Sunday, August 29, 2010
Accept Your Partner OR Move On!
Hands down, one of the most common problems I see in my practice as a psychologist and therapist is the tendency for women and men to try to change their partners. This behavior is especially effective at corroding a good relationship and turning it into a hostile territory of hurts and resentments.
Typically, when you strive to change your partner, you're painfully unaware of what you're doing. For example, I can see a client and ask "Are you sure you're not trying to change him?" Without fail, the response is usually a flat and fairly certain "No, I'm not trying to change him at all." And while, in this instance, I'm using particular pronouns that indicate a given gender, the reality is that both men and women fall into the trying-to-change-him-or-her trap in their relationships.
I will make my pronouncement simply: Trying to change your partner will never work. It's a losing game, one that will bring you frustration and anger. In addition, your partner will sense that you don't fully accept him or her and will begin detaching or, conversely, become more combative with you.
Ask yourself this basic question: Do I truly accept him or her? The truth is that, if you are trying to change something about your partner, you don't truly accept him or her. One good way to check in with your partner on this issue is to ask directly: "Do you ever feel like I try to change you?" Asking this question when things are good is a much better time to discuss this, as opposed to when you're already in the middle of a rocky, poor communication patch.
Finally, it's important to distinguish between trying to change your partner and trying to change the partnership - meaning the relationship and the interpersonal dynamics that come with it. Trying to change your partner is a bad thing, but working on ways to change your relationship is a good thing. To give you an example, focus your energies on changing the dynamics with your partner. It's okay to tell her that you wish she would spend more time with you on Saturday, but it's not okay to tell her that you wish she were more of a homebody. See the difference?
Ultimately, you must separate those traits that are central to who your partner is and those behaviors which tend to be more changeable. Accept the things your partner cannot change, or consider leaving the relationship if you can't bear those things. In the end, a long-term relationship requires flexibility and compromise. Put simply, you choose your battles wisely.