How to Preserve Your Relationships When Circumstances Change

Photo: Bailey Weaver

When circumstances change, relationships can suffer. Couples, families, and friends may have a difficult time adjusting to new realities — even improved ones.

Life's milestones and events that bring joy, such as a graduating from college, landing a great job, having a baby, winning a business contract, or gaining professional recognition, might strain relationships just as much as losses can. Routines are disrupted, professional and personal commitments grow (or decline), and the ways in which you connect with loved ones on a daily basis are different.

Even strong bonds can be threatened by altered circumstances. Here are ways to navigate changes and preserve healthy relationships. (See also: 25 Ways to Communicate Better Today)

Before Change Happens 

Planning for actual changes and feelings associated with change is useful. But you can not be prepared for every situation that might occur. So, anticipate that the unexpected may happen and expect that you may feel uncomfortable with otherwise positive life events.

Set Aside Money to Deal With Unexpected Expenses

When your life is predictable, you can easily control your costs — you can plan meals, clothing purchases, travel, etc. But when you have little time to plan or are faced with novel situations, you might pay more for convenience or have to try multiple, costly solutions to get a desired result. Blowing your budget or going into debt unexpectedly can cause angst.

If possible, put money aside for expenses that will accompany life changes. Or find ways to earn extra money, both to ease financial problems and give yourself an outlet for your talents. Whatever happens, though, don’t let the tension associated with transitional spending damage your relationship.

Encourage and Congratulate

Show your happiness for your friend, family member, partner, etc., encouraging them in their endeavors and congratulating them on accomplishments when they pursue positive changes. Expect the same from your loved ones when you reach milestones or achieve successes in your life.

Reflect on how they (or you) have progressed, rather than stagnated in their personal lives, careers, etc. Consider how you might make changes to improve yourself and support your loved ones in realizing their dreams.

Give Yourself Time to Mourn Losses That Come With Change

Even positive events mean the loss of something else, or that a chapter in your life has closed even though a new and exciting one has begun. Take time to mourn losses without dwelling on them. Then, you can be ready to grow and move forward with your valued relationships.

In the Midst of a Major Change 

When things are changing, you may feel disoriented for a while (for example, the weeks after starting a new job). Stress and extra work can lead spouses, family members, and friends to disconnect from each other.

Accept That You'll Experience Chaotic Moments

For a while, disruptions in routine will make your days chaotic until your daily life returns to a more normal and manageable state. If events don’t unfold precisely as you expected, don’t blame your spouse, family members, or friends for feelings of disappointment and confusion. Accept what is happening even as you work to improve your daily situation.

Take on New Roles or Interim Roles With Grace

Shifts in circumstances may mean that your role in someone else’s life suddenly changes. You may need to abandon past activities now that your spouse, parent, friend, or child is taking over these duties. Alternatively, you may need to add new items to your to-do list, either temporarily or permanently.

Even if you are excited about what’s happening, taking on new responsibilities or shedding old ones can be difficult. Try to define new expectations so that you can determine what should happen next in the relationship and how you should relate to each other.

Identify and Deal With Additional Changes

Note the consequences of a particular life event, both the benefits and collateral damage. Make moves to correct any problems so that everyone involved understands that the change itself is not to blame for added difficulties, but rather, the unexpected circumstances.

For example, if you just quit your corporate job to stay home with your children, there are many types of changes occurring simultaneously — you might have anticipated the loss of income and planned finances accordingly, or you may have known that you wouldn’t see friends at work and made arrangements for weekly or monthly get-togethers. But you didn’t expect suspicions from neighbors who wonder how you can afford your mortgage now or you hoped that the parents at your child’s school would be more welcoming when you started volunteering. Work with your spouse to address these new sets of problems and accept what’s not under your control.

Speak Up About What You Need

Advocate for yourself. Tell your wife or husband, your friends, or your family just what you need, if you can pinpoint what’s missing or wrong. If you’re unsure what could help you thrive, share how you are feeling. Those who love you may be able to give you ideas on what might work best in these changed circumstances.

Be willing to accept help and guidance that fits your needs. And, consider letting people know that you are not available for a while until you can adjust to changes.

Ask About, and Listen to, What Your Partner or Friend May Need

You may be reluctant to approach your spouse, family member, or friend in confusing times. But finding out what could be helpful or merely listening and responding appropriately when your loved one asks can strengthen bonds.

Connect With People Who Are in Similar Circumstances

Having someone to talk with can help you to see that your circumstances really are difficult. Plus you’ll find that you are not crazy for being confused, frustrated, or harried. If possible, get advice and tips on dealing with these changes from those who have endured them successfully.

After Changes Have Occurred

Even after you get into a routine, you may feel unsettled and not as happy as you were before changes. Take action to improve yourself and your relationships.

Discover Ways to Be Content All by Yourself

Learn to be happy with yourself and your present identity. In the past, your happiness may have been more dependent on your status or circumstances than you realized. When your self-perception changes, you may feel uneasy and unsure of how you should relate to others.

So, find ways to be content with yourself. Becoming more self-reliant doesn't mean distancing yourself from your loved ones but relieving pressure from these relationships.

Consider Setting Goals That Are Independent of the Relationship

Tackle projects that have nothing to do with your relationship to give yourself an overall sense of well-being. For example, if you have always wanted to run a 5K, travel the world, cook exotic dishes on a budget, etc., start planning and taking action to accomplish these goals. Such activities can provide stability despite life changes.

Take Steps to Keep Bonding

Set aside time to talk about what changes mean for your relationship. Plus, schedule time to see each other, even if it is in different ways and at different times than before.

Don’t Feel Guilty if It Takes a While to Get Used to Changes

If life is stressful partly because of changes, don’t beat yourself up. Getting used to a new routine, new roles, new happenings, etc. is hard. Be easy on yourself as you continue to adjust.

Get Stronger

Failure to adjust to changes doesn’t mean that you are failing but can, sometimes, reveal where you are weak. Consider what you have discovered about yourself in new situations and take steps to deal with those issues. The improved you may make an even better, more compassionate, and wiser life partner, family member, and friend.

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