What You See is What You Get

by Mark Sichel, LCSW and Alicia L. Cervini

Personal change can only come from within. As much as we would like it if our significant other stopped drinking, started being thoughtful, stopped nagging, started talking about their feelings, or whatever else your partner is or is not doing that's been driving you crazy, we should not expect or hope to be able to change our partner's behavior. Nobody can change another person; a person must want to change themselves.

There are two courses of action to be taken if our partner behaves in some way that we feel inclined to try and change:

1. Be open and honest with your partner about how your partner's behavior makes you feel. Open a discussion with your partner to discuss how their behavior is effecting your relationship.

2. If the open conversation does not help the situation and you still feel that you want the relationship to work out, learn to focus on the positive aspects of the person rather than the negative.

Sometimes a person is not even aware that some aspect of their behavior is driving you crazy or hurting you. An honest discussion can be a much more effective tool than manipulation or bullying. Just remember, all you can do is start the conversation -- insisting or demanding that the partner change is going to be a fruitless effort. A person will only change their behavior if they are ready to and truly want to.

The interesting thing is that when we try to force someone to change, not only are we unsuccessful, but we also wind up hurting ourselves. The same way pounding your head against a brick wall is bound to give you a headache, persistently trying to force someone else to change is bound to give you a heartache. Our own self-esteem suffers when we fruitlessly try to change the people around us. The more we attempt to change someone, the more often we fail. This self-defeating cycle of trying, failing, and going back for more, takes its toll on our own feelings of self-worth. It does not feel good to fail over and over again, and failure is indeed what you're in for if you try to change someone who is not ready and willing to change.

The basic concept of What You See Is What You Get: Your close relationships will become manageable once you stop trying to manage others' change.

Erica*, a 38-year-old chef, has lived with Clark, a 36-year-old musician, for the past year. She really loves Clark, who is caring and reliable. Erica has identified his key inner qualities: warmth, sensitivity, loyalty, and sexuality. Clark is almost everything Erica has ever hoped for in a man. Her only major complaint about him is that he's anti-social. He hates parties, dinner dates, and gatherings with Erica's family. The only two things he needs and loves are Erica and his music. Unlike Clark, Erica is very sociable. She is close to her family as well as to a particular circle of friends. She is continually nagging Clark about his inability to socialize and constantly bothering him to attend gatherings.

After working with the Psybersquare Self-Esteem Workshop, Erica was able to get a "handle" on her own self-esteem. She realized all of the positive qualities that she had were not diminished because her boyfriend preferred not to socialize. She also realized that "Being able to change others" was not a valid self-esteem builder.

Erica also was able to develop a greater appreciation of Clark's inner qualities by completing Psybersquare's Appreciation List. Being able to accept Clark for his strengths as well as what she saw as his weaknesses helped her to feel better about herself. She realized after analyzing herself, Clark and their relationship that she felt happy to love and be loved by Clark and that the overall worth of their relationship outweighed her desire for Clark to be more social.

After some thought, Erica was able to stop attempting the impossible task of changing Clark, a task that chronically deflated her feelings not only about the relationship, but also about herself. Erica decided to focus on the many qualities of Clark that she valued. Soon she reported feeling much better about herself and Clark. Even more surprising to her was as soon as she let go of the need to change Clark, he became more loving and giving. When she stopped nagging Clark, he wasn't angry with her anymore and his love for her flowed more easily.

The first step of accepting another into your life is deciding if that person is right for you the way he or she is. Once that determination has been made, you can choose to stay or leave that person quickly and permanently. Allowing yourself to exercise your freedom of choice will enhance your relationships and, most importantly, your self-esteem.

*The names of all clients have been changed to protect their identities.


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