I know. I know.
All those Self-Help books tell you to totally abandon any hope of changing anyone else.
Chapter upon chapter insist you recognize THE only things you have any control over are what you think and what you do.
Could the self help panoply of experts be wrong?
Could they be accused of keeping you overly ~
- Deferential “Goodness, it wouldn’t be right to impose my desires on someone else”;
- Doubtful “Oh I don’t think it ever works to try and change anyone else;”
- Defeatist “I tried once to change my partner and it didn’t work.”
Or maybe you’re more “It’s my way or the highway Bud!” and you wonder why you shed friends faster than an escaped lion empties a zoo.
If you’re in a relationship with someone you love (otherwise it’s not worth the effort) I hope you’ll let me persuade you to ~
- Drop the deferential attitude – of course you are worthy of interactive relationships.
- Ditch the doubt – trust in the power of relationship to transform.
- Dump that defeatism – update your skill set instead.
- Soften up the “you’re with me or against me” attitude – if we let them, other people help us grow in ways we could never devise on our own.
If you want to change the way someone close to you behaves, and maybe even how he or she thinks, here are four things to try.
1. Meet them half way.
Depends on what you believe needs changing of course. But here are some examples I’ve seen where person A really wants person B to change. Could be a profound life transformation is desired, or a more modest habit change or temporary abatement.
Check these out.
- A and B are married. A wants to adopt a Vegan lifestyle. B loves meat.
- Mother A wants 15 year old daughter B to avoid all piercings while she is living at home under A’s roof. B wants a small tattoo and a belly ring.
- A has fallen in love with B and wants to accept them as they are. But, B smokes a pack a day and A hates the habit.
Do these have to be win / loose?
If you want someone you care about to make a big change, think about it first from their point of view. What’s in it for them to make this change? Why might they want to? Is there something you can offer that might make this change more appealing? If you are inviting this person to get a bit uncomfortable, what discomfort might this request invite you into?
- Might the Vegan be OK with their partner eating Vegan fare 3 nights a week and enjoying meat for the other 4?
- Might the anxious Mum let go enough for a henna treatment, or one small, removable piercing?
- Might the non-smoking partner be willing to discuss a cut-down, or smoking in designated areas?
Maybe give it a try?
2. Get On Their Team
“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
A classic Ben Franklin quote. So what might this look like?
Let’s take another stab at the 3 scenarios above using this idea.
What if the meat eater, the would-be body piercer, and the smoker actually wanted to make some changes?
A terrific way to “get” someone to make changes you wish they’d make, is to find out if there are any changes they want to make. Maybe they’ve been thinking about a shift more or less in the direction you’ve been proposing. Find out. Join them. Get on their team.
Has the meat-lover ever expressed a desire to lower their blood pressure? Or grow a garden? Or only eat animals raised in humane conditions? Pay attention. Join them where they already are and support a desire they already have.
“Yes great! I’d love to help you lower your blood pressure. What do you want to try? I’d be happy to research foods that might help…”
Has the 15 year-old ever commented on how lovely Henna art is? Or has she noted other forms of body art that might be different and edgy but not full on tattoos and peircings – like coloring her hair or dressing differently? If she talks about some of these ideas, get excited. Support her in expressing herself differently.
“I love that you’re experimenting with new “looks.” I heard about a Thrift Shop up in Sun Valley that sells quality styles very cheaply. Shall we check it out this weekend?”
Has the smoker ever wished they could cut down? Maybe they worry that cutting down on cigarettes means they will ramp up on eating, or have no other way to manage their stress. Acknowledge their fears, join with their desires, get on their team.
“You mentioned wanting outlets for managing stress as you think about lightening up on the smoking. I heard the local library is hosting a month-long series on meditation starting next week. I picked up this flyer for you.”
The solution might not be exactly what you had in mind. But your support for their goal is far more likely to be a wiin-win.
And hey – even a cat can find a way to join a duck in the water.
3. Feed The One You Love
← Remember this tale?
Well it works with the wolves around us as well as the wolves within.
