How often do you wish that your partner were different? Do you ever wonder if you’ve married the “wrong” person? What subtle and not so subtle ways do you try to control your partner? What tactics do you use to get them to do what you want or stop doing what you don’t want? Do you wish he were more attentive and a better listener? Do you want her to be more affectionate and accepting? Do you even think your partner has a “psychological disorder?” I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard partners “diagnose” their partner. “Narcissist” is by far the most common label I’ve heard. Think of the ways kids behave when they want something or when they don’t get what they want. Temper tantrums, pouting, sucking up, threats, arguing and criticism and name-calling are common control and manipulation tactics that kids use. Sound familiar?
When I meet couples for the first time they usually have a long list of complaints about their partner. Their primary motivation to come to counselling is to get their partner to change in some way. Often they’ve tried everything and nothing has worked, so the last step is counselling. “Maybe the counsellor will get through to him! I hope she’ll finally hear what I’ve been trying to say!” The reality is we can’t control other people, especially our partner. Worse yet, control tactics almost always backfire and often make things worse.
“Relationships are such that if one person changes, the relationship changes.” – Michelle Weiner-Davis
If you want to improve your relationship, stop trying to change your partner and focus on changing yourself. Instead of thinking about what kind of partner you’d like to have, ask yourself what kind of a partner do you want to be and work on being that way. Get in touch with the values (qualities) that shaped the formation of your relationship in the early days. Kindness, compassion, integrity, passion, fun, respect, openness, communication and honesty are common values that underlie new relationships. Reflect on what you were like in the beginning of your relationship. What attracted your partner to you? Remember, values don’t change, they are integral to who we are. We can just lose touch with them over time. Even if your marriage ends you’ll know you’ve done your best and you’ll be more prepared for a healthier relationship in the future. Begin today to be the best partner you can be!