Everyone says you can’t change another person, nor should you try. You have to accept him or her, flaws and all.
While it’s fundamentally true that you can’t make others change — they have to want to change themselves — there are ways to influence someone else’s behavior. Below are five steps that increase the likelihood of change and may bring couples closer together.
- Understand what’s causing the lack of change
Behavioral patterns are very rarely end-games in and of themselves. There’s usually something deeper sparking the drive to act repeatedly in the same way. For example, if your boyfriend parties every night — staying up late and drinking lots of alcohol to his own detriment — there’s something more to this than simply being immature. Telling him to grow up will not compel him to change and likely will drive the two of you apart.Instead, ask him what he’s getting out of partying. Is he doing it to relax? To relieve anxiety? To avoid responsibility? Really try to understand the motivation behind the behavior before even attempting to change it.
- Restate twice, then give advice
Advice generally doesn’t work to change someone else’s behavior. It often comes across as judgmental or critical, spurring the other person to dig her heels into her current behavior. But once you’ve taken the time to understand what’s causing the lack of change, you can offer suggestions that speak to the deeper issue. This version of advice is harder for the other person to resist, because she herself named the deeper issue and identified it as a problem. To make your suggestions even more powerful, restate her understanding of the deeper issue to her satisfaction before offering any advice around change. Restating her own words will make her feel heard and understood, not judged. Restating works well for igniting change.
- Model the behaviors you’d like to see
Advice often is our knee-jerk method for helping someone act differently, but there’s a much more effective way to inspire change: Model the behaviors you’d like to see. Modeling works exceptionally well for three reasons: First, it’s showing, not telling. It shows your partner in practical terms how she could be doing things differently. Second, it’s positive, not negative. It sends the message, “Look at what you could start doing,” as opposed to “Why don’t you stop doing that?” Third, modeling is rooted in our physiology. We all have mirror neurons in our brains that make us naturally inclined to mimic the people we like. If your partner is fond of you, she’ll feel naturally inclined to adopt the behaviors she sees in you.As an example, if you’d like your wife to be more adventurous, go on adventures yourself. Show her how taking risks can be fun. She, too, will feel inspired to have fun and, best of all, she’ll think it was all her idea!
- Set boundaries
Accepting a partner’s destructive behaviors is not always the most caring thing you can do. If his behaviors are truly damaging to himself — or endangering you — it’s time to set some firm boundaries. Setting boundaries means that you simply stop accepting some behaviors. And it means the relationship is on the line if the boundary is crossed. The key to setting boundaries is to make absolutely clear — within your own mind as well as to the other person — what you will and won’t accept. For example, if your husband likes to drive extremely fast, it’s not enough to say, “Don’t drive extremely fast.” Make it clear: What specifically does “extremely fast” mean? Does this only apply when you’re in the car or all the time? Does it also apply on remote roads where there’s less danger to driving fast? Be clear with your boundaries. And be careful only to set firm boundaries around things that really matter. You are putting the whole relationship on the line, after all.
- Be open to change yourself
There’s nothing that makes another person more willing to change than seeing you embrace change yourself. If you know you have a habit that your partner truly dislikes, make an effort to work on it. The effort she sees you putting into improving yourself will be an inspiration and will soften her heart toward change in general. Remember, the two of you are in this relationship together, as equals. Don’t ask anything of your partner that you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself.
It’s true that you cannot change other people; they can only change themselves. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to inspire change. Follow these five simple steps to get the results you want — an improved partner and a closer relationship.
© Kira Asatryan
Guy with a beer photo available from Shutterstock