Can You Change Your Partner? Should You?

Marriage Counseling Insights brought to you by California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.

In the early stages of a relationship, mutual attraction can drive the entire process. If you’ve read about the chemistry of infatuation, then you realize that you’re not entirely in conscious control of your emotions or actions. That’s okay — that’s the process where you get to know your potential partner and begin to explore the deeper issues of shared values.

A woman smiling

But there can be times when you get ahead of yourself and commit while you’re still being influenced by some fundamental drives. That’s not a problem if you’re prepared to step back, reevaluate and even end the relationship if necessary. A problem may arise when you try to fix the relationship before it’s even developed. Writing for Psychology Today, Yvonne Castaneda looks at a typical situation and says that, “Soon enough, most of your sentences begin with ‘Don’t forget to…’ or ‘Remember that you need to…’ and although you started off with a great deal of patience, you see that none of your efforts are working. Your partner’s still doing the same annoying things, and now you’re annoyed, angry, and frustrated because they don’t appreciate how much you’re trying to help them. After all, isn’t that what love is all about? Coaching our partners and helping them to be better versions of themselves?”

Actually, the polite answer is, no — that’s not what a mature relationship is all about. If any of this rings true, then it’s probably a good idea to dig in and see why any of this resonates with you, and it’s probably a bit complex. That may begin with thinking back to your childhood. Castaneda reflects on the problem, saying “If you always slip into a pattern of ‘raising’ your partner, consider that maybe you saw the same dynamic playing out in the relationship between your parents. Having been modeled for you for all of your childhood, it may have registered as the normal, healthy dynamic between two people who love each other.”

“Raising” your partner certainly may have side effects, beginning with a serious drain on your sex life. “When you channel all of your energy toward making sure your partner is improving, changing, progressing, and growing,” writes Castaneda, “you run the risk of forgetting two important factors: They never asked you for help, and they managed to survive before they met you. Rather than change and grow, they remain firmly entrenched in their ways, and you end up feeling exhausted, frustrated, resentful, and worst of all, unappreciated. This is not a recipe for an active sex life.”

If you identify with this scenario, there are some steps you can take to not only save the relationship but help it thrive. Castaneda says to:

  • Make a decision as to whether or not you really want to stay in your relationship. 
  • Focus on yourself.
  • Relinquish control. 
  • Be a team, not adversaries. 

For a full discussion of these insights, read Castaneda’s full article here.