Why I Quit Trying to Change People
‘A woman can’t change a man because she loves him, a man changes himself because he loves her’
I read this quote somewhere recently and thought… wow. In effect, it summarised to me the fundamental difference between my first marriage and my current relationship. (For those who don’t know my story, I’m forty-two years old and currently in my second ever long-term relationship).
The reason this quote had such an effect on me? Do I make a habit of trying to change people? Well, no. But during my marriage I did try subtly - but very surely - to change my husband into the type of man/husband I thought he should be. The sort of man I was certain he was capable of being.
I’m certain that I wasn’t fully conscious that I was even doing this – I just thought that this was how relationships/marriages/life worked. That if there was something unsatisfactory to you about a person you were close to, you tried and TRIED to amend that thing. Maybe he did this to me too. And maybe we were two unhappy people feeling stifled, aggrieved and to a certain extent, trapped in our marriage.
Eventually, my husband left me. And so began for me a long period of grieving, introspection and soul-searching. I knew the marriage breakdown technically wasn’t my fault – he left very unexpectedly and assured me that it was him, not me. A midlife crisis. But it was not possible for me to go through something of that magnitude and not question my part in it. I didn’t want to ever go through a relationship breakdown of that magnitude again.
Fast-forward a bit more time and along – very unexpectedly - came my current partner. From the start, I could see that he was different. He was my age but had never married or had children. He had an air of independence and individuality about him that I found refreshing. I loved the fact that he had chosen to follow his own path in life - as a newly single woman I found it inspiring and strangely comforting to have met someone so damned confident and relaxed in his own skin.
With him, I knew I could be myself. And the really strange thing – for me at least – was that over time I found myself more and more comfortable with allowing him to be himself. My natural inclination to try and change loved ones into how I thought they should be slowly started to slip away. He was who he was, and I was how I was. The more he encouraged me to be myself, warts and all, the more I felt comfortable letting him be who he was – warts and all.
What sweet relief!
And the really strange (yet not so strange) thing? He actually wants to change. After many years of being unattached – of so-called freedom - he now wants a different life. He wants to make a life with me and my kids, and he wants this off his own back – without me trying to force him into it, or change him in any way. A man changes himself because he loves her.
So, here is what I have learned about trying to change people – and why I decided to QUIT:
1. There is a fine line between wanting to change and wanting to control someone
We are all born with both good and not-so good qualities. If we’re not mindful of what we’re doing, we may fall into the habit of focussing on our own good qualities and fail to acknowledge our not-so good qualities, whilst at the same time focussing on the ‘bad’ qualities of others – the qualities that we want to change. Or control.
We may tell ourselves – and really believe – that we are doing this for the good of the other person. We love them so we want to ‘fix’ them. But it is not our job to fix – or control - anyone but ourselves. All of us have free will – the ability and the right to choose our own paths, for better or for worse. Even our own children are under our control for a relatively short period of time.
Let others decide their own paths, and focus on finding on the best path for YOU. Before passing judgement on another, look closely at yourself and what YOU are doing. Because you are the only person you have any real hope of changing – or controlling. Change yourself, and you may just see the reflection of that change in THEM.
2. Your perspective of a person or situation is just that – a perspective
When you identify something in someone that you don’t like – be it your partner, child, or any other loved one – stop and ask yourself if the thing that you don’t like and want to change is really a ‘thing’. Because to you it may be a thing, but it may just be a ‘thing’ that they’re completely unaware of.
Ask yourself if you are perhaps projecting old fears/hurts/resentments - outdated beliefs - on to the person. For example, as a child you may have had a fear of abandonment. Your current partner enjoys semi-regular time alone (or with his buddies) and you feel threatened by this.
Your fear likely has nothing at all to do with your partner – he rightfully believes that time apart from each other now and then is a healthy thing, but your past hurts are telling you that this way of being is not right, and is therefore something that you should set about changing. But to do so may sabotage an otherwise healthy relationship.
Your perspective is just that – one person’s perspective. Try to be mindful of that always.
3. The only change that can truly last is the change that comes from within
Stay with me here – the above statement may sound like ‘hippy’ or ‘spiritual’ crap but it is – unfortunately or not – true!
If there really is something about a person that needs to be ‘fixed’ or ‘changed’, that person needs to initiate the change themselves. Think of an alcoholic or chronic gambler who is pressured into giving up their addiction by concerned family members and friends.
That person may give up their addiction for a time, but will quite likely fall back into it. This pattern of quitting and relapsing may go on for years until something drastic enough happens to make the person WANT to quit – to change.
As painful as it is, we need to give people the space to sort themselves out. Encourage and help by all means, but then take a step back - for your own peace of mind if nothing else. Work on being the best version of yourself possible, and allow others to do the same for themselves. It is really the only way to win at this thing called life.
Do you have a story about trying to change people, just to fit your needs? Let me know in the comments!
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