Navigating change in romantic relationships
Most of us mortals say we are open to change, but we are attached to the comfort of knowing. We want to know what comes next, and we want to know what””and who””can be relied on. Navigating this desire is especially hard when it comes to romantic relationships. Being wedded to our expectations of loved ones presents challenges, largely because we are not static beings.
Just as nature is ever-changing, so are we. Just as organisms, stars, and galaxies are in constant flux, so are we. Our thoughts, our emotions, and even our physical chemistry are in states of constant transformation. Consider the anatomy of our bodies. Every second of every day the cells in our bodies are dividing. Cells are dying and being replaced. We are constantly recreating ourselves, unknowingly, which means we are continuously, effortlessly, and involuntarily changing””whether we like it or not.
In a committed romantic relationship, we seldom discuss the impermanence of who we are, yet it impacts the way we communicate and relate to each other on a profound level. We often carry an unspoken conviction that our beloved is going to remain the same or evolve along the same trajectory and timeline as us. But that rarely happens. People grow at their own pace, and many things can catalyze change in a person. The death of a parent or an illness, for instance, can transform someone or trigger an existential crisis. The resulting grief can be conspicuous or hidden, bubbling up in different guises, perhaps even pushing one deeper onto a spiritual path. There are certain thresholds we cross in life after which we know we can never be the same. Yet so often we masquerade as though we are the same, unwilling to grapple with inner conflict or the discomfort that can come with change, even if change is integral to our evolution.
We also carry the silent belief that the love we have for each other will remain the same. But love changes, just as we do. The way we feel about a person at the beginning of a relationship is transient, characterized by infatuation and excitement. It’s breathless, all-consuming, and therefore unsustainable, which is why that initial love””if the couple remain together for the long-term””ultimately transitions to a different kind of love, a lasting companionship love, often fostered after enduring chaos, conflict, and other challenges together. There are many variations and stages in between, but the point is that our feelings are not static, fixed things. If the relationship is healthy, the love changes and deepens as we grow and evolve.
When I explore the notion of impermanence in relation to my current partner, I am reminded that change is the nature of the universe. The Bhagavad Gita (or Gita, as it is known for short), the holiest of Hindu scriptures, considered by Eastern and Western scholars alike to be among the greatest spiritual books ever written, alludes to the impermanence of everything except the soul. It teaches us that the only place of unchanging truth is internal, when we come into alignment with the Self.
The soul passes through many incarnations with everything around it in a constant state of change: environments, physical sensations, emotions””even bodies: “The Self discards its used bodies and puts on others that are new.” This is of course the foundation of Hinduism: reincarnation. Whether or not you believe in the rebirth of the soul, I would argue that once we embrace the importance of self-realization, of being connected to our inner source, the divine inside””however you want to call it””the more likely we are to pick a good partner for ourselves and the better chance we have of forging a strong, lasting bond with that person, especially if they are committed to doing inner work as well. That is the basis of any healthy relationship, allowing us to better withstand any upset caused by undesired change, all of which is inevitable and out of our control.
I met my partner in July 2018 after a long bout of soul-searching, a nine-month detox from dating in which I “fasted” from romantic love in order to focus on myself. Exactly a year later we had a baby together. It was an unplanned but welcome pregnancy, which catalyzed many changes in our lives.
There were plenty of ups during that first year: a paradisiac trip to the Caribbean, our engagement, the doubling of our circle of friends and family by merging our lives, the arrival of our beautiful baby girl. But there were also some downs: career stresses, financial pressures, family discord, health complications, and the friction of two virtual strangers set in their ways moving in together and adjusting to a new living arrangement. It has been a roller coaster””we went from instant physical attraction to domestic squabbles over things like dishwasher usage to the otherworldly love that comes with the creation of new life and sharing the humbling responsibility of parenthood.
Just as love changes from relationship to relationship, the love between us has changed, and it continues to deepen and expand as we learn to accept each other as imperfect, well-intentioned humans navigating life as best we can. Instead of questioning this love or trying to preserve it in a certain way, I try to trust it and allow it to be moody and unfold on its own, without being attached to it being a certain way. To paraphrase a verse from the Gita, he who remains unattached to all things is a man of firm wisdom.
While challenging, it’s liberating to accept that change is constant and practicing non-attachment is essential. The Gita says that attachment can lead to desire, anger, confusion, weakness of memory, and then weakness of understanding and intellect, which is akin to ruin. When I am angry at my partner, I express it but then I let it go, not holding on to a grudge as I know it does not serve us. When I accept that the anger is temporary, a passing emotion, it makes it easier. Of course it’s difficult to always be mindful, but ultimately, when we surrender our attachments, we experience inner peace.
On the days that I am really “awake,” I accept that my partner and I are changing beings who have chosen to embark on the beautiful, challenging journey of parenthood together. If we were ever in denial that change is a fact of life, now we are reminded of it on a daily basis. Every day we can see our daughter growing and changing before our eyes. As she grows, changes, and learns new things, so do we.
Instead of resisting impermanence, we do our best to surrender to it. Attempting to harmonize with the things that come our way feels like a wiser way to live. When we set aside our fixation on intended outcomes, we step into the flow of life. That is where the real magic is, and it’s not temporary. It is always there, whether or not we are awake enough to realize it.
About the Contributor
Natasha Scripture is a poet, health coach, and author of Man Fast: A Memoir, which was published by Amazon / Little A in June 2019. She has worked for a variety of organizations, including the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera English, TED, National Geographic, and Condé Nast Publications, and been published in the New York Times, The Telegraph, Marie Claire, Glamour, Sydney Morning Herald, Boston Globe, and The Atlantic, among other publications.