Assuming you want to change them, that is.
Everyone says you can't get your partner to change, nor should you try. You have to accept him or her, flaws and all.
While it’s fundamentally true that you can’t learn how to change your partner (as he has to want to change himself) there are ways to influence someone else’s behavior. These 5 easy steps not only increase the likelihood of behavioral change, they often bring couples closer together.
1. Understand what's causing the lack of change.
Behavioral patterns are very rarely end-games in and of themselves. There’s usually something deeper sparking the drive to act in the same way over and over again.
For example, if your boyfriend parties every night — staying up late and drinking lots of alcohol to his own detriment — there’s something more to this than him simply being “immature.” Telling him to “grow up” will not compel him to change and, even worse, it’ll likely drive the two of you apart.
Instead, ask him what he’s getting out of partying. Are you doing it to relax? To relieve some anxiety? To avoid responsibility? Try to come from a place of really trying to understand the drive behind the behavior before you even attempt to change it.
2. Restate twice, then give advice.
Advice generally doesn't work towards changing someone else's behavior, for a number of reasons. It often comes across sounding judgmental or critical, spurring the other person to dig her heels into her current behavior.
But once you’ve taken the time to understand what’s causing the lack of change, you can offer suggestions that speak to the deeper issue. This version of advice is harder for the other person to resist, because she herself named the deeper issue and identified it as a problem.
To make your suggestions even more powerful, restate her understanding of the deeper issue to her satisfaction before offering any advice around change. Restating her own words will make her feel heard and understood, not judged. Restating works so well for igniting change.
3. Model the behaviors you'd like to see.
Advice tends to be our go-to method for helping someone act differently, but there’s a much more effective way to inspire change. That way is to model the behaviors you’d like to see.
Modeling works exceptionally well for three reasons:
- It’s showing, not telling. It shows your partner in practical terms how she could be doing things differently.
- It’s positive, not negative. It sends the message, “Look at what you could start doing,” as opposed to “Why don’t you stop doing that?”
- It’s rooted in our physiology. We all have mirror neurons in our brains that make us naturally inclined to mimic the people we like. If your partner is fond of you, she’ll feel naturally inclined to adopt the behaviors she sees in you.
As an example, if you’d like your wife to be more adventurous, go on adventures yourself. Show her how taking risks can be fun. She will feel inspired to have fun too and, best of all, she’ll think it was all her idea.
4. Set boundaries.
Accepting a partner’s destructive behaviors is not always the most caring thing you can do. If his behaviors are truly damaging to himself or endangering you, it’s time to set some firm boundaries.
Setting boundaries means that you simply stop accepting some behaviors. And it means the relationship is on the line if the boundary is crossed. The key to setting boundaries is to make absolutely clear — within your own mind as well as to the other person — what you will and won’t accept.
For example, if your husband likes to drive extremely fast, it’s not enough to say, “Don’t drive extremely fast.” Make it clear: What specifically does “extremely fast” mean? Does this only apply when you’re in the car or all the time? Does it also apply on remote roads where there’s little danger to driving fast?
Be clear with your boundaries. And be careful to only set firm boundaries around things that really matter. You are putting the whole relationship on the line, after all.
5. Be open to changing yourself.
There’s nothing that makes another person more willing to change than seeing you embrace change yourself. If you know you have a habit that your partner truly dislikes, make an effort to work on it.
The effort she sees you putting into improving yourself will be an inspiration and will soften her heart towards changing herself. Remember, the two of you are in this relationship together, as equals. Don’t ask anything of your partner that you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself.
It’s true that you cannot change another person — they can only change themselves. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to inspire change.
For more advice, check out Kira's book, Stop Being Lonely.