Changing your partner won’t work

Posted: Saturday, September 01, 2007

Suzanne has been engaged to Carl for five years. She respects and adores him and desperately wants to get married. Suzanne is the only woman Carl has ever truly loved. He is completely devoted to her but he is unable to commit. He cannot bring himself to share a home with her, and he cannot fathom himself a married man no matter how much he longs to share a loving life with her.

“Why can’t he change?” is her desperate question.

Most people believe that we have the ability to change once we make up our mind to do so. If we are overweight, we can go on a diet. If we’re not good at an activity we can practice to get better. We assume that we have the power to bring about change once we make a decision to do so. Consequently we erroneously believe that partnership problems can be resolved if one or the other partner would simply be willing to give up the bad habits that are so irritating to us.

Change, however, doesn’t come easy. Changing ingrained patterns doesn’t happen by rational decision making. We cannot simply alter or drop unwanted behavior without understanding what motivates us to behave in a certain way. To modulate behavior we need to uncover the underlying issues we cannot control: the powerful forces that result in blocking our ability to commit or love or compel us to gamble, drink or fail.

Finding the key to the ‘why’ is often a slow and painful process. The data in psychology research suggests that fear disguised in many ways may be the real culprit: fear of getting hurt, fear or rejection, fear of dying, fear of disapproval, fear of intimacy, fear of not being able to be who we deeply are. So how can we escape from our own terrors?

If we accept the principle that fear drives our negative behavior, it becomes apparent that attacking our partner to force change is completely counterproductive. Endless arguments, accusations, threats or abusive acts cannot produce change in another. They may not have the tools to alter behavior and don’t understand what drives them. Attacks will simply result in further alienation.

The solution is to concentrate on ourselves, not our partner. When both partners agree to this course of action a shift for a better relationship with ourselves and our partner becomes possible. Understanding our own motivations and taking responsibility for our own doings and feelings, not accusing our partners for making us do or say whatever we do or say, is the first step to accommodating change. That means owning up to our fears and our anxieties rather than leaving them buried. By learning about ourselves we become more enlightened and more accepting which enables loving feelings to be freed and emerge.

Inner exploration is not easy. It is possible that we may require help from a trained professional to unravel the complex issues that drive us. It may take time and courage to do so, but the results are in experiencing the joy and freedom that come when we can get rid of compulsive needs.

In the end the beauty of life is to know that change is possible, that we have the choice to pursue alternatives. We own our feelings – no one else does.

Jacqueline Brandwynne has worked in the health and beauty industry for more than 25 years and is creator of the Very Private line of products. Visit her at

Categories: Very Private

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