When they want to improve a relationship, most people think: "My partner is responsible for the poor relationship, therefore he or she has to change, and I am going to change him or her." Consider the following situation:
”My husband is a smoker and I am not. I wanted him to stop smoking. So I showed him the benefits of not smoking, took him to the doctor for a patch and was very understanding of his mood swings as he kept trying to quit smoking. But he didn't stop. He tried numerous times, because I kept insisting he could do it, but eventually he went back to smoking. How can I change him?”
This woman is doing exactly what will not work. She is trying to do something to him, instead of doing something to herself. The more she tries to change her husband, the more he pushes back to stay the same, even if on the surface he complies with her wishes.
What could help would be for her to accept the fact that he smokes, and stop bothering him altogether. Once he feels he doesn't have to resist her push, he can decide whether or not he wants to quit smoking. She cannot make him stop, she can just change the quality of her relationship with him.
Instead of changing someone, how can we change the quality of a relationship? We have to remember that we represent 50% of the relationship between two people. And we have direct control on this 50%. Therefore, to have an effect on how I relate to my partner:
1) I have to change myself in the first place.
2) I have to be aware that the actual change taking place may be quite different from what I expected. So I shouldn't expect anything.
We can only give what we have. Compassion and generosity do exist in the world, but if I am selfish and greedy, they won't exist in my world. Therefore, if I want my partner to be more compassionate and generous, I have to be compassionate and generous myself. And if I focus on changing myself by being accepting of my partner's behavior, I won't care as much whether he changes or not.
Donna is holding on to some sort of anger or resentment regarding something David did to her a few months ago. Because of this resentment, she can't be sincere with David. If she is able to resolve this resentment by honestly looking at the situation from David's point of view, by analyzing how it affected her and by sharing her thoughts with David so that he has a chance to express his own opinion, she will go a long way in improving her relationship with him.
We often try changing someone by imposing our will upon this person, without looking at the effect our actions may have.
Sean is upset because Sarah is constantly nagging him. Therefore, Sean "punishes" Sarah by forgetting to bring back bread and milk, or by withdrawing his attention from Sarah. Will this change Sarah? It may, and she will be even more of a nag! If Sean tries to understand Sarah's point of view and the reason why she is nagging, he may be able to change his behavior and give her what she really wants (attention, understanding, respect, etc.), which in turn will change her behavior and with transform her into a much more pleasant partner.
When we take care of our own happiness and when we are able to see the situation from another person's point of view, we have a positive effect on everyone around us. This is the only method of changing someone. The key is not to expect any change, but just be happy with ourselves and with whatever may happen.
Instead of being devoted to changing someone, be devoted to someone, it works a lot better!