You Won’t Change Your Partner – Here’s Why
By Z Zoccolante
Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”
I’ve had many a conversation with couples in distress. I’ve chatted with one-half of the partnership, in which I’m aware I’m receiving only one side of the story. I’ve heard about the disconnect in communication, problems with addiction, lack of sex or sexual frequency, lack of quality time or listening skills, lack of joy and partnership. I’ve watched couples that deeply love each other set fire to their relationships, go for the jugular, or fall into a black hole of disconnection.
I’m struck often with strange thoughts about relationships, friendship and romantic alike. I’ll be out in the world and think, “It’s a wonder that people have long term relationships, ever.” Like one day you’re walking along and you meet another random human and you’re like, “Yeah you, random human, you could be my human. Let’s engage in this together. Let’s build a weird, little life.”
Of course the stakes are lower when it’s a friendship because intimacy brings out our childhood patterning and all our defense mechanisms come out to play. I once heard someone once say that relationships (they were talking about romantic partnerships at the time) weren’t designed to make us happy but to make us grow.
This works best of course when we’re willing. Without willingness, it’s like being in a rowboat with your partner and only you have a paddle. It’s gonna suck for both of you and one of you is eventually going to jump ship.
But here’s the funny thing about the rowboat. Your partner shows up as they are. Do you notice if they have a paddle? Sure, a lot of people put on their best faces when meeting someone new so it can be confusing. However, I’m a firm believer that few are tricked into relationship. There are signs. We may not see them at first, we may dismiss them or categorize them as something else, or we may refuse to acknowledge the red flags. The point is that people show up as who they are because even the tricksters can only hide themselves for so long.
A lot of the frustration I’ve seen is when one partner wants the other to be something that they’re not, something that they’ve never showed up to be before.
For example, the girl who dates the guy who’s addicted to weed or video games and then fights constantly with them about those addictions. There are partners who are attracted to men/women who are emotionally absent, (usually like their mother/father figures). The point is that the partner has always been these things.
It reminds me of Night at the Roxbury when Molly Shannon’s character starts dating Will Ferrell’s. Briefly, she’s demure and sexual, and everything he does is funny and wonderful. But then as they become a couple, her true self begins to show. There’s a sad, funny scene when she’s in his room, shaking her head at all his club going gear, and throwing it into the trash box as a clearly fake tear rolls down Will’s eyes. She’s desperate to change him into what she wants him to be, and he’s miserable.
As Will’s freaking out about the wedding, he asks his dad, “Is there like any way that we could cancel this whole thing? . . . It’s like Emily turned out to be this like whole different other person. I mean all guys are nervous and anxious and kinda hope she eats a can of botulism. Or maybe she could hang out with a deer and a hunter accidentally shoots her. Or you know when she’s sleeping and she makes that nose whistle sound and you shake her to make her be quiet but what you’d really like to do is take that stupid, little red toothbrush and ram it up her nostril into her skull.”
The dad’s face at this point is hilarious, btw. He looks at him and states calmly, “These are perfectly normal feelings.”
People show themselves to you. It’s a good practice to believe them. Believe their actions and believe their non-actions. They’re telling you who they are. And no, you are not going to be the unicorn that changes them.
People do not change because of you. No one is the magic key of love that stops all annoying or “bad” behavior in their partner. People only change because they themselves want to change.
Here’s the paradox. People change when they’re accepted exactly where they’re at. But the change itself is an internal one.
So the next time you want to make excuses remember Maya Angelou’s wise advice, “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”
Get out of destructive, abusive or harmful relationships. If you’re married and unhappy with your partner or if your needs are not being met and you don’t know how to tell them, seek a therapist.
Relationships are precious, both friends and partners. They provide us huge opportunities for growth, for love, and I believe, for joy.
Here’s to solid relationships that allow each partner to grow into their best selves.