They are among the most harmful words ever uttered or thought – “You should be different.”

I have spoken them directly, implied them indirectly, or thought them in a dark little corner of my mind, more times than I care to remember.

It is always destructive to suggest that there is something wrong with you and, in order for our relationship to survive, you need to change.

Of course there is a minimum requirement of safety and basic human respect that is essential in any relationship. But all too easily, I cross over from the minimal requirements essential to any reasonably healthy relationship into territory where my wish takes on the status of a sacred right and an obdurate demand.

“I need you to…” is the destroyer of relationship.

Within the bounds of safety and sanity, if there is something in our relationship I find uncomfortable, irritating, or unsatisfactory, I need to resist the inclination to point a finger at your shortcomings demanding that you change in order for me to feel comfortable. You may be living below the level of goodness, truth, beauty, openness, generosity, and tenderness for which you were created. That is your problem.

As long as your choices are not personally damaging to me, my problem is not your behaviour, but the condition of my own inner life. Before anything else, all my relationships are about my inner journey.

Am I seeking to be more honest and open with myself and with you? Am I willing to acknowledge my fear and live authentically in the face of my own vulnerability? Do I take responsibility for my own inner state and resist the temptation to project my unhappiness, loneliness and dissatisfaction on to you? Am I willing to see our struggle as an opportunity to grow and deepen in my own ability to be a loving, open, genuine person?

There may come a time when it is necessary for me to walk away. But, until that day has clearly arrived, my task is to take responsibility for my own inner space. I need to find that place within myself where I can be with life exactly as it is in this moment and with you as you are right now. I need to surrender any demand that you change to suit me.

All my human relationships offer me the opportunity for growth. If I take the challenge, I will begin to open more deeply and encounter the hidden strength that is my true nature. This is not an easy road.

Human relationships always involve pain.

It hurts to let go of my determination that life should conform to my wishes. It is hard to give up the illusion that you are going to magically transform into the person I want you to be. A measure of grief is inevitable in any relationship that goes deeper than my relationship to the cashier at the grocery store. Lasting intimacy requires a willingness to embrace inevitable loss. But, I will never move to a new place within myself until I accept the pain and stop demanding that you fill up my loneliness by being different than you are.

People seldom change by being pushed. I am powerless to change you anyway. The harder I push, the more likely it is that your resistance will grow and deepen.

When I lay down my demand that you be different, something inside me opens. A new strength and depth begin to bloom. I move to a place from which I make wiser and more life-giving choices, no matter what my circumstances may be. Then, regardless of the outcome, I will always grow and move forward with renewed light and wisdom.

Only gentleness opens the space for growth to emerge in either of us.

The fourteenth century Persian poet Hafiz captures beautifully the wisdom of non-resistance that enables beauty to emerge.

The Rose – Hafiz (1325-1390)

How did the rose
dare open her heart
and give to the world
all her beauty?

She felt the encouragement of light
against her being.


we all remain
too frightened.

from The Gift, Poems by Hafiz, the Great Sufi Master, translated by Daniel Ladinsky, Compass, Penguin Books, 1999

If I open to “the encouragement of light/ against” my being, no matter what happens, I will prosper. When I move through my insecurity and trust that you too can be touched by the same “light”, the chemistry of our relationship will shift towards that light. When I allow the reality of our relationship to work in me, I will always end up in a better place.