Do Something Different

How to use the other 9/10ths of your personality.

Revive Your Relationship

How can I get her/him to change?

When a relationship gets rocky it’s common to hear one person lament if only I could get my partner to change, or more specifically statements like:

  • If only she wouldn’t nag
  • I wish he wouldn’t spend so much time at work
  • If only she wasn’t so moody
  • He doesn’t talk to me like he used to
  • She doesn’t bother about her looks the way she used to
  • I wish he didn’t criticise me so much
  • She should go out more and let me go of with my friends
  • He used to notice me now he is glued to the TV  
  • She is always complaining about something I’ve done

Each of these points the finger at one partner’s problematic behaviour. But how to change it? Tell them where they’re going wrong? Suggest ways they could improve? Go into a sulk maybe, or start a blazing row?

These are common strategies that people try, but they often fail because trying to force another to change will meet with resistance. When people are criticised for their behaviour they often feel hurt and naturally want to defend the way they are. Or, worse still, they will go on the attack ….”Me always watching TV? What about the amount of time you spend on the phone to your mother?” This type of scenario  (you scored a point off me so I’ll try and score one back) solves nothing. In fact it is likely to damage the relationship even further. Point scoring is lethal. Because if one partner wins the relationship loses.In my previous blogs I have discussed how habits creep up on us all and the why we fail to notice their consequences.......

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But if you want your partner to change, what can you do? How can you save a relationship that’s heading for the rocks?

You can do something different. You can change yourself. That’s right, if you want someone else to change, start by being different yourself. Because when you persist with the same behaviours you get the same reactions. So continuing to behave the same in a relationship that needs shaking up will simply produce more of the same whether it is with your partner or your kids.

Jean was desperate about the state of her marriage to Dennis. Obsessed with computer games, he spent up to 14 hours a day shut up in his study staring at the screen. Jean felt ignored and neglected. Some days she didn’t bother getting dressed because she knew Dennis wouldn’t be taking her out anywhere. She tried pointing out repeatedly how unfair he was being. She pleaded with him that they needed a life together. One day she burst into his study and threatened to leave him. Dennis simply responded by fixing a lock on his study door the next day. Jean became depressed. She put on weight and stopped caring for herself. Then a friend persuaded her to go to a weight-loss group. Jean learned there that she had to do something different before Dennis would change. So she took charge of her own life. She stopped commenting on Dennis’s computer habit. Instead she focused on making her own life more interesting. She went to art galleries, swimming club, and the hairdresser. Jean began to feel invigorated and alive again. And, when Dennis came out of his study, he found his wife was different. She was more like the fun-loving woman he’d married. And, he realised, if he wasn’t careful he might even lose her. So one day Jean got up to find Dennis smartly dressed and, instead of heading to his study, he offered to walk into town with her. Things improved from then on and the last I heard they were planning a cruise …together.

Jean couldn’t change Dennis by nagging or rationalising.  But she could change herself and he would change in response.

In our Do Something Different approach we encourage people to be the type of partner they want the other to be. If you want more affection, be more affectionate. If you want the other to notice you more, start noticing them more. In Jean’s case, she wanted to tear Dennis away from his computer. She achieved this only after she’d become more outgoing herself.

If you want to get something different, you have to do something different. If you want a better relationship look to yourself, not to the other person. They will change if you subtly alter the way you are towards them. And they will change dynamically too, without force or argument. And without anyone winning or losing.

Ben C. Fletcher, D.Phil, Oxon, is a Professor of Psychology, a behavior change expert, and author of Flex: Do Something Different — How to use the other 9/10ths of your personality.

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