Marriage can be a lot of work and many of us waste our precious time, energy and resources, trying to change, help or fix our spouse, who doesn’t want to change. Guess what? We should stop. It’s not going to work. You probably have a good reason for wanting him to change. Bad news: it’s not going to happen. Until this person decides there is a problem that he needs to address, he is not going to change. Good news: You can let go of that responsibility! It’s not yours. Find something else to do! Knitting? Yoga? Rock collecting? The sky is the freaking limit. Cue music and confetti here.
You cannot change your partner
In a relationship or a marriage, you might want to change some attributes of your partner. But here’s the thing: Your partner has to take care of himself. You can stop working so hard to keep your partner functioning. If you push your partner too hard to change, you may lose what little you get from your partner. The only person we can change is ourselves. We cannot force someone to change or get the help they need to be a healthy, happy, functioning human. For instance, if your partner is addicted to something, depressed, anxious or otherwise suffering and not getting the help they need, you can’t do anything about beyond expressing your concern, fear, and your feelings. Beyond that, you have to let it go and take care of the only person you are in control of yourself. And yes, this is extremely in difficult, because in some cases you might worry that your partner may be in peril, maybe engaging self-destruction, may be driven away from you or may not be able to participate in the relationship in any way. I get it. But unless your partner is suicidal and threatening to hurt him or herself (in which case you call the hospital or 911), in some other immediate danger (in which case you call the hospital or 911), you can do nothing else. It really sucks. It’s really painful. But that’s the way it is.
Communicate your feelings to your partner
Apart from certain personal attributes, there is another thing that might make you want to change your partner, this change is related to the dynamic in your relationship. For example, If you feel you do more than your fair share of housework and you want your partner to help more, the first step is communicating this to your partner. Express your feelings about this dynamic. Often times communication is all it takes. Sometimes, though, even after you’ve done your part in expressing your feelings, asking for help, sharing your needs, the dynamic continues. Your partner does not change his/her behavior. Then what?
Focus on things you can control
The next step is for us to focus on your behavior. For you to focus on the things you actually have control over Yourself. If you feel you are doing more than your fair share of the housework, then you need to stop doing so much. And you can announce this to your partner. That you’re going to stop doing any more of the housework than you feel is fair. And you’re letting go of the rest. Not to punish anyone. Simply to set boundaries that you can feel good about. So that you don’t continue to seethe and build resentment. This is often hard because there is risk involved. The risk is that the house is going to become very messy. Maybe even disgusting. The fear is that you’ll never have a clean house again, that this will make you anxious. Or maybe the fear is that you not continuing to do most of the work, or more than your perceived share, will cause conflict.
So, acknowledge the risk and the fear. But don’t let it stop you from changing your part in the dynamic. Because changing YOUR part in the dynamic is the ONLY part of changing a dynamic that you have any control over.
Be prepared to face resistance
Here is an important note: when you begin to change your part in a marital dynamic that isn’t working for you, you are almost always met with a lot of resistance from your spouse. After all, the dynamic may not have been working for you, but it was working for your partner! So when you begin to change, they will begin to speak up, act out, and resist, with the intention of getting you to go back to the way things usually worked. But despite all of this resistance, push back and keep changing! Hold your new boundaries. Keep your behavior moving in the new direction. It won’t be easy, but if you can persevere through the initial rough waters, almost always, this will leave your spouse no choice but to get on board with the new dynamic. He will have to join you in this new way of doing things because you’re not going back to the old way. Or, he may leave the relationship. But if someone leaves a relationship because you are setting boundaries in order to be a healthier and happier you, that is not a relationship you want to be in any way.
So if you’re waiting, hoping or trying to get your spouse to change, please stop. You’re not going to get him/her to be more empathic, more helpful, more available or more attuned to you. You can’t get someone to be more motivated, to take better care of themselves, to love themselves more. All you can control is you and how well you are taking care of you and your little corner of the Universe. If you focus on that, the rest of the pieces will fall where they may. As you change the parts of dynamics that aren’t working for you, others will have to decide to adapt or not. But that part isn’t in your control.