"My girlfriend is doing self-development and the outcome is that I feel left behind. She's changing, even her personality, and it totally affects our relationship. Why do I feel empty about this? I want to support her in her growth."
I work as a self-development coach, and this is a common problem between couples.
If one person begins growing by leaps and bounds, and the other is not changing all that much, then before long they will find it difficult to relate, and difficult to connect.
This is true for all forms of personal growth I have seen-
- Psychological and emotional self development.
- Physical fitness and body-shape changes.
- Financial and career development.
- Social skills improvements such as developing social confidence.
Why Do You Feel This Way?
There are likely three reasons you are feeling uncomfortable about your situation.
If you’re feeling left behind, then the first reason you’re feeling distressed is that you feel you connection weakening.
"Uh oh... she's slipping away."
You can feel that there are fewer interesting things to talk about, and that your goals are shifting in different directions. What you used to do together on a lazy Saturday afternoon is no longer enough for your partner, who now seeks challenge and excitement.
The second reason is simple Envy. When we see someone succeeding and being victorious at life, and we are not- there is a part of us that kicks ourselves in the butt and says...
“Hey... why am I not winning at life too?”
Understand that this is a good thing. It's your core values telling you that you're living by them.
But there's also a third reason why you feel this way.
At some point, you probably begin to feel not-good-enough for your partner.
Some part of you is evaluating the relationship, and feeling like you don't measure up. And that part begins to look in the mirror at yourself, and ask...
“At what point is she going to realize that she deserves better?”
That's a painful bit of self-abuse, and it only happens after you've ignored the first 2 above for too long. It's entirely unnecessary, but if you experience this, see it for what it is- your internal emergency alarms are sounding because you are not living the life that you want to be.
If you didn't care, it literally would not bother you one tiny bit.
What Can You Do?
When I coach couples facing this problem, there’s an honest discussion that needs to happen about what they’re each feeling, and what they’re each wanting.
This is usually a bit uncomfortable, but it's essential - because as long as those feelings and thoughts are left unsaid, you will feel like you are hiding a terrible, crushing secret.
In short, you will feel shame.
Shame is the feeling that there is something true about yourself, that is wrong - and therefore it must be hidden from view as much as possible.
Shame is one of the most draining emotions in existence, because it diminishes you deeply, usually involves hiding the truth, and it drains your energy.
However once that feeling of shame is exposed, it lets both of you work on it together, and your energy is spent usefully rather than wasted.
Embrace Growth Together
People grow, change & adapt. That's what makes living things like us different from rocks & dirt.
In relationships, you can grow together, or you can grow apart- and you get to choose which one you pursue.
If you choose to grow together, this is something your partner can fully enjoy being a part of- sharing what she’s discovered, what books she’s reading, what coaches she’s working with, what new habits & practices she’s committed to.
All of these are something you can enjoy and explore together, so that you can find the things that help you become your “best self” too.
And if you do this, together you will have an epic journey towards building an amazing life that neither of you ever believed was possible.
But it's Hard! I Like my Cushy Comfortable Life!
Yeah, I get this.
Here's what you need to understand.
You have three different brains, with three different goals, and all three of them are yelling at you right now.
- Your Reptile Brain is about survival, and it wants you to do anything that promotes survival at a basic level. Eat junk food, and nap lazily on the couch. Epic win.
- Your Mammal Brain is all about social connection. It wants friends and a solid family, plus a great relationship with your partner. Right now it's not happy, as you feel that connection weakening.
- Your Human Brain is all about the possibilities in the future, being your best self, feeling fulfilled, living by your values. It knows what you're capable of, and it's pushing you to head towards that, even when your reptile brain says "but... pizza!"
You can feel your human brain pushing you can't you?
Your girlfriend sure can. It's why she got off that sofa and decided to see what she was capable of.
Right now you see this whole possibility as a challenge, and it feels like it’s confronting you.
That’s a good thing. Be confronted, and answer it.
As the classic Stoic saying goes-
“The obstacle is the way.”
When you're 100% authentic in yourself, envy simply doesn't exist because you could not possibly be living a better or more fulfilling life than you already are.
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Although I've written this to answer the asker's question about romantic relationships, you can experience a very similar effect among your friends and family.