You Don't Have the Power to Change Them
So stop trying and get more realistic about what you want from your relationships.
Relationships go through a lot of difficulties. In the beginning, things are exciting and new. But it’s not long until the flaws begin to show. Our partners reveal more of themselves and we are left to reckon with it. Sometimes these realizations drive us closer together, and sometimes they bring out an unhealthy desire to “fix” or change our partners in a number of ways. That’s not how good partnerships are built, however. We can’t change our partners and we shouldn’t even try.
Are you trying to change them?
Are you trying to change your partner? It’s not always as obvious as we think it is (Velonis, 2016). Whether you’re playing counselor or setting endless conditions — when you try to make your partner into something different, you’re trying to change them.
The change game doesn’t always play out through control or domination. More often than not, it starts with empathy. You may think you can “therapy” your partner into being a better person — which is a desire to change them masked as altruism. This isn’t just an emotional act. It can also manifest as acting as a health and nutrition counselor too. It’s not right to push your partner into diet or exercise regimes that they aren’t really interested in (especially for a superficial reason, like wanting them to look better).
Looking for work
One of the most subtly insidious signs that we’re trying to change our partners is evidenced in the very selection itself. What kind of spouses and love interests do you bring into your life? Do you go for equals with something to bring to the table? Or do you look for broken people who need a considerable amount of love and attention? When you pick subpar partners, it’s often because you believe that you can “rescue” them by “fixing” them. This is setting out to change them, and it’s setting yourself up for failure and heartbreak.
Calling the shots
Partnerships aren’t one-sided affairs. As the name dictates, these types of intimate relationships are about more than one person joining their lives in order to build a shared future. That doesn’t happen by one person using unilateral decision making. You can’t call all the shots or decide who your partner is going to be. If you insist on making all the choices in the relationship (because you think you know best and need to “educate” your partner) then it’s time to reconsider your intentions.
Trying to change our partners is essentially a game of control. One of the ways in which many partner attempt to exert this control is by making conditions and ultimatums in your relationship. For example, you may say to your partner, “You have to do X, or I’ll leave you.” Or you might say something like, “If you loved me, you would do Y.” This is manipulative and unhealthy. Again, this is centered around your needs and desires and leaves little consideration for your partner as a human being.
Push, push, push
Would you describe yourself as a pusher when it comes to relationships? While pushing our partners might seem like a good thing, it’s not the encouragement we think it is. We’re not supporting our partners in things they want to do (a la encouragement). We’re pushing them into the things we think they should do. There’s little consideration for their actual needs or happiness; it’s more about how you want them to reflect your own image.
Rather than outright demanding your partner change something about themselves, you may resort to snarky humor to shame them into making moves. This isn’t healthy, and it certainly isn’t accepting behavior. You might tease them for the clothes they wear, the friends they keep, or even the careers they choose for themselves. There’s no real humor in these jokes. The point is to make your partner feel bad for the things you don’t like about them.
Why it never works out.
Changing your partner doesn’t work. You can’t “fix” someone else. (Consider how hard it is to fix yourself.) The only life we can control is our own, and that is still true when we are in a committed relationship. When you try to change your partner, you only create more upset and an air of distrust and disrespect.
Each time you try to change your partner, you create a little chip in the foundation of your relationship. Over time, these chips turn into cracks, which turn into even greater divides. You will fight with one another and the resentment will grow. You’ll pull away from one another and the chaos and heavy emotions will continue to divide over-and-over again. They won’t change and you’ll resent them for it. They’ll hate you for asking it and not seeing them as “enough”.
Living in relationships in which we think we have to change the other person (or be someone different) is unsatisfying. We miss out on the best parts of connecting and building a life together, and we lose our authentic self along the way. Fulfillment only comes from balanced relationships built on shared values and shared goals for the future. We can’t change another person to make that a reality.
Even suggesting that someone should change something about themselves for your pleasure is disrespectful. None of us should change who we are for someone else. Authenticity is how we are able to maintain self-respect. More than that, it’s the way in which we align ourselves with the people and experiences who matter. When we’re authentically ourselves, we can see our partners more authentically for who they are.
