Many of us 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.
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 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.
Understand that your good influence or support may not be enough. Couples dealing with depression, alcoholism or other major issues should seek outside help to change.
Source: National Healthy Marriage Resource Center
Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension.
Her Family Ties column appears in Sunday Life. Contact: 770-535-8290.