Do an Amazon search on “self-improvement” or "self-help" and you’ll get a long, long list of books to choose from (including my book Frequent Foreplay Miles, Your Ticket to Total Intimacy). There are books on how to have better communication, better sex, more intimacy, fair fights, more fun, less conflict, a more fulfilling life, more self-confidence, more self-esteem, and so on and so on.
What you won’t find is a book based on the premise that you’re perfect but your sweetheart needs a complete overhaul and would be a better partner if he or she were your clone. Yet, that’s the approach we so often take. We think we’re right and are baffled when our sweetheart doesn’t get it. So, we make it our mission to put in the fix. Let me give you an example from my own relationship.
I am a nutcake about timeliness. I am never late and it chaps my hide when someone keeps me waiting. My sweetheart Dale is relaxed about time commitments. So relaxed that in our early days, he was late often enough that my internal dialog went like this: “He is always late, which is rude. He has no respect for me or my time. He thinks his time is more valuable. That is arrogant and self-centered. Yada yada yada . . .” until I was royally irritated. I was determined to “fix” the problem, i.e., get him to see that I was right and he was wrong. I explained patiently and rationally why he should change…it didn’t work. I nagged…it didn’t work. I demanded…it didn’t work. I pouted…it didn’t work.
Then one day it hit me: It was arrogant and self-centered of me to expect him to become my clone on this issue. Dale isn’t arrogant or self-centered. He’s an in-the-moment kind of guy—something I admire about him and wouldn’t want to change even though it means he sometimes forgets to watch the clock. Dale’s standards are just different from mine. To him, who cares about a few minutes here or there? If someone keeps him waiting he doesn’t get his shorts in a knot. He entertains himself until the doorbell rings. If it’s important to catch a plane, he’s there. When there’s room for slide, he relaxes. Who am I to say he's wrong?
I stopped demanding that Dale change based upon The Gospel According to Shela. I no longer demand perfection. I let Dale know when it's truly important for him to be on time. And, he is. Other times, I shrug off his being late as the no big deal that it is. He wins. I win. We’re both much happier.
It's so true: The quickest way to change someone’s behavior is to change your own. It wasn’t until I made an attitude U-turn that Dale stopped resisting my efforts to “fix” him and happily changed his behavior to be more clock-aware when it was truly important.
If you are hell bent on improving something, then buy a few of those self-improvement books and get to work on making you a better you. The more you know yourself, the more you value yourself, and the better person you are, the better partner you will be. By changing your behavior and becoming a better person, you support your partner in doing the same.