A partner or a project?

"The three stages of love and marriage: you don’t know 'em, but you love 'em. You know 'em, and don’t love 'em. You know 'em and you love 'em."

– Unknown

I was recently asked by a viewer why women try to change their partner soon after they become intimate. This question sparked other questions from viewers who feel as though their partner began trying to change them as soon as they said, “I do.” Trying to change your partner is a no-win situation that is constantly brought up in every argument. The idea that you can change your partner to think more like you or understand the world as you do is flawed; yet, most relationships struggle with it.

Men are more likely to complain that their girlfriend or spouse is trying to change them into a specific kind of guy. This often leads them to feeling resentful, nagged, and inadequate. Their tendency is to get defensive, fight back, or withdraw, making it impossible to discuss the root of the problem. What’s usually at the heart of the problem is a partner who hasn’t fully accepted themselves and is critical of themselves. The partner has high expectations for themselves – which they fail to achieve – and project some of their internal conflict onto their partner. The partner who is constantly critiqued becomes more resistant to change; rather than them rising to the expectation, they do less and less. This leads to a negative cycle and slowly the relationship becomes miserable for both.

Trying to change your partner is futile; in truth, the only person you can change is you. Our behavior is wired into us and is especially influenced by parents. When your partner is stressed, angry, or frustrated, they will resort back to their “default,” which is what they learned at home. If your spouse had a mom who did all the laundry, cleaning, and childcare while dad sat in a chair, there is a good chance your spouse will fall into that pattern unless they are personally motivated to change.

In a loving relationship where both partners feel fulfilled, they will make sacrifices and changes because they’re motivated to please their partner. They also realize it will help the relationship. Most partners will change their approach to solving relationship problems if they’re motivated to work on it with you. For example, if motivated, most guys will change when kids come along to help with chores and childcare.

Trying to make a partner change won’t be as effective as partnering as a team with them. You can’t change your partner’s personality or core values, but in a healthy relationship you can expect your partner to grow closer to you and become more sensitive to your feelings and emotional needs. The only thing you really can change is your reaction to your partner’s behavior. Your reactions hold the key to the relationship’s health. If you overreact, there is a direct correlation with a more contentious relationship.

The more you understand each other’s differences and learn to appreciate them, the more empathy you can develop toward each other. If he doesn’t put the toilet seat down, blame his mother. That behavior is taught with potty-training; all the nagging in the world isn’t as strong as his default, which is what he learned at the age of two or three.

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