Trying to Change Your Partner

Nearly every person I have worked with has the same relationship issue

Trying to change their partner.

In my experience trying to change our partner is one of the top three relationship issues out there (co-dependency and boundaries are the other two).

For example, years ago when I was dating around, once the honeymoon phase was over, I tried to change every woman I ever dated.

“Hmmm, If she only __________.”

She’s so awesome, but her _______________.”

Then I met my wife, who I still tried to change. Since she wouldn’t change I broke up with her, twice.

Then, with the help of a seasoned relationship therapist and a super honest, but harsh letter from my wife (we were broken up at the time), my game was reflected back to me very clearly.

It hurt to see and feel.

I saw how I wasn’t willing to practice real, deep love. It was too scary, too much, too confronting.  Rather than face my fear, I was making her wrong claiming, “if only she would ________, then I’d be willing to drop in to deeper love and deeper commitment.”

This is a very common pattern for men.

Women often respond to this with more insecurity, and might even try to abandon themselves and change for their guy (which leads to long term resentment).

Fortunately for me, my wife held her ground and just kept being herself.

Or, another way this shows up, is an empowered woman who is willing to grow and transform herself finds herself in a relationship with a guy resistant to change and growth. She then tries to drag him into therapy or a personal growth workshop, only to amplify his resistance.  He then ends up feeling judged and insecure and digs his heels in even more.  If he finally does acquiesce to her demands and changes “for her” he will most likely resent her for a long time. The change is unlikely to stick.

In all three cases including mine, the message is the same.

The basic message given is “I don’t accept you as you are.” And, “I would love you more if…”.

The basic message received is “I’m not accepted and loved for who I am.” “In order for him/her to love me, I have to change for them and be who they want me to be.”

Ouch. A lot of us grew up with some message like this and thus it repeats itself as adults.

While it can be helpful to inspire our lovers to be their greatest selves, it is different when your wanting to change them is coming from fear, resentment, or your own unwillingness to accept them as they are, or your unwillingness to leave them and find someone who IS willing to grow and change.

Notice the key distinction found in this statement:

I can want you to be different, but I don’t need you to be

In other words, I can want a new car, a new relationship, for you to go to change and go to therapy, or for you to like me. But at the end of the day I don’t need any of it.

While trying to change our external environment and people is very common and normal, taking it seriously and investing loads of energy into changing others in order for you to feel a certain way is a very slippery slope (this is commonly referred to as “grass is greener” mentality is discussed further here).

If you go down that road, be aware of the basic message you are sending and take a really honest look at why you are unwilling to accept them as they are.

By the way, accepting them as they are, doesn’t mean you have to stay with them. Quite the contrary.  Accepting someone as they are, frees you up to choose to pursue someone that is willing to walk alongside you and experience mutual growth.

To practice love, I mean, really practice loving another (and yes, it’s a practice), it means accepting and loving them as they are. At the end of the day, I don’t need my wife to be different, to get me, or know me. Ironcially, the more I let go of any desire to have her grow or change, the more she does!

Most of us don’t have the experience of really being loved as we are. Thus, we don’t love ourselves as we are and then we find partners that tend to have limitations in loving and accepting us. Our job is to love ourselves anyway, no matter what our partner wants or thinks.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of someone trying to change you, perhaps it’s time to accept yourself as you are, and move on.

Lastly, practicing self-love is the quickest way out of this loop. The more we embrace ourselves, the more we learn to accept our partner.  And, being in a committed relationship is a wonderful fire to practice this in.

So, next time you find yourself wanting your partner or co-worker to change, try on this statement and get the truth of it in your bones.

I want you to be different, but I don’t need you to be


I dive into this topic much more with videos, mp3’s and an extensive ebook here.


  • Owen Marcus

    Reply Reply September 22, 2012

    Well said Jayson. As simple as it is, loving ourselves can be a challenge. It’s certainly been my path. Yet as you mention, the rewards are many.

  • Mike

    Reply Reply October 5, 2012

    “I want you to be different, but I don’t need you to be”
    That’s a great thought to communicate before committing to a life partner. But as Owen mentioned, it is a challenge to love ourselves, though it’s a repetitive theme. Part of that may be because we are completely privy to our own thoughts, words and actions.

  • Erica Billings

    Reply Reply October 17, 2012

    Great post. I am very grateful for having read it. Thank you.

  • This is a pattern that I have had in all of my relationships as well. In my current relationship have been aware enough to see it and start to change it.

    When my relationship started there were things I didn’t like about my fiance, name that she doesn’t shave much hair on her body and doesn’t wear deodorant. I told her about this and while I was at work one day she shaved.

    I was actually disappointed that she did this! I told her that I actually liked her better just how she was to begin with and that I didn’t really want her to change for me.

    Many other things like this came up, but as I let go of needing her to be different than she is, magic started to happen.

    We both began to really see each other and accept each other.

    We’re both at a point now where we don’t need each other to do anything for us, but we like to do things for each other.

    This is the first relationship I’ve ever been in like this. It feels so different and at first it was a bit strange. I am so appreciating it though and am looking forward to growing and loving her even more.

  • Emma

    Reply Reply October 26, 2014

    I don’t think this advice works. Have you read this article?

    It talks about a study where basically, couples who see their partners complaints as a signal for action, a signal to work on themselves (and often, change), are successful. Couples who see their partners complaints as a failure of acceptance, eventually run out of goodwill for each other and fail.

    So maybe the solution is not to stop asking your partner to change, but rather for both partners to accept that marital bliss requires *both* people to change…if you think about it, the “romantic phase” involves *both people being different than they “normally” are*, and to reach that state again after the hormones wear off, both people have to change to keep being the person they were during that romantic time as much as possible, so the romance continues. “Acceptance” just means not getting your needs met, and, eventually, it means dissatisfaction and breaking up. It resolves short-term conflict at the expense of the long-term love that defines a successful relationship.

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