When couples have their first Counseling or Coaching session, there is one request that is nearly universal. Clients desire change, but not their own change. They say, “Please change my partner.”
- He doesn’t open up and communicate.
- She is constantly on her phone at night and doesn’t make time for us.
- She doesn’t want to have sex very often.
- He doesn’t love me the way I want to be loved.
- He never plans dates for us.
You get the idea. People enter therapy assuming there’s something about their partner that needs fixing. They’ve tried everything they know and haven’t succeeded. They haven’t been able to change their partner, so they want us to make that happen.
There’s a presumption the problem lies with “the other.” People blame their partner for the state of the marriage. The expectation is, “If my partner changed, everything would be ok.”
A new client, Yolanda, came in by herself for the session. Her husband refused to participate.
Yolanda: He’s been coming home late from work most nights. It’s like he is avoiding me. I feel so lonely, as if I’m the only one in this relationship. I do all the cooking and put the kids to bed. He strolls in, eats and goes downstairs to turn on the TV.
Lori: You sound so frustrated. It sounds like he is not engaged in the relationship; likes he’s checked out.
Yolanda: Exactly. That’s when I get so frustrated, I start to yell. He just shuts down. What’s wrong with him?
Lori: That’s part of the problem, Yolanda – you don’t know. There could be many reasons. He could just be tired and have nothing left to give. He could be shut down because he’s built up resentment as a result of your yelling. Maybe the television is his way of escaping to be alone. I can help you with this. But there’s one thing you must do.
Yolanda: What’s that?
Lori: When people come to us they typically want to change something about their partner. Yet that is what we have the least control over. You must stop that way of thinking – stop desperately trying to change him.
Yolanda: That will be hard.
Lori: Yes, but there’s good news.
The key to creating positive change in relationships is: Change yourself!
When you change what you do and the way you act, it automatically changes the way the other person responds. And that is the very thing we can control.
Yolanda and I figured out the specific changes she would make. When her husband came home she would greet him and give him a hug. Then she would invite him to have dinner with her. “Honey, I’d love to have dinner together. Would you skip the TV tonight? It would mean a lot to me.”
During dinner she would acknowledge he seemed distant lately, then ask, what’s going on at work?
Yolanda came back the following week and reported it worked. Instead of her husband coming home to an angry, resentful, negative wife, Yolanda reached out and connected with him. Instead of being demanding, she extended an invitation to have dinner together. She sent the message, he could do something to please her.
They had a nice dinner and talked for the first time in weeks. During dinner, her husband revealed there had been layoffs at work, and he was terrified of getting let go. He acknowledged he’d been distant and said he had been trying to escape at night when he got home. He avoided her since he didn’t want her to worry.
Yolanda told him she appreciated his concern, but she was strong enough to share whatever hardships life brought them. She told him it was harder on her to “not know” what was happening. He understood. They were back on track.
When you are having relationship issues and blaming your partner, remember: although one finger is pointing out, there are three pointing back at you. Instead of trying to change your partner, think about how you can change yourself and your responses. You will likely get a much better result.
One person can affect a relationship. You can create that positive change.
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. – Barack Obama
Your relationship deserves the highest level of support. Relationship Experts, Bob and Lori Hollander are committed to helping individuals and couples build connection and deepen bonds in a world that often makes it difficult.
Call them at 410-363-2825 or email them today, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image Copyright: Boris Smokrovic