When you try to change your partner or “fix” them, it comes off as though you think you’re better than them. That’s not a great place to approach from in any relationship. None of us is better than the other. No one person has all the answers. We all have something to offer, and we all have flaws too. Instead of trying to push your partner into what you want, you should accompany them on their own journey of change and discovery.
What you should do instead.
Instead of changing your partner, you have to step back and shift your perspective instead. Focus on your own improvement and you’ll ease the need to change others. Step up and be more accountable for your happiness too. Then you can accept your partner who for who they are and decide if that’s good enough for you or not.
1. Focus on your own improvement
Too many partners use a hyper-fixation on their partner’s flaws to distract from their own flaws and insecurities. We all have them. Rather than getting out of focus, we have to remember to regularly look inward whenever we feel the need to change others. What are we seeing in them that we fear in ourselves? It’s not uncommon to project our fears and shortcomings onto others, so we should always seek to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.
Focus on your own improvement and look to improve yourself on an individual level. Are their insecurities you’re avoiding? Toxic patterns and beliefs it’s time to overcome? What makes you so critical of your partner? If your partner needs to be “changed” so greatly — why did you settle for them in the first place?
Look inside and don’t shy away from the truths you find there. Is there anything lingering in your past that’s making you unsatisfied in this moment? Are there steps you could take to make you feel more confident in and focused on your own life? A good place to start is by creating a new sense of independence for yourself. Lean into your passions and social circles. Remember who you are and rebuild your self-esteem from the ground up.
2. Be more accountable in love
It might be tempting to dump the failures of your relationship at your partner’s feet, but their flaws and mistakes aren’t entirely to blame. We also carry an equal weight in our relationship, and that weight is composed of our own emotions and our own quality of life and love. Your partner doesn’t exist to make you happy, and they don’t exist to compliment some type of image you’re trying to build. All of those things belong to you and you alone.
Don’t change your partner to fix your own life. If you’re suffering, you’re the one who is responsible for fixing it. Instead of blaming your partner for not being who you want them to be, take some accountability for your own happiness and the decisions that you’ve made until this point. Build a life that makes you happy. Step up to the plate and do what needs to be done in order to make sure that your needs are met in a respectful and ethical way.
3. Decide if it's enough
Accepting our partners for who they are isn’t easy, and it isn’t the last hurdle either. Once we’ve seen them in an honest light, we have to then look inside and make some hefty considerations. We must question our relationship, our partner, and our future. Envisioning what we thought our lives would look like, we have to be embrace honest answers and then follow through with honest action.
Put your relationship in the spotlight and be brutally honest. Is your partner the person who you need? Do they have what it takes to stand as your equal in life? Do they want the same things? If not, are you willing to give up a piece of your happiness? Are you willing to settle for something you know isn’t enough?
You’re the only person who can make decisions about your ultimate happiness. More than that, you’re the only one who can act on it. If all you see is a project when you look at your relationship (or the person who you’re building it with) then you need to reconsider. We’re not meant to babysit another person through life. A partner shouldn’t be a child. They should be a partner; an equal who can support us. You need to decide if you want to stay with someone you want to change, or find someone who has what it takes.
Putting it all together…
Relationships are tricky to put together and even harder to keep balanced. When things aren’t quite right, we can look to our partners to make some major changes. It’s not possible to change our partners, though. We can’t change other people or “fix them” into something we want them to be. If you’re trying to make your partner over as another person — you’ve got to stop. Acceptance and personal change is the only way to get yourself back on track.
Instead of looking to change your partner, focus on improving your own life instead. The more self-assured you are, the less need you will feel to fix everyone else around you. Be more accountable. Take responsibility for your own emotions and stop putting that pressure on your partner. Even in a relationship, we are each responsible for our happiness and fulfillment. Improve yourself as a partner instead of trying to turn your partner into someone else, and you will see both of your lives improved. Accept your partner for who they are. Then be honest. Is that enough for you? There’s no right or wrong answer. You simply have to look to the future and make the decisions that align with your true happiness.
- Velonis, A. (2016). “He Never Did Anything You Typically Think of as Abuse”. Violence Against Women, 22(9), 1031–1054. doi: 10.1177/1077801215618805