This topic comes up in just about any conversation about dissatisfaction in relationships because people often think they can change their partner.
So let’s get this out of the way right at the beginning. You can’t.
If your partner makes a real change in their life, it’s because they decided to do so.
There. That’s clear. End of article right?
Because people always get into this trap and it creates nothing but drama and animosity.
Let’s put it into perspective.
Let’s say that your partner is always late and it makes you crazy.
- They’re late getting home from work, sometimes hours later than they said they would be home.
- They never pick up the kids on time.
- Anytime you’re heading out to meet friends or family, they’re always lagging behind and making you late too.
You hate it. You’re a very punctual person and it’s really upsetting to you that your partner doesn’t have the same appreciation for being on time that you do.
You’ve tried to talk to them about it. Maybe you even went so far as to drop some heavy handed ultimatums in an effort to get your partner to fall in line with being on time…
Ah-ha! Right there.
Can you see how that’s you trying to control your partner into changing? You’re dropping an ultimatum to try and get your partner to do something different than they way they’d do it on their own.
Ultimatums are common tactic to control or change a situation, person or outcome.
Consider there are tons of other tactics people employ to try and control/ change a situation, people, or an outcome.
You may be familiar with some controlling/changing tactics such as:
- Passive-aggressive comments: When you try to get someone to do something or stop doing something by using shame and manipulation.
- Judgmental or condescending statements:This can be as simple as “you’re not wearing that to the dinner are you?” That’s you again trying to control/ change how your partner was going to show up.
- Becoming angry:Using anger to try and move your partner into submission about something; you know they hate it when you get angry and will usually give in when you do so you resort to being angry to get your way.
- Interrupting and talking over your partner: (This is one of my favs…and makes me SO angry when it happens to me.) When someone is interrupting or talking over another, the message being sent is “my thought/ message is more important than yours so you should listen to mine and get on side you knob”.
- Ignoring or giving the Silent T
reatment:Anytime you are purposefully withholding communication or ignoring your partner in an effort to teach them a lesson, or get them to start/ stop doing something, you are again trying to control/ change them.
- Crying: Yup, even crying can be a control/change tactic. If you know your partner gets really uncomfortable when you cry so you sometimes use it to change (control) their behaviour, that’s you trying to change or control your partner.
Think about any time you’ve thought or said “if only my partner would…” — that’s you looking to change your partner.
If only they would:
- Share more, talk to me about their feelings/ not want to talk about feelings all the time!
- Be on time/ chill a little with the schedule.
- Think about the bigger picture and not just how it’s affecting them
- Save more/ spend more
- Plan more/ be more spontaneous
- Let loose a little more, relax! / take things a little more seriously
I should be clear that I don’t mean you can’t have healthy conversations with your partner about how their behaviour affects you and look for a compromise.
That is completely different than trying to control their behaviour through protest behaviour of your own.
Trying to control/change someone through your behaviours rather than having a conversation and working out a compromise is a lose-lose strategy.
You will be creating mistrust between eachother.
They can’t count on nor trust you to tell them how you feel or what you need, so they’ll be left trying to figure it out on their own. That creates a sense of emotional insecurity and creates a power dynamic that will eventually erode the connection.
I recommend giving that up and working out how to have better conversations that work toward a compromise.
If you’ve already tried to talk to your partner and the behaviour isn’t changing, you might need to look at how effective you were in the conversation.
Simply telling your partner “I wish you’d stop doing that!” is not going to get you the results you’re looking for.
Working towards a compromise will require that you and your partner both get real and vulnerable with each other. You’ll have to talk about what works, what doesn’t, and why. Then together you’ll create a solution that works for both of you.
I will also mention here that creating a solution that works for both of you may not mean they stop doing the thing that makes you crazy.
reality according to Dr John Gottman and his research, 69% of all marital problems are unsolvable.
These problems are perpetual and related to fundamental differences between you and your partner. Depending on the health of your relationship, some of these seemingly benign problems can become big sticking points:
- Leaving dishes in the sink instead of putting them in the dishwasher.
- Piling shoes at the front door instead of putting them in the closet.
- Leaving tiding-up the kitchen until the morning instead of right after dinner.
- Being late – “flexible with time” as a friend of mine used to say.
- Preferring to make plans well in advance leaving little room for spontaneity.
- How you spend big holidays or celebrate special events like birthdays.
- Spending/ saving money.
- Prioritizing how you spend your time.
For some couples, with the right dialogue, those are totally solvable problems. For others they can create serious conflict. If you have topics in your relationship that keep causing tension and conflict, you may have an perpetual, unsolvable problem on your hands.
Trying to solve unsolvable problems with a ‘either-or’ solution – they stop or start doing the thing that makes you crazy – rather than talking about them and how to work with or around them will create ongoing frustration and eventually gridlock in your communication.
You anchored firmly on one side of the problem and your partner just as firmly anchored on the other side. When you get to that point in a relationship, it can be really challenging to figure out how to work together.
Recognizing perpetual problems for what they are and working towards a compromise vs trying to control and change your partner through your behaviours will prove way more effective in the long run.
There’s value in picking your battles (and your conversations).
Sometimes you have to accept that part of the cost (that accompanies the payoff of being with your partner) is that they will be late or they will leave their dishes in the sink etc. If that’s the case, you’ll want to look at why you’re so annoyed and talk about that. In some cases, it’s better just to let it go.
If you have some specific issues that are becoming gridlocked and you can’t seem to find your way out of the conflict, outside intervention is sometimes your best bet. Leaving these things to fester over time will inevitably kill the health and happiness of the relationship.
This can include using a book and workbook – The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work is a fantastic option! Alternatively, engaging a relationship coach or counselor may be the more effective alternative.
If you are looking for the latter, I’m ready to listen. Book your free consultation below and let’s discuss how you can create a happier and healthier relationship with your partner.
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