 favorites]

Instead of asking someone to quit smoking, talk about how the smoking is affecting you. Thy're not fun to kiss because they're smoky and their clothes smell. It is fair to ask someone not to smoke in your home (even if it's their home too) You can say you're concerned about their health, but don't keep saying it. And you don't have to kiss them if you don't like it.

Love languages -- I suggest that you tell them what makes you feel loved, and say you would be so pleased if they would do those things when they want to show love. You should also accept the things that THEY feel show love, and appreciate them. If you ask for actions and words that are part of your love language and they don't do them, that means you either have to live without those gestures or find someone new. It's good to ask for specific things -- don't be thinking it doesn't count if you have to ask for it.

Interrupting -- again, it's about how it affects you and your feelings. Say something like, "When you talk over me, it makes me feel like you don't respect me or my point of view." In an unheated moment, talk about a sign you can give or something you'd say to remind them. Some people grew up feeling like it's normal to "interject," so it might take a while. But if they're not willing to let you finish what you're saying, they're not respecting the feelings that you flat out told them about.

Losing weight -- no. Becoming physically fit -- no. Dressing more fashionably -- no.

When you want a behavior to change, think about and express how it makes you feel, or how it impacts you.
posted by wryly at 7:51 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

quitting smoking

I am a former heavy smoker who would not date a smoker now. You should not date a smoker. Smoking is highly addictive, and like any addict, a smoker has to want to quit. They may quit for you for a while, or only sneak cigarettes when you're not around, but it's not going to take if they didn't want to quit in the first place. You might have more luck with someone who wants to quit, but smokers can relapse a lot.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:51 PM on June 14 [14 favorites]

What you need to do is date tidy, non-smoking, fit and fashionable people. The majority of your requests are unreasonable except for the interrupting one because they may not even know they're doing it, and the messiness thing in your space (not theirs).

Most people don't significantly change their habits much after age 30 unless they're forced to or they really, really want to. Even then, it takes a significant amount of effort depending on the habit. For example, most people cannot lose and keep off weight long-term (that's what you really mean by "physically fit," let's be honest). Smoking is addictive. Fashion is subjective and a lot of people don't care about it. You can't make them care.
posted by AFABulous at 8:07 PM on June 14 [11 favorites]

One interesting question is whether you're being asked to supply as much as, to be blunt, you are demanding.
posted by Mr. Justice at 8:19 PM on June 14 [7 favorites]

I think any one of those things on it's own is fine, but all together you obviously just want to be dating a different person.
posted by Toddles at 8:36 PM on June 14 [10 favorites]

It might be helpful to divide these out into things that exist inside your territory vs. things that exist inside your partner's territory vs. things that exist in the middle ground.

Things inside your territory - if your partner is trying to change/violate these, it is absolutely appropriate to ask them to (or demand that they) change their behavior:
- Everything inside your head: your thoughts, fantasies, desires, spirituality, etc.
- Your boundaries about health & physical safety: "Don't touch me in a way that hurts me," "Don't emotionally abuse me," etc.
- Your own bodily autonomy: "Don't pressure me into sexual things I don't want to do," "Don't pressure me into changing the way I dress/groom," etc.
- Your belongings, job, pet, etc: "Don't borrow my car without my permission," "Don't treat my dog that way," etc.

Things in the middle ground - these are kind of in your partner's territory but also kind of in yours. These are sometimes ok to negotiate, but in a working relationship, there needs to be balance. Trying to control or "win" all of these may push you over the line of controlling too much of your partner's territory. If you feel like you have to control lots of these things in order to make your partner acceptable to you, then that person probably isn't a good match for you.
- Personal hygiene: it's their body, but if they are close to you/intimate with you, it may affect you, too -- so in some cases it makes sense to ask for what you need. "When you've been eating durian fruit, could you brush your teeth before you kiss me?"
- Love language / being more romantic: this is a place where your different sets of needs and preferences overlap, and many couples discuss this and negotiate. "I tend to express love through gifts -- which love language are you? Can we find a way to meet each other's needs?"
- Cleanliness in a shared space: again, a place where your needs and overlap, and negotiating is appropriate.
- Being on time, interrupting when you speak: sometimes it may affect you, and so it might be appropriate to negotiate.

