How to get your partner to change

how-to-get-your-partner-to-changeYou’ve given him loads of helpful suggestions for improvement like tagging him in relevant Facebook articles and come to him sobbing over why the dates in The Bachelor are so romantic when all you ever do is have Chinese takeaway… and when that didn’t work, you resorted to criticizing and nagging… #toughlove. And he still does the same annoying, unhelpful, unattractive stuff as before.


So, are you in love with your partner or his potential?

What happened when I wanted my husband to change?

When I had trouble in my marriage several years ago, it was initially hard to see any solution other than my husband making a few key changes to his behavior and attitude.


My very wise older sister said…

“The thing is, you can’t actually change him. It’s true that he might change in some ways, but it’s also entirely possible that he won’t, and you have to decide if you can love the man he is today… because that’s who you married.”

Bam! That was a wake-up call and contributed to propelling me into action to make my own changes, which ultimately changed and saved our marriage.

The bad news about falling in love

“The bad news about ‘falling in love’ is that it isn’t genuine love,” says Psychologist Henry Grayson, author of Mindful Loving. “It’s based on an illusion, a fantasy of who someone will be. When the other person doesn’t fulfill our dreams — which, of course, he or she never does — all sorts of bad things happen. You realize you’ve been living in a dream state, something you need to awaken from in order to love as your true self.”


This includes accepting that you can never change your partner, no matter how hard you try.


In fact, when you tell your partner all the ways in which you would like them to change, it just sounds like criticism to them. Dr John Gottman’s cites his “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” when it comes to relationships, and lists criticism one of the top four Bad Boys contributing to divorce.


Dr Gottman points out that criticizing your partner is different to offering a critique or voicing a complaint. These are about specific issues, whereas criticism is an attack on your partner at the core. You are basically pulling to pieces his or her whole being when you criticize, which makes your spouse feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt, which never ends well and doesn’t get you the change you were after.

What’s the difference between criticism and complaining?

He makes these examples to help you distinguish between the two:


Criticism: “You never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don’t believe you are that forgetful, you’re just selfish! You never think of others! You never think of me!”

Complaint: “I was scared when you were running late and didn’t call me. I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other.”


He goes on to explain that the antidote to criticism is to complain without blame. This means talking about your feelings using “I” statements and expressing a positive need. What do you feel? What do you need from your partner in this situation?


Criticism: “You never pay any attention to me! All you care about is watching that stupid TV show!”

Antidote: “I’m feeling isolated and lonely tonight. Can we please talk about my day?”


I think you’ll agree this would be a much more effective way of getting your partner to behave in a way which you’d like!

But wait, WHY won’t my partner change?

If you still need more convincing, read this great article entitled “Nine reasons you’ll never be able to change someone”.


If you can’t be bothered right now, here’s the abbreviated list (taken from


  1. Although many will argue otherwise, people can change (but creating change in your own life isn’t easy. Guiding someone else’s changes is basically impossible.)
  2. The way people see themselves is different from the way you see them.
  3. More likely than not, you want to change them for the wrong reasons — selfish reasons.
  4. Few people want to change.
  5. Those who do want to change don’t want to be changed.
  6. Creating significant change isn’t easy.
  7. Because we can change, we can change back.
  8. No one changes for the sake of changing — everyone needs a reason.
  9. The only way people can really change is if they themselves decide to do so.

Real-Life Scenarios

  • man-with-ugly-shirtHe doesn’t dress the way you want him to (you want to throw out those ugly shirts!)
  • He leaves his clothes all over the floor
  • You think he should be making more money or have a better job
  • He has gained weight or stopped exercising
  • He drinks straight out of the milk carton


Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits, suggests these 4 changes you can take when faced with a desire to change someone else ( He says:


“People don’t want to be changed. And we can’t force them to change. This causes no end of frustration, for us and the person who we’re trying to change.”


Babauta say the following are things we can change, instead:


Our responses to their actions. If someone is being frustrating, we can instead find something to be grateful for about them. We can see their virtues instead of their faults. We can change our expectations of them, and instead accept them for the beautiful person they are.


Our intention for them. Instead of wanting them to change, we can offer guidance in the spirit of helping, but not expect them to accept that guidance. We can show them a way that might be helpful, but not demand they follow that way.


Our example for them. If someone gets angry all the time (and you don’t like that), instead of getting angry back, be the example. How should they deal with frustrations if not through anger? Show them. Be calm. Be loving and gentle and compassionate.


Ourselves. Try changing yourself, and see how easy that is. It’s actually pretty hard. Try changing your diet, or your responses to people. It’s doable, but far from easy. If it’s not easy for you to change, why should we expect everyone else to change, and get frustrated when they don’t? Why should everyone else but you change? Why not change to adapt to the reality of the world around you, instead of expecting the world to bend to your desires.

Changes by David Bowie… Just because it felt rather relevant.

Possible Solutions for Real-Life Scenarios based on the above solution

  • He doesn’t dress the way you want him to
    This is who you married/committed to. Try reframing your distaste into acceptance that you have a distinctive guy!
  • He leaves his clothes all over the floor
    Stop picking them up and washing them. He’ll soon get the message that clothes have to go in the hamper to get washed, and that works a lot better than nagging.
  • You think he should be making more money or have a better job
    Have a conversation about what he likes about his job and what he sees for the future. Listen and be supportive of what will make him happy and fulfilled. Support him in getting a career/life coach!
  • He has gained weight or stopped exercising
    Change yourself to be more fit and healthy and he will likely feel inspired. Encourage him to exercise together or entice him into the kitchen to cook as a team.
  • He drinks straight out of the milk or juice carton
    Yes, I agree this is gross… but maybe you can buy 2 cartons of milk/juice, one for him and one for the rest of the family. Problem solved!

Fun research

Of course, I know that there’s just one thing you still really, really want your partner to change, and you’re not willing to wait for them to initiate it. Here’s a really interesting, quite funny short video from best-stelling behavioral scientists David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny I found called “How to change people who don’t want to change”.

Good luck!

May the Love be With You


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