Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Trying to Change Your Partner? Pitfalls and Possibilities

If you ask people what they think would improve their relationship, their immediate answer is often a clear formulation of what changes their partner could or should make.

Most people really don’t want a new relationship—They want the relationship with their partner–WITH CHANGES!cartoon couple

For most of us the view from across the table seems in need of far more adjustment than our view of self:

  • Why can’t he see the mess and be neater?
  • Why doesn’t she make plans for us to socialize with other couples?
  • Why can’t she save more money?
  • Why can’t he be more affectionate?

If you’re trying to change your partner, be prepared for pitfalls as well as possibilities.

It is worth starting by asking yourself these questions:

Is the change you want one that your partner knows about, cares about or would benefit from?

As G. K. Chesterton says “It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”

Is the change more important and relevant to you?

Are you the one who values and wants less mess, more socializing, more money or more affection?

How have your approached your partner regarding the change?

You are not alone if you have tried:

Asking nicely…over and over again…

Do you think you can pick up your clothes?

Hinting at what your want…

It would be nice if we spent more time with friends.

Complaining on a regular basis…

Why can’t we ever get out of debt?

Regressing to blame…

What are you doing with our money?

Mounting a silent retaliation…

If he’s not affectionate, why should I be?

Not only is it unlikely that your partner will respond; such interactions dilute positive feelings and any momentum for change in a relationship.

Consider Non-Violent Communication

This is actually a technique espoused by Marshall Rosenberg a number of years ago that has been re-stated in different ways. It is a way to approach your partner about change that offers the rationale and your needs in a trusting way.

  • Describe your observationWe don’t seem able to pay our bills.
  • Identify your feelingsI worry a lot about this.
  • Explain the reason for your feeling in terms of your needsWe both work so hard that it depresses me that we can’t save for the things we want.
  • State your requestDo you think we could both work out a budget together?

If you get a positive response or interest in collaboration build on it–affirming even small steps to your goals.

“Be the change you wish to see ” – Mahatma Gandhi

No matter how your partner responds-take action yourself in terms of the changes you want. Why?

  • No relationship can stay in the same place with the same patterns if even one partner takes a new and different step.
  • You have far more control over changing self than changing someone else.

Instead of asking your partner to change do something yourself to make the change happen.

  • You re-arrange a room to make it look less cluttered.
  • You sit down with your list of friends and couple friends and describe your plan to make some dates- then you make the date.
  • You describe the alternate ways you will be trying to save or make more money.
  • You become more affectionate.

Why should you do the changing? You want it and it matters to you in a way that it might not matter to your partner.

Why doesn’t it matter to your partner?

People are different. Men and women are different. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Why can’t your partner do it for you because he/she loves you?

Maybe your partner will. Maybe your momentum will mirror, model or invite change. When the atmosphere is positive, there is often more of a stake in keeping the connection going.

What If Your Partner Doesn’t Change – Does it Mean He/She Doesn’t Love You?

Think twice. We have a tendency to get stuck in a “singularity of definition” about our partners, which means we start to see them in only one dimension. They become “The guy who leaves the kitchen a mess.” “The woman who can’t handle money.” When you consider all the rest of your partner’s multiple dimensions – all they are and all the other things they do – sometimes the change matters a little less.

When it comes to change, clarify your needs and request, become the change your want to see, put the change and your love for your partner into positive perspective—You will feel a change.