Things inside your partner's territory -- Except in very rare situations, these things are "take it or leave it" -- if you don't like these things about your partner, they're not the right person for you. These may be ok to ask your partner to change in a very rare circumstance in a very trusting relationship, but you should always be aware that these are not up to you -- they're up to your partner. Asking your partner to change even one of these to suit your personal taste may rightly be perceived as being inappropriately controlling.
- Everything inside their own head: thoughts, fantasies, desires, spirituality, etc.
- Their boundaries about health & physical safety.
- Their bodily autonomy (even when you perceive their choices to be hurting them): for instance, shaving their legs, becoming more fit, becoming more fashionable. Smoking, drug, and alcohol generally fall in this take-it-or-leave-it category, too.
- Their belongings, their job, their pet, etc.

You might find it useful to do some reading or talk to a therapist about boundaries and relationships, since it seems like you've been wandering over the line into your partners' territory to an uncomfortable point. Some people (and families) do a lot of that, and I guess it works for some -- but if it's not working for you, it might be worth reconsidering. One book you might try is How to Be An Adult in Relationships -- it's really helpful and might give you an alternate model.
posted by ourobouros at 8:41 PM on June 14 [48 favorites]

One interesting question is whether you're being asked to supply as much as, to be blunt, you are demanding.

Yeah I mean some relationships are just a lot more... open to requests than others. I'm in an "ask for a lot; give a lot" type of long term LDR. A lot of the things that me and my partner do for one another or request from one another would be totally not-done within other relationships. I really like routine so we have a fairly set schedule and a pattern to our communication that might seem controlling to others. He has weird sleep patterns so there is a good chunk of the day when we're not interacting because either he or I are asleep which i think a lot of people wouldnt want.

So the question is not quite whether what you're asking is reasonable (people can always say "Nope, not doing it") but how you're asking and whether it's a sort of reciprocal thing. Both those relationships sound like bad fits. I'm not sure what drew you to people you were not-that-aligned with but you can probably find someone more like you. My take on your individual things.

not interrupting me while I'm speaking - fair to ask for, a politeness/manners thing
being on time - it's okay to ask, it's good to have strategies if this is just not a thing that he's able to do
quitting smoking - I'm with others here, don't date smokers (my guy was a smoker, and DID quit but I was hands off the whole time)
meeting my level of cleanliness - you can control your space to a certain extent (i.e. "don't trash the place") and state preferences about his space
matching my love language - the whole thing about LLs is that they match, you can explain what yours is but if they don't subscribe to the general idea it might not go anyplace
being more romantic - again you can state preferences ("I like a guy who sends me love notes") but then you have to leave it
shaving their legs - stating preferences is fine
becoming more physically fit - it's a tough thing to ask for within a relationship. me and my guy are older and when he started having some health issues I prodded him gently to take better care of himself but wasn't like "You need to do this to date me" but more like "Hey I'd like to have a long happy life with you, this would make that more likely"
being more fashionable - preferences for "Hey you look great in that outfit" are better than "You have no fashion sense and I need you to"
having better hygiene - anyone you're having sexytimes with you get some say here, but not a ton of it, it's better to find someone you are a reasonably decent fit with
posted by jessamyn at 8:41 PM on June 14 [5 favorites]

I think these are all reasonable things to ask for, but not expect the requests to be met.

Do not continue dating with the expectation of change. If you are looking for a long term relationship and you do not see yourself with this person long term without them changing, then it's better to not date them or to break up with them if you're already dating.

