Before embarking on marriage, a common piece of advice is, "Don't try to change your partner." I've spent a lot of time puzzling over that suggestion because I've never met a couple who was able to follow the advice. Maybe the couples who are able to avoid trying to change each other never need a therapist. My hunch, however, is that I haven't met a completely accepting couple because that couple doesn't exist. Most of the couples I see have spent months if not years trying unsuccessfully to change each other. And, I can't think of one case in over 35 years where the effort was to change things in a negative direction. Everyone wants their partner to be better, not worse. They want to improve communication, expressions of affection, money management, parenting style and much more. These are all areas that deserve attention and improvement.
So, my advice to couples is, "Go ahead and do your best to change your partner for the better." It's not whether or not we try to change our partners because we inevitably will. It's all about the method. If we do it lovingly, respectfully, empathically, gently and patiently, our partner will likely experience the effort as supportive. If, on the other hand, our efforts are characterized by exasperation, annoyance, impatience, condescension and disrespect, we will likely experience resistance and rejection.
The next time you try to change your partner, notice how much love and respect are in your efforts. Chances are, if your efforts are unsuccessful it's because you've "lost that lovin' feeling."
Jake Thiessen, PhD
I've been working with couples for a very long time. And, I love it! This blog is my attempt to communicate some of the things I've learned over the past 35 years.