Can You Get Your Partner to Change?

Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Couples Counseling, Couples Counseling For One | Comments Off on Can You Get Your Partner to Change?

How would you respond, if asked how you’d like to see your relationship change?

Oftentimes, people asked that question say less about the relationship, and more about the changes they’d like to see in their partners.

“I want him to show more affection.”

“I want him to be more respectful.”

“I want her to show more interest in sex.”

While it goes without saying that any behaviors compromising health or safety need to be addressed professionally and swiftly, on the whole, it’s not that we want new partners, or a new relationship. It’s just that we’d like to see our significant others make some significant changes in their behavior, responses, or effort.

So, why is it your partner won’t change?

  • Lack of communication. We  assume our partners will be like us. In many cases, we simply don’t tell them what we want. We expect them to know and read our minds, which leads to misunderstanding and conflict.
  • Demands and power struggles. When we do make our desires known, usually in no uncertain terms, we expect our partners to comply. When they don’t, we might resort to criticism, nagging, or hounding our partners. A huge power struggle is created, and no one wants to give in. Both parties end up frustrated, angry, resentful, and completely unmotivated to make any meaningful changes. We often interpret our partner’s unwillingness to change as a sign that he or she doesn’t love us enough, or value the relationship. This interpretation can create a vicious cycle of demands, conflict, and hurt feelings.
  • Differences in import and meaning. Generally, men and women want the same things: support, connection, caring, respect, trust, and intimacy. However, the desire for change is really a matter of degrees. Often, one partner simply values a particular attitude or behavior more than the other.

What can you do about it?

  • Ask: Who wants this change? You or your partner?

If this is clearly more important or relevant to you, then you may need to reframe this as a change that you’d like. It seems like a small shift, but continued focus on your partner’s actions gives him or her all the power. A new perspective frees you to find other ways to get what you want.

  • Act: Take the initiative.

We tend to have a very clear idea of what our partners could or should do, yet we reflect very little on what we could do to help the situation. Consider what action you can take personally to improve your relationship, and take the necessary steps.

  • Assess: Step back for a view of the big picture.

It’s easy to get distracted by what our partner isn’t doing. He or she can seem one-dimensional. Along the way he becomes “the guy who won’t clean up his mess,” instead of a valuable contributor to the relationship.

Consider all your partner’s qualities. Getting beyond what you partner isn’t doing, and seeing  him or her as a “perfectly imperfect person,” may lessen the desire to force certain types of changes.

Why should you be the one to change?

  • It matters more to you. Your desire for change is the issue, therefore you should be the one to take steps to make it happen.
  • Changing someone else is very difficult. You ultimately have little control over what someone else does. Focus on yourself and your own actions.
  • One person relating differently can positively influence the relationship. The relationship can’t stay the same if you take action. You may see that your effort triggers a desire to change in your partner — that nagging or arguing could not.
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