And as others said, it also depends on how receptive you are to change, and but just the "if you speak my love language, I'll speak yours." But like you want them to be on time and they want to have a more spontaneous schedule. Or you want them to lose weight and they want you to learn to cook Indian food. That kind of give and take.
posted by ethidda at 9:05 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]

You know, I agree with all the stuff about bodily appearance and autonomy, but the fitness/fashion/hygeine stuff makes me wonder. That trifecta, especially the hygeine, makes me think of the archetypal schlubby immature boyfriend who wears khakhi cargo shorts and band tshirts from high school, and wont shower, and wont take care of his health, and wont clean the house, and wont pay attention to the things you need to feel loved, and generally just refuses to be and act like an adult. It's not the one thing that needs to change or is pathological, its the gestalt. By themselves, any of these body/appearance requests like "be more fit" would not be OK to ask, but I wonder if your previous partners were dudes who just were not on board with changing into mature adults and who resented your trying to drag them along with you as you grew up. And the answer to that is what other folks are saying: find someone who is tidy, fit, fashionable, clean, and who speaks your love language. Don't date guys who are "projects" or who aren't on your level and then try to change them into being decent partners. Go after the kind of person who will make you happy.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:50 PM on June 14 [23 favorites]

I also think basically any of these things are OK to discuss/ask for in isolation; especially if they are deal breakers for you and the undesirable thing is something that changed or is getting worse. After all none of us are mind readers and the alternative is to just DTMA kind of out of the blue. The longer/more involved the relationship the more an ask is reasonable. (IE: asking a person on a second date to quit smoking is way over the line; asking your spouse of 25 years - more reasonable). My partner of 20 years and I compromise on these sorts of things all the time while still having things we've asked for that don't happen.

Though I also agree that it's tougher for people to change as they get older; most 30 year olds I know are pretty set in their ways.
posted by Mitheral at 10:01 PM on June 14 [1 favorite]

Judging from previous answers, I'm an outlier here, but for me, it's not a question of what outcome you want but rather what you want me to do to achieve it. I'm willing to put some amount of time, money, and thought into a relationship. I'm happy to negotiate with my girlfriend about how I should best allocate those resources.

So, for example, if you want me to dress more fashionably, I might be willing to do that or not depending on how much work was involved. If you mean, "I'll buy you a new wardrobe and lay out an outfit for you every night and if any of your new stuff needs special laundering I'll take care of that too," great! (Probably. Of course it also depends on how you wanted to dress me.) Whereas if you mean, "I want you to spend a bunch of time and money learning about fashion and assembling a new wardrobe and you'd better not complain about the inconvenience at any point in this process," I would be less enthusiastic.

It also depends on how much this change would benefit you and us. If you wanted me to stop smoking because the leftover smoke on my clothes would trigger asthma attacks, well, I might not be able to stop, but I certainly wouldn't think less of you for asking.

In fact, as I write, I realize these answers are so contingent that it's very hard to give bright-line answers. Under the right circumstances, I could imagine a partner of mine asking for and receiving an organ. It's really a bit odd that so many people here are drawing a bright line at leg hair.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:18 PM on June 14 [8 favorites]

Any of these things is reasonable to want. But, as mentioned above, if they are not the traits that your partner has, finding a new partner is the way to go, not trying to make the person have that trait.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:32 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]

Don't date guys who are "projects" or who aren't on your level and then try to change them into being decent partners.

This! A partner should never be a "fixer upper!" It's not like buying a house where you put in new kitchen cabinets and a coat of fresh paint. What you need to do is find a partner who is tidy, fashionable, takes daily showers, and is considerate, etc. in the first place. Life is not a Judd Apatow movie.

Women are fed this line that it's your job to "save" your partner or, as Mark Twain has Huckleberry Finn say, "sivilze" him, and make him a better person. Nope nope nope! Especially now that you are 30, it's far better to find someone who is your desired level of tidy and fashionable and whatever other qualities you want.

Moonlight On Vermont has a great point about the Immature Schlub phenomenon. (See: Judd Apatow movies!) This might have been what you had to choose from in the boyfriend department at 18, but now that you are 30, there should be plenty of men who are all grown up and don't need to be nagged into daily showers, doing household chores, dressing presentably, and not smoking.

