Conflicts — 09 November 2009
When are you going to change?

All partners experience some frustrations about their mate’s ways. These annoyances are expected, repetitious and unavoidable and may either contaminate the joy in the relationship or may be handled gracefully.

The easy going, pleasurable and trouble-free relationship of early dating does not last long. Soon enough, the mate-focused loving attention is traded for a personal preoccupation with one’s unmet needs.

Expecting your partner to change his basic personality, ways, beliefs, interests, habits or emotions to suit yours, is an untenable undertaking.

A man I knew was dating a woman who was insecure about his devotion to her. He attributed her fretful and jealous responses to their pre-marital status. When her anxiety persisted long after the honeymoon, he was perplexed and troubled. He had assumed that once he made his vows public, she would be reassured and happy. This is an example of misperceiving internal insecurity for a situational reaction and assuming she would naturally change after their wedding.

A very hard working wife, who spent up to ten hours a day on her job, six days a week, was berated by her neglected husband for her lack of attention to him. She promptly reminded him that this had been her style for years prior to their marriage and that she could not see herself acting differently. This husband did not accept his wife’s pre-marital ways as predictors of their married life.

Love alone does not alter our being. Ideally, it elevates us to better interact with those we cherish.

Recent research documented that even our political preferences are predetermined aspects of our personality. It is erroneous to assume that frequent, persuasive and compelling arguments will alter our mate’s political persuasion. It is not to say that pairs who are divergent in their political or religious beliefs cannot have a loving wonderful connection. It only means that trying to change your partner’s thinking about basic beliefs is a futile undertaking.

Personal habits are also a common source of distress for many couples. Some wish the other would not leave clothes on the floor, leave lights on, lose items, be distracted, spend too much time at the computer, delay doing tasks, talk too much or be too silent. Repeated requests or waiting in silence for change rarely alter the other’s behavior.

Since change has to come from within, what is preferable is to adopt acceptance.
Drs. Jacobson & Christensen found that acceptance reduces negative thoughts and increases intimacy between mates. Non-judgmental information shared between mates helps ready both of them for change.

Barry Dym, in “Readiness and Change in Couple Therapy” affirms that the individual who seeks change can succeed after being guided to look inside. “In every case, seekers ready themselves for change by letting go of familiar patterns of thought, behavior, and feeling. At the point of letting go, the seeker typically is flooded with inchoate feelings and myriad thoughts and images and is driven to uncharacteristic acts. In the midst of this confusion, the person seeking transformation is vulnerable to the influence of others and, in particular, of his teacher. In many traditions the teacher, at this moment, rather than teach any specific doctrine or offer concrete advice, tells the student that he already has the wisdom within him.”

• Accept your future mate as he/she is from the start. Marriage is not meant for “raising” a partner, only accepting the wonderful one you chose.

• Abstain from wondering about when your partner will change. He/she will do so for a positive incentive, when he/she is ready.
• Use acceptance to quell your frustrations. Remind yourself of your mate’s many endearing traits that overshadow the annoying ones.
• Own your frustrations and request your mate’s cooperation. Say: “ I get lonely when you are at the computer. I miss you and want to spend more time with you.” Invitation always beats criticism.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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