What do you do if you’ve just met someone you really like but they have qualities or habits you know would drive you nuts long-term?
Or you’ve been with a partner for a while but find yourselves fighting about the same things, over and over?
Whether you stay or go in either scenario depends very much on whether you think your partner can (and is willing to) change. ‘But you should never try to change your partner!’, I can hear you all loudly protest.
It’s admirable but unrealistic to expect to love every single part of each other, so most couples do mould to make a better ‘fit’ once they commit long-term.
But what are the things you will never change and what’s relatively easy to tweak?
This is by no means an exhaustive list (on both counts) but it does cover the main areas.
WHAT YOU CAN’T CHANGE
Yes people can kick major alcohol or drug problems (most successfully with the support of Alcoholics Anonymous or similar groups) but only if they 100 per cent want to change.
Even then it’s a path you’d only want to take with a partner you were totally committed to and desperate to be with.
The statistics for people who manage to get off – and more crucially – stay off drugs and alcohol – are still, sadly, very low.
Core personality traits
Not only are some personality traits genetic and likely to remain constant throughout our lives, the famous Aristotle quote ‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man’ is largely true.
Basic personality traits are formed very young and the rest tend to develop by the time we’re 18.
We’re capable of personality change at any stage but it gets harder the older we get.
A significant study done over a century ago (Harvard University) proved by the time we hit 30, our character is ‘set like plaster’.
Their relationship with their family
I’m the youngest of three children and despite being 54, every time I’m around my brother and sister, I instantly behave like the baby of the family and they act as my protectors.
How you relate to your siblings in terms of birth order is almost impossible to change but, as many will know, a tactful and perceptive partner can work miracles to smooth frayed family relationships.
The reverse is also true: plenty of close families have been ripped apart by a poisonous new addition.
As plenty of people will also know first hand, while it’s OK for your partner to criticise their family, if you’re the one dealing it out or you agree a little too heartily, they’ll pretty quickly change their tune.
Happily, more people like their partner’s family than you’d think: internationally, between 75 and 85 per cent of men and women said they liked their partner’s family in an extensive study done in 2012.
Hobbies they enjoy
Whether it be plane spotting or rambling, watching or playing sport, a passion for pilates, reading or gardening, woe betide the person who tries to stop their partner from doing something they genuinely enjoy.
Unless it dramatically interferes with the relationship, why would you want to deprive a partner of pleasure?
If it does impact on the relationship (taking up entire weekends and turning you into a golf widow, for instance) and you absolutely can’t bear to join them in the activity, take it as a strong sign of incompatibility, say relationship experts.
We all know or have heard of people who’ve either found or renounced (their particular) God for people they love.
But it’s a big ask if you’ve been either atheist or deeply religious since childhood to suddenly change your belief system.
Religion also shapes our moral code and core personality.
If you’re at completely different ends of the religious spectrum, it may well cause problems in your relationship if you both secretly believe you’ll convert the other to your way of thinking.
How often they want sex
Everyone’s appetite for sex gets artificially boosted at the start of a relationship so it’s hard to tell what someone’s natural libido level is until you’re about a year into the relationship.
But once the love and sex hormones stop flooding our brain, you’ll both get a truer picture of how compatible your sex drives are.
While it is possible to alter your natural desire for sex, it’s not easy: mismatched libidos remains one of the most common topics couples fight about.
Their attitude to infidelity
If your partner has a history of cheating, there’s a strong possibility they will continue the pattern and cheat on you.
One study found among those (college students in this case) who’d had sex outside their relationship, 86 per cent of men and 62 per cent of women did it more than once.
But there is hope.
Research has found a lot depends on why your partner cheated in the first place.
If it’s because they weren’t happy in their previous relationships but are with you, it’s not necessarily a predictor of future behaviour.
We all have a favoured way of communicating.
Aural people prefer to communicate by what they hear, visual people by what they see and kinesthetic people by what they touch and feel.
We’re all a mix, but one preference tends to dominate.
That “I feel like I’ve known you forever” feeling we get when first meeting someone is because they hear, see or ‘feel’ the world the way we do.
You both experience life the same way, so feel an instant connection.
All isn’t lost if your partner isn’t your ‘type’ but you do need to tap into each other’s style of communicating in order to make it work.
The fact they have children
This seems an odd thing to include on the list but I get lots of emails from people wanting their partners to choose between their children and their relationship because they don’t get on with them.
This isn’t just morally and ethically deplorable, if a partner iswilling to ditch the kids to hook up with you, it’s an indication of a highly unstable, undesirable person.
If the person you want to be with has children, only proceed or stay if you are 100 per cent happy with the idea that these children will be in their life permanently.
WHAT YOU CAN CHANGE (IF THEY’RE WILLING TO)
Wanting to change your partner’s look can have ominous implications (forcing someone to dress more provocatively or cover up completely are both symptomatic of a controlling personality) but often it’s simply a desire to see someone looking more attractive.
Course, what constitutes attractive is a matter of taste but if your partner sees you as stylish and knows their dress sense leaves a lot to be desired, they’ll often be happy to have a makeover.
Blame the parents if you don’t like your partner’s manners: most of what we learn about politeness, table manners and being appreciative of what others do for us is down to what our parents drummed into us as children.
While it’s not pleasant being told your manners aren’t up to scratch, a lot of people change simply by watching how a more mannered partner behaves and copying them.
Others won’t mind if certain things are kindly and subtly pointed out.
Ten years ago, who’d have thought any of us would be so open to watching TV series and movies with sub-titles?
If a new experience is good, most of us are more than happy to give things a go.
So a partner who has limited experience with movies, theatre, restaurants, different foods etc can often to made more ‘sophisticated’ if they’re willing to change – and find the new offerings to their liking.
(Some) bad habits
It depends on what the habit is (see addiction abuse above!) but things like dropping towels on the floor, picking their feet (ewwww!), leaving the lid off the toothpaste are all curable – albeit with a fair bit of nagging.