Not interrupting and being on time, on the other hand, are definitely things that you can request changes in. When you start dating a guy who is on your level in other areas (chores, hygiene, etc.) but interrupts or tends to be late, you can request: "Please don't interrupt me." (Bella Donna's "you owe me a quarter!" idea is a good one, too.) "I don't want to miss the start of the movie, so I will go in and find seats whether you are here on time or not."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:28 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]

I think it is OK to ask for all of this stuff, but it is unreasonable to demand all of this stuff. I think jessamyn and d. z. wang have very good points on this. It depends on how much support you are prepared to offer on these things, and how much you are willing to reach a compromise.

If my wife asked me to be more fit, and coupled that with a gift of a gym membership, and a commitment to buy/cook healthy food that I liked when she is in charge of, and a willingness to take on a chore of mine so that I had time to go to the gym, etc. I think that would be great (in fact, if one of you wants to call my wife and get her on that it would be appreciated). I would be pretty upset if she said she wanted me to get in shape and continued to bake amazing cakes and cookies, and make cheeseburgers for dinner, and buy All-Dressed potato chips, etc.

Our love languages match pretty well, but we also both go outside of our own preferences to meet each other's needs in that department, and we have reasonable expectations around what to expect from the other person - there is compromise, not just one of us demanding that the other person meet our needs.

That said, if you find yourself wanting to change all of these things about a person, it is much easier to try and find a person that is closer to your ideal than it is to completely change someone - even if they wanted to change that much, it is not at all easy to do.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:32 AM on June 15 [1 favorite]

In fact, it's a terrible idea to fall for people whom you then attempt to change.

I think this should be reproduced and mounted in strategic places all over the world.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:09 AM on June 15 [8 favorites]

It helps to have an understanding of the differences between how a person behaves, how they feel, and who they are.

If a behavior affects you, you can try to fix it. I want you to turn out the lights when you come to bed after me. That's legit. I'd like to save electricity, so when you come to bed, would you turn out the lights? is more effective. Good morning, tea is ready, thanks for turning out the lights last night. is very effective. Another example You look so good in blue when you hate them in red.

You can respond to feelings. You're worried because Chris got promoted and you didn't? That's troubling. Tell me more.

When it comes to who someone is, the only change will come from within, and rarely. It can be very difficult to see if the person is dishonest, unkind, whatever if they are skilled at hiding it. You can cherish who a person is, celebrate and encourage their best self, but you can't change that.

Your previous bfs helped by telling you how they felt. Asking this is a great step. A therapist might be able to help you be more focused on yourself, have healthy boundaries, and be your own best self.
posted by theora55 at 8:15 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]

Okay, this is actually a little bit more complicated than it may seem. I 100% agree that one should not enter into a relationship as a "fix up project." This is pretty much always going to be a fail, and I think it's not ever an honest emotional connection. If you want "X" but get together with "Y" because they are pretty close and you might be able to mold them to be an "X," that's just acquisition, not love.

But also, even if your loved one seems perfect for you, it's important to note that a critical aspect of a long-term relationship is that it's "long term." One is not suddenly encased in amber once they enter into a relationship. Maybe they had short / long hair, shaved / didn't shave, were a party animal / a homebody, etc when you first start dating ... and then as time passes, their preferences change. That's natural. Staying exactly the same is weird and unlikely.

If you imagine being with somebody over the long term, you must also be able to imagine and accept that they will also become different as time goes on. The younger you are when you get together, the more each of you will eventually change. Sometimes those changes will break the relationship. Sometimes failure to change on one side or the other will break the relationship. Sometimes you bend with the wind and work it out. Sometimes, if you are very lucky (and work hard with stuff like communication and respect), you will change in ways that remain complementary and loving. But no matter what, long term, the other person will change. And so will you.

