One of the most common complaints therapist hear involve the wish of one person that their partner change. These usually take the form of: “If he could just…,” “It’s not asking a lot if she…,” “If only they were a little less…”. You get the idea. Often these are things that were slightly bothersome at the beginning of a relationship but were overlooked as not such a big deal. But after a months or years, they grate on the nerves. So can you get a person to change?
The short answer, according to Dr. Karl Pillemer’s research, is nothing.
But the long answer is a little bit more complex.
(Spoiler alert: If you’re thinking to yourself, “Why should I try to change anyone? No one should change who they are for me!” – just hold on, we’ll get to that.)
Pillemer conducted an in-depth study of over 700 elderly Americans, including both “individuals who had been happily married for 50, 60, or even 70 years” and “people who experienced awful marriages that ended in divorce.” He explains in his Psychology Today article that these people had lots of different opinions about relationships, but when it came to one particular message most of the participants had a loud and clear bottom line: “Never expect your partner to change after marriage.” Presumably, their advice would be the same – maybe even stronger – for a dating scenario. This definitely sounds like bad news if there’s something about your partner that you’d like to change.
BUT! – Pillemer explains that this doesn’t mean your partner isn’t ever going to change. It means that they’re not going to change if they have no desire to change. If they do, then your support and even your participation can be a huge encouragement. So, before we proceed to the list, remember to keep these 2 things in mind:
- If your partner is against any of the kinds of changes listed below, they won’t work. Trying to force someone to change through threats, manipulation, tricks, or passive aggression will not work, period. These kinds of changes will only work if your partner has a good, willing attitude about them.
- Obviously, you should never try to change things that your partner considers essential to their identity. If you try to do so, not only will you probably fail, but you’ll really hurt their feelings. If there is such a thing you’d want to change, you’d probably be better off seeking a different partner who’s more compatible to you.
So, without further ado, consider these 7 things that you can, with your partner’s cooperation and with a graceful, tactful attitude, change about them without damaging their sense of self:
1. Household cleanliness
It’s extremely rare for 2 people to have the exact same standards when it comes to housekeeping. You may be a general neat freak but hate doing dishes, and your partner may be pretty good about dishes but prone to leaving clothes scattered on the floor. It can be hard to change these things about yourself because you’ll just never experience the annoyance from that behavior that your partner feels. But when it comes to domestic duties, you absolutely can and should make changes in how you do things. Making adjustments to lessen each other’s annoyance levels should not be considered a big favor to ask. Try approaching the conversation as a give-and-take; let you partner know what irritates you around the house, but then ask them for their feedback about your habits as well.
2. Health-related habits
Bad habits like smoking, not getting enough exercise, drinking too much, and having a poor diet should not be considered core parts of a person’s identity that they shouldn’t have to give up. Again, constantly trying to guilt your partner into changing these things probably won’t work, but if you can inspire your partner by your good example, then that’s great! If they’re improving their health, that’s going to be something that benefits them whether or not you’re together forever.
Lots of people get upset if their partner doesn’t take an interest in their interests, and that’s understandable. One of the most fun things about relationships is sharing things like movies, podcasts, music, games, sports, and hobbies with a new person and watching them grow to love that interest with you. This way of changing is natural and healthy. However, it’s not understandable to expect your partner to get into everything you’re into.
4. Communication style
The biggest way you might notice differences in communication styles is when you argue. Maybe one partner blows up while the other shuts down. This combination probably won’t be effective for resolving arguments, so both people will have to learn to change their styles. On the other hand, though, people get the message that they are loved in different ways, as well; your partner might feel loved through thoughtful gestures like notes or gifts, while you feel loved through verbal expressions. So you and your partner both might have to learn each other’s communication styles and change somewhat if you want to show love and resolve arguments.
5. Socializing style
Most people feel very attached to either their introversion or extroversion. Trying to change an introvert into a full-blown extrovert will never work, and vice versa. But if two people in a relationship are opposites in this way, they can and should try to meet each other in the middle so both personalities are respected. You can rotate going out and staying in, for instance, or rotate going to loud clubs and gathering with a small group of friends for dinner.
6. Personal style
If you already have a personal style (in terms of clothes, hair, etc) that you’re happy with, then no one should ask you to change that for them. However, there are lots of people who would describe themselves as not having a particular style or caring about a particular style, and such people sometimes actually like having their partner step in and make some suggestions.
Remember, if these 6 areas of life are ways in which you might expect your partner to change for you, then you should be equally open to the idea of changing in those ways for your partner. While it may be generally true that you shouldn’t have to change yourself for someone to love you, there are some things about yourself that you can change without disrupting your whole sense of identity, and if changing those things results in a happier, more mature, deeper relationship with your partner, then why not try?
If there’s a relationship in your life, romantic or not, that’s weighing on your mind and that you’d like to talk more about, you can call us at (305) 501-0133 or click here to schedule a free 20-minute Clarity Consult .
Envision Wellness is a private practice that offers psychotherapy, psychological testing, and life coaching in Miami, FL. Our team has a passion for helping others achieve happy, fulfilling, and change-making lives that make the world a better place. Each therapist has their areas of expertise. Not sure who you’d like to work with? Click here to schedule a free 20-minute phone consult to help you decide.
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