We’ve all got an inner zoo. We show up in different ways. As angry wolves or serene wolves for sure. But also as ambitious and lazy; as extroverted and introverted; as nurturing and as harsh; as supportive and as critical.
Think of how often you find yourself saying “Part of me wants this, but another part wants that.”
(Check out Robin Williams as Mork and more about is idea here.)
If we can have multiple competing versions of ourselves, so can everybody else.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned as a therapist is that in any relationship, we get the wolf we feed.
If we indulge or put-up-with whiny behavior from our pre-schoolers; rude behavior from our middle schoolers; disrespect from our teens; unkindness or indifference from our partners, the truth is, we’ve been feeding those wolves.
Once we get to the point of recognizing “Dang, I wish this person wasn’t like that” we get to behold our creation. Chances are we’ve been cultivating those very behaviors we now dislike for years.
What to do?
Feed a different wolf!
And yes – it takes time. But so did creating the wolf you’ve come to dislike.
When your toddler asks for something in a strong, clear, pleasant voice go overboard in your delight. You’ve glimpsed a different version of who this toddler is and how she can act. You want to build a relationship with that toddler – much more than you want to continue with the whiny one – right?
You can make it fun.
‘Well hello little Miss Sunshine, I love it when you show up. You’re way more fun than Old Grumpy! I’m certainly happy to push the swing for Little Miss Sunshine… let’s go!”
When your middle schooler rips a mighty belch and (for a change) quickly covers her mouth and says ‘Excuse me,” celebrate small victories. So easy to be sarcastic here – don’t be. Feed this polite wolf. “Thanks Betsy. Hey – I really appreciate this more polite “You”. She’s welcome to come eat in a restaurant with me any time!”
When your teen momentarily thanks you for some kindness and forgets the eye roll as you say ‘You’re welcome” feed that wolf. “You know Son, I like being on your team. I hope you never forget that.”
When your partner one day asks, out of the blue, “Do you need help?” for heavens sake feed that wolf! I know how easy it can be when you’ve been hurt before to come back with some snide “Now you ask! Where have you been hibernating all winter when the drive-way needed shoveling and the kids were all sick…” but remember. When you show up like that – being that person, you’re only going to encourage the unkind and indifferent parts of your spouse.
Feed the “helpful wolf.” “You know, you asked at just the right moment. I’d love help. Could you grab the rest of the groceries from the back of the car? I really appreciate it when you notice what I need and just show up for me like that – thanks!”
The secret here is remembering that IF this person in your life has ever exhibited the sort of behavior you wish s/he did more often, then that behavior is possible. It is already in their repertoire. That “Part” of them can be invited out more often. It’s not that you are inviting them to be someone new. You are just asking them to show up in a way that works better for you.
You are not saying
- “I don’t love you.”
- “I want (all of) you to change.”
You are saying
- “I particularly love this Part of you.”
- “I love it when this Part of you shows up.”
4. Be the change
I’m sure this is not about you, but I’ve noticed that sometimes, in long-term relationships, when partner A feels stuck-in-a rut or gets bored with life, they believe it is up to partner B to “do something.” And this effort, A believes, will magically get both of them out of the rut and life will once more be fascinating. Or at least, less boring.
So, in the unlikely event this ever happens to you and you find yourself feeling stuck and bored, and notice you are keen for your partner to ~
- loose weight
- try something new
- suggest cool vacation plans
- learn new stuff
- get in shape
listen up and go find a mirror.
That person right there – staring glumly back at you – tell that person to
- loose weight
- try something new
- suggest cool vacation plans
- learn new stuff
- get in shape
If you are bored in the relationship, you get to do something about it. And it’s way more liberating to grasp that fact than it is to play the grumble-criticize-hint-whine-complain game with your partner.
Be the change you want to see. Believe me – fresh energy is contagious!
That’s all for now folks. See you next week.
FIRST TIME HERE?
This is the tenth article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”
If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.
SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING
SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”
SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.
- Report The News – Don’t Act it Out
- Happy Families
- Self Leadership
- When Does A Relationship Need Help?
SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity
Join me for the whole series. You can sign up at the top of this page, on the right.
Find out what you are – unwittingly – doing all the time in relationships.