Asking someone to commit forever to shaving their legs is not reasonable. Asking them to dress a certain way always is not reasonable. Asking them to look exactly one way is not reasonable. Asking them to treat you with respect is always reasonable. Asking them to care for their health is reasonable. Asking them to meet some sort of physical standard you arbitrarily set is not reasonable. Asking them to communicate in a loving / caring way is reasonable. Asking them to communicate in this one certain way that is how you prefer to communicate is not reasonable. Asking anyone to adhere to some static spreadsheet of desired traits / appearance is never, ever reasonable.

The confusing but true advice is: don't commit to someone expecting to change them, and don't commit to someone expecting they will never change. In the best of worlds, you help each other work it all out and you change together, not in exactly the same ways, but in a loving confluence.

/coming up on 27th anniversary
posted by taz at 1:47 PM on June 15 [12 favorites]

We're the same age, and I have also asked for the same things (except for the leg shaving lol) and I haven't had a problem with my current partner complying. What he has expressed, though, is the way in which I go about asking for what I want is all wrong. I become demanding he says, and tell him what's going to happen instead of asking him nicely. I think this has something to do with emotional immaturity, and perhaps arrogance. I have done a great deal of self-reflection since the aforementioned conversation took place and I think I'm a lot more considerate now. I hope so at least. He seems much happier. Perhaps your delivery is harsh, or you are unaware of how demanding you seem. I too require that my partner be diligent about personal hygiene, this is an absolute for me if he wants any intimacy in the relationship. It's not unreasonable to ask your partner to pay closer attention to cleaning themselves, but it is rude and even hurtful to approach it harshly and judgmentally. There is an entire book written on this subject about effective communication entitled "It's the Way You Say It." But I would also add that apart from being articulate and clear, particularly in romantic relationships, compassion and tact are essential. You have to increase your emotional intelligence, and predict how he will react to your requests. Will be become defensive, will you offend him? How might you encourage positive change without making demands? There are conflicting opinions on what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to influencing one's partner. There are books written for women who want to 'train' their husbands/partners with rewards, that is, they teach women how to appeal to a man's ego and pleasure center to get what they want from them. Some people view this as being incredibly manipulative and wrong, others think it's just the way you get what you want in life, give a little get a little. An example: "Babe will you scrub up in the shower for me and help me get the house clean so we can relax comfortably tonight, I think I'd like a massage." So in that case the reward is the potential for sex, and the argument is that he will be motivated to make his partner happy so that she will give him the sex. "You turn me on so much when you fix things. Watching your arms get all vascular and seeing you like that makes me ____." In this scenario the woman is appealing to her partner's ego and his sexuality, and the idea is that he will derive pleasure from and be motivated to fix more things around the house in the future to get the same reward. It's similar to the idea of a shit sandwich. When you deliver bad news, it's always better to put the bad news in the middle and start and end with positives. "I love you so much, (bread) I just wish you wouldn't smoke (shit) because I want you to live a long healthy life with me (bread)."
posted by Avosunspin at 12:29 AM on June 16

^ I was successful in replacing my current partner's worn down and child-like wardrobe with the reward system. I expressed that I would like for him to have some nicer clothes for date nights, and so that his style would complement mine. At first he was incredibly resistant to the idea. I think he feared that his identity was tied to his clothes, and that I was trying to strip him of this identity. Eventually to make me happy he agreed to go shopping with me, but he expressed that he wanted to pick out the clothes. I ended up picking them all out and he ended up enjoying me swooning over how nice he looked. In the end he was pleased with the result, because he now struts around like a peacock with a smirk on his face in his nice clothes. It wasn't something he thought would make him happy, but surprise surprise, looking nice and pleasing me gives him a rush. So sometimes you just have to keep asking, and let your partner know that they might actually enjoy the outcome. There's nothing wrong with a woman wanting to polish up her mate, I think all women do it to some extent. Just be kind about it
posted by Avosunspin at 12:42 AM on June 16

