A person is not a fixer-upper project.
I was talking with a friend about a mutual friend of ours who I’d recently excommunicated because of her inability to address her addiction issues and the hurt they cause others. While we were discussing my choice to put up a healthy boundary, she sighed with understanding and said, “I’ve decided to stop lecturing her. At some point, if I’m still nagging her to change and she clearly isn’t, then I’m the assh*le.”
I sat there for a minute puzzling over this idea before I chuckled and exclaimed, “Oh my god. You’re absolutely right.”
“Yeah,” she nodded. “If I don’t want to love her the way she is, then I’m not doing either of us any favors by continually nagging her to change. Me preaching at her repeatedly and expecting her to be someone else isn’t going to help if it hasn’t already. Either I accept her and love her anyway, or I leave. Anything else is me being an antagonist.”
Now, even though addiction, abuse, cheating, or general dishonesty are red flags that shouldn’t be enabled or tolerated, the same rules apply to those flaws as the less destructive faults found in otherwise healthy relationships.
Asking someone to change their behavior once is a request; asking repeatedly is nagging. Nagging is demeaning and destructive to any relationship. Period.
If you can’t love someone where they are, doing what they’re doing, with no guarantee that they’ll ever change, then leave. You're doing no one any favors by sticking around and trying to guilt them into being something they aren't.
It took me a really, really long time to figure this out, by the way, even in my current relationship, where things are generally pretty great. No matter how hard I try or what car I’m driving, I can’t seem to park in the garage in a way that makes my husband happy.
For years, this flaw of mine resulting in him storming in at the end of the day, making a passive-aggressive criticism about my parking incompetence in the form of a joke — which always hurt my feelings — and then us devolving into a “QUIT CRITICIZING ME ALL THE DAMN TIME!!” (me) “THEN LEARN TO PARK LIKE AN ADULT!” (him) argument.
Similarly, I've always rinsed my dishes and stuck them in the dishwasher after every use, but my husband got used to leaving a mess in the sink all night during his bachelor years. Because he leaves for work at 7 AM and I usually work late into the evening, this meant that I was the one left with a sink full of his midnight snack dishes every morning which, frankly, was a frustrating way to start a day and felt like a blatant disregard for me.
Naturally, this also devolved into a series of “DAMMIT, WHY CAN’T YOU CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF LIKE AN ADULT?!” (me) “WHY IS IT SUCH A BIG DEAL?!” (him) arguments that ramped up incrementally every single time I felt like I had to address it yet again.
Obviously, these weren’t problems we were going to divorce over, but they sure did create a lot of stress, frustration, and general bullsh*t in an otherwise very happy home. And that’s all they ever accomplished.
So we decided to just knock it off.
We accepted that these little inconveniences were superficial issues the other was never going to fix, and while it was an inconvenience to the other, we both do enough to care for each other that more than cancels this stuff out. So we let them go.
This led to us examining the other things that irritate us in our lives together and learning to stop getting frustrated about those things too, and now we’re happier, less stressed, and more open and relaxed around each other. It's kind of magical.
This is something I wish I’d learned in my teens. Growing up, I watched the adult women around me try to scold or belittle their partners into changing who they were and somehow thought this was how adults communicated in relationships, despite never seeing any results from this method at all. As a result, I wasted tons of time in doomed relationships being a general bitch by trying to nag my lovers into changing themselves instead of either loving them as they were or leaving them to find someone who would love them unconditionally.
A person is not a fixer-upper project.
If you’ve taken someone on in hopes that you alone can facilitate his transformation, your relationship is doomed to failure in a blazing inferno of contempt. Sure, people can change, but never because they’re being told to by someone else.
Trying to prune your partner into whatever fantasy version of him you’ve crafted in your mind not only builds up resentment from both of you, but it keeps him from naturally evolving into the person he’s meant to be.
In her upcoming book Radical Acceptance: The Secret to Happy, Lasting Love, Andrea Miller states, “By committing to love a future version of him, you are rejecting the current version.” It’s true. Whatever ideals you’re actively imposing on him are causing you to constantly dismiss the person he is and, ultimately, imply that he isn’t lovable as is — whether you intend it to or not.
What’s more, you’re being a bully, no matter how pure your intentions are.
She asserts, “Trying to change someone else is an act of aggression.” Not only are you constantly building yourself up for disappointment by trying to change someone else but you’re essentially bullying someone you claim to love. This is effectively creating a relationship contingent on conditional love, which cannot thrive in the long-term.
This hard truth is relevant to every relationship you have, by the way. No matter what sort of dynamic you have, feelings of rejection and criticism you build by pestering someone to change will result in resentment and spite, and rarely actually initiates change. All it actually accomplishes is turning you into a nagging, belittling assh*le, which nobody deserves in their lives — least of all you.