How To Get Your Partner To Change (and like it!)

Issue 2, Vol. 1 April Newletter

It is no secret that when couples come to marriage therapy they all have a secret fantasy.  Here is the scenario:  You are nervous about meeting the counselor and you are also wishing it didn’t have to come to this. You might be saying to yourself; “How hard can it be to make a relationship work, it should be natural, right?"  We must be the only couple we know that needs help talking.  We are mature adults; we know how to talk to our friends.  It is just that my partner is so stubborn he/she cannot see how right I am.  I sure hope the counselor can see this or else he/she is just as dense". So here is the fantasy… Ready? You sit down and after about 15 minutes the counselor stops the conversation and announces that you should go for coffee and leave your partner behind because it is very obvious who the problem is and it is NOT YOU! He says… ” Give me an hour or so and I think you will be very happy with the result as I inform your partner of their shortcomings and how to fix them".   Of course we all know this is just a fantasy and would never happen. However, here is something we have learned in helping couples connect. Changing your partner without divorcing them is possible and easier than you think.

Here is the secret… STOP TRYING TO CHANGE YOUR PARTNER! It will never work.  You married this person, flaws and all and feel very lucky that you found someone who could handle you as well.  I know what you’re thinking… "I have grown up and changed over the years and my partner has continued to be the same person I married".  However, they might be wishing you were still the same because that is who they loved in the first place.  The point is that you must accept that people change at different times in life and with different key motivators.  Change is a very personal thing and people have to be motivated from within to do it.  They also resist someone trying to change them because they have somewhat grown attached to themselves over the years.

So how do you get them to change? If you can accept the first point you may be ready for the next one.  People will Change only when they feel accepted for who they are. In other words, you need to communicate that you accept your partner just the way they are, flaws and all. At the same time you also ask them to change.  The key is how you do that.  The best way is to share your needs, wishes and desires with your partner and really let them in on why these are so important to you, and then leave them alone to think about it.  Do not make demands. Ultimatums do not work, they only create resentment.  You leave it alone and treat your partner like a friend.  I am sure that there are a lot of irritants that kind of bug you about some of your good friends, but you let it be, for the sake of the friendship. This is an important step that can lead to the last one.

Let them give you their change as a gift.

As you learn to express your needs your partner will have a better understanding of who you are.  Gently suggest an easy way to meet that need in a positive way. Once this ground work is laid the environment is set for your partner to respond.  This does not guarantee it, but it makes it more likely to happen, because now there is at least an opportunity for the partner to change and give you more of what you want as a GIFT.  That is right! A GIFT!  Now there is room for your partner to save face and make a change and it actually feels like a choice. In fact it feels like freedom and we all know how we value freedom.  By not feeling forced, it feels like a gesture of friendship and an offer that will be appreciated.  The person giving the gift gets a gift back because they have their pride intact and feel respected. Just think about how proud you feel of yourself when you have given the perfect gift and the other person is totally in awe that you guessed perfectly right. You may feel like you hit the jackpot! Well, that is what potentially can happen when you let your needs be known. Accept your partner and back off.  The possibilities are endless!!

Darren Wilk, MA, Certified Gottman Couples Therapist

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