Thank you everyone, I read all of your comments, and they were quite helpful. I suspected that my boundaries were a bit messed up. ourobouros kind of guessed it - almost everyone in my mother's side of the family has no boundaries. My mother (and also my aunts and my grandmother to their respective spouses) nags at my father a lot about everything he does. My first boyfriend, who I was with from age 17 to 25, in the end tried to mold me (e.g., change my appearance, my fitness, become more outgoing) into the girl with whom he was having an emotional affair with (and yes, he complained about me wanting to change him!). So I really have no frame of reference for what is appropriate - from my family, nagging and control is normal, and the first relationship messed me up a lot. I borrowed the book, How to Be An Adult in Relationships, and have started reading it. I will certainly have more relationship questions later, as I try to figure this stuff out so I don't make the same mistake in the end (second boyfriend left me a few days ago because I tried to change him too much)
posted by eternallyinfinite at 7:48 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

Eternallyinfinite: Here is my take on your (deleted) follow-up question about knowing if someone really loves you.

For me this answer has two parts: the first is about picking a partner whose actions show that they value the relationship, the second is about our need for control.

Talk is cheap. A person who says 'I love you' but doesn't operate as though you and your relationship are important doesn't value you. In actions, I think the small consistent things are the most telling. Does s/he take time to learn your preferences and try to meet them (not just when it is convenient)? Is there give and take in things that you both hold dearly? Is this equitable and given without guilt or drama? A relationship needs adults who consistently work together to strengthen their bond. It needs acceptance and ability to adapt from both people. Partners need to accept each other and work to be their best selves for the relationship. And the needs of the relationship change with time.

The second piece stems from acknowledging our desire to control or guarantee the future. 'Love' isn't a guarantee that you won't be left. No one can promise to love you forever, because no one can accurately promise the future. You can promise to work together. You can realistically promise things in the mid-term. But promising something forever is a gamble at best or a lie at worst. So there aren't magic signals someone can send to show you that they really will be there forever, because that isn't possible. Looking for those signals is you trying to manage your worries about being left or trying to ease your worries about the unknown.

My suggestion is you keep working on yourself (mentally, emotionally, financially, socially), so that if you find yourself alone you are still in good company. You take joy in being in a partnership that works for you and where you work for each other. And you decide that you cannot control the future.
posted by Sauter Vaguely at 9:22 AM on June 19 [3 favorites]

Follow up question (which was suggested to be posted here rather than as a new thread)

How do you know if your partner loves you (a bit complicated)?

I've come to the conclusion that I don't think that I'm simply choosing people without the traits I want and am trying to mold them to the "perfect" person - I think the issue is that I want them to change for me to show that they love me. I suspect that even if I find someone that theoretically has all the qualities I want, I'll still find something and push this person to make these changes until he can't take it anymore and leaves.

So, I want to know, first of all, how can I stop doing this? And I'd like to know why I do this, but I think that requires a therapist, although if anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear it. Any advice (besides the therapy option), or suggested books would be helpful.

Second, in a healthy relationship, how do you know or what signs do you have that your partner loves you? I don't trust the words, since my first boyfriend said "I love you" a lot but at the same time, he also called me a crazy bitch because I didn't want him to spend time with the girl who he ended up falling in love with ... so ... ಠ_ಠ
posted by eternallyinfinite at 7:48 PM on June 20

1. You never really know know, you know? Part of love is trust. Actions speak louder than words - pay attention to what they do, not what they say. Pay attention to how you are treated. And pay attention to how you are treating them, which leads me to...

1a. You can stop doing this by not dating for awhile and working on yourself. Reading some good books about love might help. I suggest AskMe's perennial favorite, How to be an adult in relationships. A little bit woo, but take what you like and leave the rest. I think some of the ideas -- acceptance, allowance -- are really helpful for issues of control, which is what changing someone hinges on. Finally...

2. In a healthy, loving relationship, your partner does not call you names. Especially not "crazy bitch" or variants thereof. I am sorry that happened to you. Also, in a healthy, loving relationship, your partner does not try to change you.

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 10:30 AM on June 21 [1 favorite]

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