Often people come into my office with the hopes of “fixing” their partner. The question commonly asked is how can I get my spouse to change? Or occasionally it transfers to me and the question becomes can you fix my partner? Typically this is code for my partner doesn’t want to change or I’ve been trying to fix him/her for years with little success. During these conversations the focus is often on changing someone other than themselves. While I am in the change business, people usually need some desire, motivation, and commitment to change other than the urging of their spouse. My job is often to identify what needs changing, offer strategies to change, and detail the personal benefits from making the changes. Sometimes having an objective professional give an impression is more palatable than a spouse. Ideally both parties recognize that change needs occur in themselves and agree to work on the change process, but too often only one party will commit to change.
Many couples get stuck in the blame game and never move beyond that position. If a person can find fault in their partner then they can be distracted from their own problems and justify their actions. Some individuals agree to counseling out of guilt or fear, but are primarily motivated to change by external forces, which could be a spouse, children, finances, and/or societal acceptance. The decision to work on changing oneself needs to be internally driven by self-respect and a desire to be a healthier individual. Sometimes people believe that by ending an old relationship and starting a new one and finding the “right person” their problems will be solved, which is why the divorce rate is much higher for second and third marriages. Until we acknowledge that we are part of the problem, the conflict will persist. Often the root of the problem has nothing to do with your spouse and everything to do with you.
Whether the problem is lying, anger, unfaithfulness, substance abuse, or emotional immaturity, it doesn’t matter which issue you select, change starts with acknowledgement. Resources for change are available once you’ve identified the problem(s). Effective counseling involves learning tools, modifying thoughts, changing behaviors, and managing emotion constructively. Homework is an important part of the change process. Accessing articles, podcasts, video clips, and other reliable internet resources can prove beneficial. People can and do change with the correct motivation and proper guidance. If a dysfunctional individual chooses not to change, than the choice for the spouse to stay in the relationship is more difficult. Either way change will need to occur to create a better life with or without that person. Staying stuck in an unhealthy relationship can destroy self-respect. Make the decision from a position of strength by fixing yourself first.