The Relationship Couch

Can Your Partner Change?

Woman ponders trying to change her partnerI received a question from a reader:

Dear Anita,

What advice do you have for someone who may think a person could change through a relationship – “maybe he just needs time to understand how important having a family one day will be.”

My advice depends on what change you want to see in your partner. It’s easier for your partner to change a behavior than a personality trait or a dream/aspiration. For example, if you ask your partner to pick up after themselves a little more, they can probably do so. But wanting them to be as neat and organized as you is probably not going to happen. Or if your partner likes to spend money, but you prefer to save it. You may be able to convince them to put away some money for a down payment on a home or a vacation, but they will probably continue to spend more money than you feel comfortable with.

Differences between the two of you are inevitable, but being able to recognize if you’re asking for only a specific behavior to change or insteada personality overhaul will be critical to your relationship happiness. Relationship conflict arises when people won’t accept these differences and try to change their partner. Many times I have heard a person say to their partner, “You knew this about me when you married me.” If you’re dating, this will be one of the most important statements I will ever tell you:

When your date shows you who they are to you, believe them.

Too often I see people wasting time in a relationship that doesn’t work for them. If you’ve ever thought, “Maybe if they see how awesome I really am, they’ll do this for me,” I’m telling you right now that’s a slim possibility. Date based on the relationship you have, not the one you want. If your desire is to have children and you’ve been on a few dates with someone who tells you they don’t want children, that probably won’t change. Sure, you can wait around and hope they change their mind, but then the risk falls back on you that you won’t get your dream met. Is this the kind of risk you’re willing to take? Your date probably has his or her own dream that’s tied up in not wanting to have children. For example, maybe they want the freedom to travel whenever they want or retire at an earlier age. These desires are not right or wrong, they’re just different.

You can save yourself some time by deciding on your deal breakers. What are your relationship essentials and where can you be flexible? Think about important topics such as children, career, religion cohabitation, marriage and money. You want to talk about these issues with your date or partner to see if you can compromise where you both feel that what’s most important to you is being honored and respected. You both will feel more satisfied and accepted in your relationship when you do.