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The four ways a relationship can change you

Your relationship can change you – for better or worse. New research reveals why that should matter to you and your partner.

All relationships go through ups and downs. It’s often at those moments that you feel like being with their partner has in some way changed who you are. When things are going well, you may see yourself as a better person; when they’re not, you may believe you’ve changed for the worse.

There are four ways you can change by being in a relationship – two positive, and two negative.

  • Self-expansion
    The way you feel about yourself grows in positive ways – like you become more confident or open-minded. This can happen when aspects of your partner rub off on you, or when you do new things together.
  • Self-pruning
    This is another positive way you can change. It means saying goodbye to parts of you that you’re better off without, whether that happens intentionally thanks to your partner’s help, or it’s the natural consequence of being in a healthy relationship.
  • Self-contraction
    Now we get to the negatives. Self-contraction means losing positive things, like a hobby that once meant a lot to you but no longer does when your partner’s in the picture.
  • Self-adulteration
    This is when you take on negative traits that weren’t there before your relationship. For example, you might behave in ways you don’t like when you’re with your partner and these become a part of how you see yourself.

Not surprisingly, how people change in a relationship can affect all sorts of things, including self-esteem and emotional well-being. But what about the relationship itself? How does feeling you’ve become a different person feed back into the way things are going with your partner?


To answer this question, US researchers rounded up around 200 people in relationships. First they were asked questions about how they’d changed after getting together with their partner, and also how the changes had affected their relationship. The researchers wanted to know things like whether the participants were committed and satisfied, but also about their behaviour, whether they thought about breaking up, and how much they were willing to sacrifice for their partner.

Help or harm?

If you’re in a relationship that changes you for the better, chances are good this will create a sort of feedback loop, the research showed. You’ll probably be happy with your partner, and feel more committed to him or her. In the same way, if you feel like who you are has changed for the worse, it can have a negative impact on how things are going in your relationship.

If you’ve changed in positive ways since getting with your partner, it makes sense that you’ll do things to strengthen your bond. That’s just what the research showed. People who were happy with their changed selves went out of their way for their partners – they were more accommodating, forgave easily, and were willing to make sacrifices for him or her.

On the other hand, those who felt that being with their partner had changed them for the worse acted in harmful ways – maybe by seeking revenge or thinking about getting with another guy or girl, the study also found.

So what’s the take-home message of this research? Well, your relationship really can change you! And this in turn can affect how things are going with your partner. It can help to take a step back and think about the sides of you that you’ve gained or lost since getting with him or her, and whether you behave in ways that help or harm your relationship.


When “we” changes “me”: The two-dimensional model of relational self-change and relationship outcomes. (2015). Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 32(7):857-78.

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