Have you ever heard yourself make any of these statements regarding a current or potential partner?
- “He has so much potential.”
- “She just needs my love and then she will change.”
- “He said he will stop drinking once he moves in.”
- “He said he will leave his wife soon.”
- “She said she doesn’t really have an anger problem—that she’s just going through a hard time.”
- “She said she will be more sexually available after we get married."
I can’t tell you how often I hear statements such as these indicating how hard it is to fully accept that we get what we see. Many of us don’t want to accept that we can’t change someone—and that there's a good chance they won’t change at all, no matter how much we love them, no matter what they say.
People change when they want to change, not because you want them to change.
And if your lover really wants to change, he or she will likely already be receiving help and be on a growth path before you meet them. He might already be in therapy, coaching or facilitation, or already be in a 12-step program or support group. She might already be interested in reading about health and fitness, and about personal and spiritual growth. In other words, they will already be open to learning, growing, healing, and changing before you meet them.
It's not about you. You can't be special enough or loved enough that you can make someone change for you. It doesn't work that way. Change always has to come from within.
So, can you accept this person exactly as they are—or not?
In order to move ahead with a relationship, you need to make sure that you accept them exactly as they are—exactly as they are. You need to be able to fully love the lovable aspects of them and fully accept the wounded aspects of them—the aspects you don’t like. If you can’t tolerate and fully accept the aspects of your partner that you don’t find lovable—such as drinking, smoking, eating habits, anger or withdrawal, workaholism, unreliability, messiness, lateness, porn addiction, sexual demands, sexual disinterest, hygiene, anger, rage, people-pleasing, resistance, selfishness, moodiness, emotional unavailability, neediness, criticalness and so on—then this person is not the right partner for you.
Please don’t count on them changing. Just because you love his sense of humor, or you have great sex, or she adores you, or he is a great wage-earner, or she is gorgeous, or he is eye candy and so on, doesn’t mean that you can tolerate the wounded aspects of them.
Be honest with yourself—can you fully love them, even with all the things you don’t like about them?
Can you fully accept the aspects of them that are unloving to you and/or unloving to themselves? Can you cherish and adore them for the things you deeply love about them while completely letting go of trying to get them to change the parts of them you don’t like? If you can’t, then you need to move on.
Relationships fail over and over because people are not honest with themselves regarding what they can and can’t tolerate. They convince themselves that either they can tolerate what actually isn’t tolerable to them, or that the other person will change or they can get them to change—illusions.
We each need to be deeply honest with ourselves and love ourselves enough to acknowledge and honor what we can and can’t accept. Very often, when I work with married couples who are in trouble, I ask them how long into the relationship did they know that the issue they were struggling with was, indeed, an issue. They almost always say they knew it was an issue before they got married. When I ask them why they got married knowing that this issue wasn’t tolerable to them, invariably they say, “I thought he or she would change after we got married.” This is unloving to yourself and to your partner.
Do yourself a big favor: Stop thinking someone is going to change or that you can change them. At some future time, they may decide to change, but don’t count on it. Love them or leave them, but let go of expecting change. That's the only way to have a happy, fulfilling relationship.
Want more insight into your relationship? Find out the things you should always be selfish about in your partnerships and the questions that could keep your marriage from ending.