Dear Rabbi Bernath,
After being in a relationship for a few years, it has changed, and we have changed. How do we get back to what we were, or find a new dynamic that works when things don’t seem to work?
Thank you so much for your question. The fact that you are brave enough to admit that your relationship has changed shows that you are committed to each other, which is a rare thing these days.
Many of us experience what you are going through in some way. Even someone who’s in a new relationship might be thinking ahead, asking, “What happens if we change?”
We dealt with a similar question not long ago. That reader asked how to rekindle the love when external things (work, kids, life) have sucked it away somehow.
But what you’re asking is different. You’re portraying two people who are still in love, but have changed on the inside. And while they may still have feelings for each other, they’ve lost the ability to interact. It’s really easy to confide in friends or continue to live two separate lives. This is a great opportunity to put your relationship first.
Before we can answer your question, we need to ask something more fundamental: what are the traits that all people can be measured against, and how do they change over a lifetime? If we can crack that nut, maybe we can find an answer to your question.
In the works of the Kabbalah, we learn that human beings are created with certain proclivities, but that they can steadily shift due to one’s environment.
Modern psychology has also discovered these Kabbalistic attributes within the human psyche, which are based on the 10 “sefirot,” or “channels” with which God is believed to interact with the world. Since mankind is created in God’s image, our own personalities can be understood the same way as His. Psychology calls them the Big Five personality traits. I won’t get into detail about them right now, or about how they connect to Kabbalah, but I will say that they provide lots of useful insights to help us understand how people interact and change.
Search for it on Google right now, read about the Big Five and take a reputable-looking Big Five personality test. It will tell you how you score on agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, extraversion and neuroticism. Realize that whenever you meet – or marry – anyone whose score on an attribute is very different than yours, you will have a conflict. But that isn’t always a bad thing – not at all.
Everybody’s unique mix of attributes defines, to some extent, how they interact with their partner. We need sameness for stability; we need conflict for growth and excitement. When you meet and marry someone, you’re marrying into the mix that works for you.
And then, ever so slowly, one of you changes.
According to a 2003 study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley, people typically get more agreeable and conscientious with age, and less open. But on an individual level, the changes can vary – a lot.
So, sit down with your partner. Take the test, individually. Compare your answers. Now, think about the beginning of your relationship. Did anything change from then to now? Would either of you have scored very differently 20 years ago?
For example, if you’re lacking excitement (which may result from a personality contrast), you’ll need to find a new attribute in which to discover that contrast. A husband may once have been exciting because he was a bit compulsive and improvised, but now he’s not. Maybe he’s still an extrovert, unlike you. Putting yourselves into more social situations is going to make him seem a lot more exciting – just like he used to be. If stability is lacking, get into more situations where your existing similarities will shine.
This is just one tool you can use to begin the discussion. Nothing worthwhile in life is effortless.
Have a question for Rabbi Bernath? Email him at [email protected]