Can You Really Change a Person?
We want our partners to be perfect; it's the stuff that dreams are made of. At first, it seems as if everything is just right, then reality sets in. You realize your partner is not flawless, and you want to change some things about them.
It isn't easy to change. You may think you're just the right influence to change your partner, and it may be possible, but it is rare. Good habits like eating well, exercising, cleaning, visiting grandma, and volunteering may rub off on your partner and become activities you enjoy together, but progressing in a relationship with the expectation that your partner will change can be dangerous.
There are many stages involved in making changes. Changing a behavior or habit takes time, consistency, and recognition. People can promise to change, and some are even able to change for a short time, but real change takes effort. You have to be committed to changing for yourself because it's difficult to do it for someone else. We are who we are because of a combination of how we were raised and the experiences we've had. Changing who we are as a person means adjusting years of behavior and, possibly, even how we think about a situation.
One of the biggest challenges for couples is learning to live with your partner's annoying habits. This person may be the love of your life, but they're also human.
Before you try to change your partner, ask yourself why you want them to change. Remember that your way isn't always the right way and try to identify what is really bothering you. Is it that you just can't stand it when the mail piles up, or is it your partner's job to manage the household finances and you feel that not opening the mail is neglecting his/her family responsibilities? When you sit down to talk with your partner, you may have more success if your request benefits them (stop smoking) or improves the life of your family (curb unnecessary spending) rather than saves you from future annoyances over things like nagging or replacing the toilet paper. So take the time to think about why you want to see this change happen.
Any change in your lifestyle, from something as simple as putting clothes in the hamper to something as challenging as losing weight, requires you to want to change for yourself. It doesn't mean your partner doesn't love you if he or she cannot make what you consider a "simple" change.
Remember that compromise and negotiation are important skills for couples. You need to be able to talk about why the change is important to each of you. You may need to agree on steps to take toward change or develop a plan where each partner is committed to making a change happen in the relationship.
Model the willingness to change. Talk to your partner about what you do that bothers him/her, and commit to making that change yourself. If you show a willingness to invest in your relationship by changing the way you do something, your partner may do the same.
Understand that your good influence or support may not be enough. Couples in which one partner is dealing with depression, alcoholism, or other major issues should seek outside help to change.
What to Do When Your Partner Won't Change
If your partner won't change, there are a few things you can do.
You can change the way you view the situation by becoming more accepting. For example, if your chronically messy partner never cleans up the house again, can you live with that? Maybe you can, especially if you recognize that your partner is comfortable with a messy house and doesn't see it as a disrespectful action in the relationship. Some things, however, are too dangerous to be tolerated, even for a short while. You should never consider living with physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, for example.
If you can't change yourself, try to change the situation. If the sight of a towel left on the floor of the bathroom all day drives you batty, buy a bath mat. Your partner can step onto something soft when he/she exits the shower, and you won't mind seeing the mat every time you go into the room. Sometimes overlooking things that annoy you can make a big difference. Rather than asking your partner to change a habit, remind yourself about the positive qualities you love in your spouse. When you see the towel left on the floor, instead of getting annoyed, picture the loving things your partner does for you and think these thoughts in the few seconds it takes to pick up after your partner. Learn not to "sweat the small stuff." When you make a request for change, be sure that it is something that will really make a difference to you and the relationship.
If you feel really stuck and are at an impasse over behavior you would like to see change, consider seeing a marriage therapist or taking a marriage education class. There are also several good books available that can help couples navigate through changes.
In short, effecting change is no small task, so it may not be worth broaching the subject with your partner unless you've known the person a while, have their best interests at heart, and can be a supportive influence throughout the process. Decide what you can live with and what you can't. Take a close look at yourself and your own habits and talk honestly with your partner about the possibility of change. Be prepared to compromise. Without compromise, you may have to choose between accepting to live with something and ending a relationship.