14 Feb You Can’t Always Change Your Partner, But These Tips Might Increase Your Chances

So, you really want your partner to stop doing a behaviour that you believe is doing him or her harm?

You’ve probably discovered that getting your partner to change isn’t easy.

Lonely woman standing with bicycle on road of paddy field among flying birds and sunset background

You’ve probably tried requesting, suggesting, bribing, threatening, and even getting really angry and demanding change.

But maybe nothing’s really worked, even though you’ve bent over backwards and invested a lot of your own emotional energy trying to get your message through.

This might be even more annoying if the lack of change doesn’t seem to be bothering your partner nearly as much as it’s bothering you.

So what else can you do to help your partner finally hear you and make changes to how much he or she drinks, smokes, cheats, lies, gambles… or whatever other behaviour he or she is currently doing?

The bad news is, there’s really nothing you can do to make your partner change.

Sure, partners can help each other, but only once they have come to their own personal decision and commitment to make change happen. Personal change is something that each of us can really only ever decide to do on our own.

The good news is that there are a few things you can do that will at least have the best chance of initiating change in your partner.

1. Stop complaining and whinging.

You’ve probably already told your partner many times how bad his or her behaviour is, and why he or she really must change it.

Chances are, you’ve probably been doing this with attitude, since you’re also effected negatively by whatever’s been going on.

Your partner does need to understand how his or her behaviour is affecting you, so it’s important that you do communicate honestly about it.

But it’s crucial that you do this like the adult you actually are. You’ll need to stop the nagging and learn how to communicate assertively instead.

Kids complain and whinge. Adults don’t. Shift from complaint to request and stop the complaining and whinging.

2. Model the behaviour that you want from your partner.

You can’t control your partner, but you can control yourself. Instead of being so focussed on your partner, turn your focus inward and direct your energy into modelling the exact behaviour that you want to see in your partner.

If you want your partner to drink less, then make sure that your own drinking is moderate, or that you’re not drinking at all. Ditto with drug use, gambling, spending, yelling, arguing, being late…. or whatever it is that you want him or her to change for the better.

Really importantly, don’t do this while acting all self-righteous and making a big deal of it. Just go about it consistently and quietly. Your partner is far more likely to be influenced by what you do than what you say.

Don’t point your finger and talk about change. Instead, show what the change looks like.

3. Appeal to the part in your partner that wants to change.

Think about the times that you’ve wanted to change something about yourself. Maybe you wanted to lose weight, get fit, save more money.

Was there one part of you that really wanted to change, and another self-sabotaging part that absolutely did not? When you tried to silence that self-sabotaging part, did it sometimes get even louder?

We’ve all got a rebellious streak – some of us more than others. And we’ve all got another part of ourselves that wants the best for ourself and wants to toe the line. It can be tricky finding a healthy balance between these two parts.

Appeal to that part inside your partner who actually wants to live a healthier, happier life, and is capable of doing so. If you start noticing it, it’s more likely that your partner will notice it too.

4. Set clear boundaries, and stick to them.

You’re trying to change your partner because you love him or her, but also because his or her behaviour is affecting you in negative ways.

Your partner’s change is up to him or her. You can’t make it happen. But you can create healthy boundaries to ensure that your life can start getting better (or at least less stressful) while you wait.

In extreme circumstances, this might mean leaving the relationship altogether, but it doesn’t have to be as full-on as that.

For some couples this step might involve separating finances (if your partner is gambling), sleeping in separate bedrooms (if your partner is coming home late or drunk and disrupting the sleep of the other), arriving in seperate cars (if your partner is persistently late) or avoiding contact at critical times (if your partner is abusive or threatening).

 You deserve to look after yourself. Think about how you can do this by managing your day to day life in particular ways. It’s not about being vindictive or hurtful, and it can be done with love. But do make sure you set firm boundaries about what you need in order to best cope with your partner’s behaviour.

Pamela Pannifex is a psychotherapist, marriage therapist, naturopath and founder of Sunshine Holistic Counselling on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. For the past 25 years she has been helping people create personal wellbeing and relationships that thrive. Contact Pamela here.