It seems so clear – if they would just change in that one small (or not-so-small) way, everything would be better. You’ve tried one tactic after another, convinced that the right strategy will be the key to unlocking their potential.
Yet each attempt falls flat.
We all do this to some extent, focusing on how somebody else could mold just a little better to our needs. And in the context of a relationship, it’s appropriate to communicate your needs and to ask your partner to try to meet them. Yet, we don’t always go about this in the most productive way.
The following are common strategies that we use to try to change others that often backfire:
1 – Wanting Them to Change
It’s amazing how easy it is to tell ourselves stories about other people’s desires and motivations. We can so easily confuse our desire for them to change with an interest in their part on engaging in transformation.
2 – Loving Them Harder
This is one you see so often with addicts as their loved ones try to give them everything in an attempt to out-love their compulsions. Yet even though love provides the security to anchor oneself in order to grow, love on its own does not create growth.
3 – Making Yourself Smaller
When the other person’s personality is strong or they have a tendency to respond in anger, it can be tempting to shrink in order to avoid prompting outrage. Yet no matter how carefully you tiptoe on those eggshells, you cannot prevent their reactions.
4 – Begging
Maybe they didn’t hear you the first time (or ten times). Or perhaps, they didn’t understand that this is important. What feels like reminding on your side can easily feel like nagging on theirs. And nobody responds well to that.
5 – Giving an Ultimatum
There’s an important distinction to be made here between ultimatums and boundaries. An ultimatum says, “If you don’t do x, I will do y.” An ultimatum is a threat to the other person.
In contrast, a boundary says, “x is important to me. Do you think you can help make that happen?” And then if the boundary is crossed, “x is important to me. I need to do y to protect that.” A boundary is keeping a promise to yourself.
6 – Comparing Them to Others
Comparison rarely inspires growth. Instead, it breeds insecurity and contempt. In order to change, a person needs to first feel accepted and safe. Comparison is the enemy of that.
7 – Shaming Them
Shame often has the opposite effect of what is intended. The teenager who is shamed by her parents for her excess weight sneaks extra snacks at school with an, “I’ll show them” attitude. Shame leads to the digging in of heels and secrecy, neither of which are good for any relationship.
8 – Tell Them They’re Wrong
Their view or approach is different than yours. That doesn’t automatically mean that it is wrong. An overly dismissive approach leads to a situation with a “winner” and a “loser.” Change happens when it’s approached as a problem for both to solve.