First and foremost, of course, be realistic. No one wants to change. It is one of the most fundamental parts of human nature: our conservatism. We cling to the old ways. We are all like children who want to hear the same fairy tale told in exactly the same words.
So for one: Start with praising the parts of the person you love for all the things you admire. This is how they traIn quarter horses, I have been told: by encouraging what is naturally within them. So encourage, tell the child you want to potty train that he pees beautifully in the potty should it occur!
2: Set an example. When I was first married to my busy doctor husband I complained bitterly at the long hours alone in the evenings. When this had no effect, I eventually began to work long hours, too. I taught classes in the evening, became more absorbed by my own writing, and ended up being busier than my husband. In a way, we swapped roles. He had simply led the way for better or for worse.
3: Be there to encourage and to sympathize in moments of downfall. This is why AA is so effective: the support system that enables alcoholics to speak to a sponsor, to have the understanding of a fellow sufferer. Simply having someone to talk to, someone who will listen without judging or condemning is half the battle.
4: ignore certain behavior or make a joke of it if you can. This works well with hysterical fits and with hypochondria. If the behavior has no effect it will be dropped.
5: If you have to criticize, make sure your criticism is in the moment, precise, and limited. If someone is standing on your foot in the subway, tell them to get off, for example. Don’t let things fester. Get it off your chest before sundown but refer to the present moment not the past. Don’t be an injustice collector. Cut out adverbs like “always” You always do so and so, is not likely to work!
6: Finally, it might be a good idea to look at literature and the portrayal of change in the short story. What makes a character change in a believable way? Change often lies at the heart of the great short story. Look at a story like Hemingway’s Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. What transforms Francis from a coward at the start of the story into the brave man he becomes at the end? Or read the great short story The Dead, by James Joyce and marvel at how Gabriel Conroy changes from the narcissistic young man who is worried about the effect of his speech at a party at the start of the story to the wise man at the end who is able to realize that we are all, including his wife’s young lover, Michael Furey, the same, all the living and the dead.
"Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, further westwards, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling too upon every part of the lonely churchyard where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and head­stones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."
You might want to read a book by Dr. William Tucker called How People Change: the short story as case history, which will give you a list of short stories that convey change.
Sheila Kohler is the author of many books including the recent Dreaming for Freud.