How much energy do you spend trying to get what you want from your partner? Think about it for a moment – how much of your thinking time is spent on what to say to your partner to get him or her to be the way you want him or her to be?
Many of us spend a lot of time thinking about how to get what we want from our partner – how to get our partner to open up, be more caring, see us, love us, pay attention to us, spend time with us, have sex with us, and so on. We spend at lot of energy trying to get what we want from our partner because we believe that if only we do it right – behave right or say the right thing – we can have control over getting our partner to change. This illusion of having control over getting another to change keeps us stuck in behavior that not only does not work to get us what we want, but drains us of the energy we could be using to learn to take loving care of ourselves.
It is very hard to accept that we can’t “get” others to do what we want them to do, even if it would be good for them and for the relationship. In my counseling work with people, I frequently hear:
“How can I get my husband to read your books?’
“How can I get my wife to be more sexual?”
“How can I get my husband away from the TV to spend time with me?”
“How can I get my wife to be on time?”
“How can I get my husband to talk with me about our problems?”
“How can I get my wife to spend less money and write the checks into the checkbook?”
“How can I get my husband to clean up after himself?”
“How can I get my wife to stop being angry?”
“How can I get my husband to stop blaming me for everything?”
Everyone wants to know, “How to get my partner to change?” The truth is, you can’t.
What you can do is take your eyes off your partner and put them on yourself. You have total control to change yourself, and no control to change your partner. The question you need to be asking yourself is, “What do I need to do for my own well-being if my partner doesn’t change?”
“Do I need to stop reacting to my partner with compliance, resistance, withdrawal, blame, lectures, explanations, nagging or anger?”
These protective, controlling ways of responding to conflict will always exacerbate the conflict and make us feel badly within. The wounded part of us believes we can get love and avoid pain with these protective behaviors, but in reality it is often these behaviors that are actually causing our own pain. None of these behaviors are loving to ourselves, nor are we taking personal responsibility for our own feelings and well-being when we behave in these controlling ways.
“In what ways do I need to be more loving, caring, understanding and attentive to myself – to my own feelings?”
Often we project onto our partner the inner unhappiness that results from not taking loving care of ourselves. Instead of trying to get our partner to me more loving, open and attentive, we need to focus on being open, loving, kind and attentive with ourselves and with our partner.
“Do I need to take specific action, such as changing the way we handle money, or the way we deal with getting places on time? How can I take care of myself in these kinds of conflicts so that I don’t feel like a victim?”
Anytime we blame another for our unhappiness, we are being a victim. Moving out of being a victim means taking loving action for ourselves so we are no longer frustrated with the situation.
“Do I need to be willing to explore with my partner the underlying reasons for a lack of intimacy or sexuality? Am I willing to be open to learning with my partner, or am I stuck in just trying to control?
Opening to learning with your partner can be magical regarding creating intimacy and resolving conflict. While you cannot make your partner be open to learning, if you open to learning yourself, you might discover the power you have to change your relationship.
When you move out of seeing yourself as a victim of your partner’s behavior and into taking loving action on your own behalf, you may be surprised at the changes that occur in the relationship. Most conflict is stuck in power struggles that result from each person trying to control with some form blame, anger, resistance, withdrawal, or compliance. When you stop your end of the power struggle and start to take care of yourself, as well as open to learning with your partner, the possibility opens for great change to occur.