Change for Good

Change for Good

We all have that one thing (OK, for some of us, it's three or four things) we'd really like to fix about ourselves. But whether it's eating better, making an effort to move our bodies more, or breaking a pattern of unhealthy relationships, change is easier said than done. "It often requires looking closely at previous behaviors, which can bring up fears or negative feelings you may not want to address," says Sara Holliday, a marriage and family therapist and personal trainer in San Diego, Calif. Other times, the obstacle can be misplaced motivation. "You have to want to change for yourself," she notes. "If you're doing it for somebody else, it won't last."

We profiled three women who each made one significant shift in their lives and reaped several additional and unexpected benefits.

The Relationship Change
Meg Bertini has been through the relationship wringer. Twice divorced (her first marriage lasted six months, her second five years) to men who were nice enough, but with whom she didn't feel a true connection, Bertini asked the universe to send her more passion. She got it but not in the way she expected. When she met "Tom" (not his real name), she was attracted to his confidence and dynamic personality right away. "There was passion all right," she recalls, "but also insanity." Tom was volatile and controlling, yelling at Bertini in public, calling her on the phone to berate her, and sometimes even physically preventing her from leaving a room or the house. Bertini remembered hearing about women in controlling and abusive relationships and wondering what made them stay. Now, she says, she understands that leaving isn't as easy as it looks. "I was like a dog with a bone—I didn't want to let go. I didn't realize that I could find that passion with somebody else in a healthy relationship."

The catalyst: After a friend asked: "Why are you choosing to be with him?" Bertini began to examine her role in the doomed relationship. "It prompted me to see a therapist and start looking for answers." Bertini had been reading self-help books to try to figure out what was wrong with Tom and why he treated her so badly; with the therapist's help she finally understood that her approach was backward. "I realized that I was the one who had to change," she says.

The shift: After she finally managed to extract herself from Tom—a year and a half after they started dating—Bertini took a six month break from romance and men. "My whole life I'd moved from one relationship to another—boom, boom, boom," says Bertini. After the hiatus, she eased back into dating, carefully approaching each relationship with a close look at her role. "The next relationships weren't perfect, but each was better than the one before," she says.

The new life: Eventually, says Bertini, "I reached a place where I was going into relationships, or dates, consciously." She was able to break off with men when the circumstances weren't right, and even learned to head off bad situations at the pass. In 2006, three years after ending things with Tom, Bertini started her own company, DreamTime Publishing (dreamtimepublishing.com), a publisher of holistic self-help books, partly in response to what she'd learned about herself.

The results: Entered relationships that made her feel good about herself—but didn't feel obligated to persist if things weren't working out. Dropped guilt about past behavior. "I wouldn't have been ready for my current relationship if I hadn't had the opportunity to learn and grow from the others," she says.

The lesson learned: "I have the power to change myself and no one else," says Bertini. "And I realize it takes two insane people to have a crazy relationship."