“My relationship is over, my partner won’t change” Is one of the more common concerns I hear from people who sit on my couch. They feel helpless and powerless to do anything in their relationship because their partner won’t stop the behaviors that have been causing problems in their relationship for years. So by the time they come to me, they’re ready to call it quits and give up. After all, a relationships takes two and if only one person is willing to work on it, they think their relationship is doomed. But that’s only half the truth.
You Can Change Your Relationship By Yourself
While the adage of “it takes two” is pretty popular, that doesn’t mean it’s right. Spouses can unilaterally cause problems in their marriage without the help of their spouse (i.e. when one spouse has a drug addiction). And if one person can create problems unilaterally in their marriage, that means one person can also unilaterally solve problems in their marriage, too. All it takes is a little insight and self-determination.
By examining yourself and seeing what things you’re doing in the relationship that are keeping your relationship in gridlock, you can start changing the way you show up in the relationship. And when you change the way that you show up your partner necessarily has to change the ways that they respond to you. They can’t keep responding the same old way to you when you’re not doing the same old things for them to respond to.
Science Says that When you Change, your Partner has to Change
When you start changing, then, it means that your spouse has to change as well. It’s a scientific principle I call the clock analogy. It goes like this: People (including couples and families) work together like the gears of a clock. Each gear has it’s own unique function in the clock. And if one gear malfunctions, it causes the rest of the gears to grind, stop or slow down.
People are like gears in the clock in that each gear in your clock has a certain function. For example, in your family growing up your dad had certain functions that he performed like being the breadwinner or being the sports fan or your basketball coach. Your brother had certain roles. Maybe he was the slacker so you had to help him get his homework done or mom had to remind him 3 times on Saturdays to get his laundry hamper to the laundry room. Each gear in the clock had to come together to help each of the other gears out to help them fit in the clock. Each gear works together and depends on the other gears.
There is one key difference between people and clock gears, though: people grow and change. And because people grow and change, whenever a gear in your clock changes, it forces other gears around them to adapt. This applies to you and your partner, too. When you change, it forces your partner to change and adapt to your changes. As a result, you don’t have to wait for your partner to change the annoying things they’re doing in the relationship in order for your relationship to start getting better. All you have to do is find ways that you want to improve your relationship and start doing them. This will cause your clock gear to begin changing and your partner will necessarily change as a result of adapting to your change.
Not just any change you do will change your partner, though. And there’s no guarantee that your partner will change in the ways you want them to, either. That’s why talking to a licensed counselor can help make sure that you’re targeting the areas that of the most good for you and your relationship. And the best part is, if you change and your partner doesn’t, you’re in a better place regardless of whether your relationship stays or goes. And if your relationship goes, changing yourself also ensures that you don’t carry that baggage into the next relationship.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. He specializes in working with couples learn to communicate and overcome sexual difficulties.