How To Get Someone To Change

He doesn’t like that she works so much and it drives him insane the way she leaves her makeup all over the bathroom. She wishes he wouldn’t spend so much money on clothes and so much time on the web. They both wish their teenaged son were more outgoing and ambitious. He wishes they’d all talk about something other than schedules, lists, and plans and just slow down from time to time.

They also all really love each other.

As we get to know people, we will notice things about them that, according to our own standards and preferences, aren’t ideal. They will likely notice similar things about us, as they critique our ways of being through the lens of their own standards and preferences.  What happens next has the power to make or break a relationship.

The problems occur when we try to force what we think is best on others, and they do the same to us.  In one way or another we say, “my way of being and operating in the world is better than yours, so I demand you change.”

She thinks it’s wise to save as much as possible for the future and that’s the better way.  He says it helps his confidence to wear expensive suits to work, and that life is short and you should feel your best and live it up.

It’s possible that one could persuade the other to change their perspective and behavior.  First, here’s how it won’t happen.

We need to feel validated and accepted to remain open to others.

Neither will consider changing if either of them resorts to criticism of the other person for their choices or behavior. For instance, if she judges him, saying he’s irresponsible, materialistic, selfish, immature or anything else that attacks his character as a person, he will no longer hear her. He will no longer be open to what she has to say and will only proceed to defend his spending.

Likewise, if they invalidate each other’s positions and perspectives, solutions will not be reachable. For instance, if he tells her that her concerns are unwarranted and that she worries too much and needs to relax, she will only work harder to prove her point, and become angrier in her delivery because she will feel that he is not valuing her experience and how his choices impact her.

So what can be done to create some resolution for this issue, and any other issue that comes up?  How can one get the other to change?

There are 3 things that we need to remember when in conflict with others:

1.     People rarely doing things that upset us to upset us.

2.     People only change because they want to, not because someone else wants them to.

3.     People are free to change when they feel accepted, safe, and loved. Causing them to feel bad limits their ability to change.

With these two things in mind, you can encourage change in 2 ways:

1.     State your case without invalidating, criticizing, or judging

2.     Invite them to create a solution with you

She might say:

"I love how you look in your beautiful suits and I know they have an impact on how you feel about yourself. I would never want to take that away from you.  I worry sometimes because we have a son, and we plan to pay for his college tuition, and then there’s our retirement and time is just flying by! We’ve talked about traveling the world one day and I cannot wait to do that with you. I don’t want anything to stand in our way of living our dreams. When I see you spending thousands on suits, I become afraid that you don’t care about our future plans, and that breaks my heart. I need to know you care too. I’m scared that we may not have enough money if we don’t save more. Can we talk about how we might be able to cut back our spending so that we can save X more dollars a month?  I’d love your thoughts on how we can accomplish that."

The best hope you have is to influence their thinking and behavior by reasoning with them and helping them see the benefits that might result in a change in a non-critical and non-diminishing way. Share your true feelings and what it is you are really worried about...

“when you work late often, I get scared that you don’t miss me, because I miss you and look forward to being with you.”

 “when you spend all that time online, I feel terrified that you are avoiding me and aren’t interested in connecting and being close with me anymore, because I still really want that with you.”

It’s important to understand what’s really bothering you and then communicating that as honestly as possible. You don’t ever want to leave the person feeling that their behavior or choices make them unacceptable to you unless they change. You don’t want to send the message that they are unlovable as they are right now.

This is sure to put them on the defensive because now they are feeling threatened, which activates the fight or flight response in the brain. Once this happens, they aren’t thinking logically. They are now concerned with surviving the enemy- you.  At this point you are no longer working together but on separate teams, and assume a battle type scenario where there will be a winner and a loser.

This is all quite simple, but not at all easy. It requires vulnerability and empathy. When you’re emotionally affected by someone’s behavior, it’s difficult to try to see the world through their eyes, but it’s important that you do. And you also need to ask yourself, “what’s really bothering me?” and communicate that, so that it’s clear that ultimately, your aim is to protect the bond that you share, and to make sure that you both continue feeling loved and appreciated by one another.

Of course there is the chance, even after your best efforts, that they will not change. It's very hard not to take this personally and then search for other negatives that confirm the truth about what it is we believe the lack of willingness to change signifies- that they don't love, respect, value, or care about you. In every relationship, if one wants to find evidence of such things, they will. I suggest looking for evidence that the opposite is true, accept that your partner won't do everything "right", let it go, and find happiness in what is going well.* 

In summary, remember that to be willing and wanting to change, a person needs to feel emotionally safe.  Only then are they able to make a change. 

Here are 6 steps to helping someone close to you change and grow.

6 Steps to Getting Someone to Change:

1.     Realize that making them feel bad doesn’t help

2.     Know that accepting them as they are does help

3.     Praise, don’t criticize

4.     Tell them what you love about them

5.     Ask them what makes them feel loved

6.     Focus on your own growth and happiness

Do you have an unresolved conflict in your relationship? Feel free to leave it in the comments.  Want support improving your relationship? Work with me!

Thanks for reading!

* The issues I am referring to in this post are normal, healthy everyday issues people face in relationships, not issues involving physical, emotional, or sexual abuse for which professional help and removing oneself from the situation are recommended.