There’s an old joke – How do you get a psychologist to change a light bulb? First the light bulb has to want to change. Wanting to change your partner is as old as dating itself. Your boyfriend or girlfriend would be perfect if only he or she didn’t do (fill in the blank annoying or frustrating behavior) so often.
When it comes to dating, changing someone else is tough work, and it doesn’t always improve the relationship. When we care about our partners we want the relationship to work, and often there are so many great aspects of it, that we can’t leave. Or don’t want to but we aren’t happy. Things are good, but not great and it makes you question if you should continue to date them.
If you are in a happy relationship but wish things with your partner were just a little bit better there are a few things that you can do improve their behavior without changing their core identity. Obviously, you fell in love with them for a reason, but we all have bad habits or blind spots so helping a partner improve their behavior for the sake of the relationship is a good thing.
Especially if the alternative is you walking away. If you want to affect and ultimately change your girlfriend’s, or boyfriend’s behavior, adhere to the 3 C’s of change.
Cultivate a New Response
Famed television personality Dr. Phil says, “People have the right to think and say whatever they want to. But you have the right not to take it to heart, and not to react.”
What happens when you react to your partner’s behavior? The truth is, unless they are doing something to annoy you for the first time, you aren’t truly reacting to their behavior, you are reacting to a trigger. There was a time in your life when you created a memory of a behavior that truly bothered you. Maybe it was a time with your partner where they made you cry, or feel insecure.
Whatever happened, it stuck with you. Now every time you experience a trigger, you have the same reaction. You have an automatic response to their behavior. What’s happening is that you now have a record of the past, and you can remember the incident by how you feel.
So when you are experiencing a familiar situation, you react from the memories of the past. But ask yourself, is this my vision or my version of this relationship that I want to experience it?
You have to create a new response to the behavior that is triggering you.
First, identify the source of the pain. Was it something your partner did or was this a traumatic event that happened with someone else? Typically when we are triggered by others’ actions we are remembering a time from the past that really hurt us. Our partner isn’t here to throw salt in the wound, they are here to help you heal. If you can identify when you first created this traumatic memory then you can start to heal it.
Next, recognize the behavior in your partner and choose a new response. When you are triggered address it by saying: I notice that you (insert behavior) often. When you do that it makes me (insert reaction). I don’t want to do that this time so can we talk about it?
It might not be comfortable at first to have a conversation with your partner about how their actions affect you. It can feel selfish or judgmental but understand that communication is the center of all good relationships. If you want the behavior to change, both of you have to agree that it exists.
Lastly, get over it. Your job is to take care of yourself. If you have a reaction that is learned or triggered by past traumas choosing a new reaction is the most difficult yet most effective way to handle it. Find a better response than just becoming upset. Uncover why this behavior bothers you. What is the lie that this behavior tells?
They don’t care about you?
The relationship is rocky?
You are unworthy?
Whatever lie is hiding underneath your anger or annoyance needs to be uncovered. When you do this, you are likely to be less bothered by what your partner does.
Create A Vision Of the Future
The beauty about life is that you can make thought more real than anything else. If you want your partner to change create a future where that behavior no longer exists. Take a few moments a day to imagine a life with your partner where you are free of triggers, and their behavior either no longer exists or no longer bothers you.
Joe Dispenza says, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” If you want to experience harmony with your partner, create a vision for it. And this isn’t just a fantasy or a daydream. Take a few moments out of your day to appreciate the change that you partner has made, thank your partner for the improvement and feel as though your relationship has improved and it will.
Cheer Them On
If your partner is making an effort to improve on any behavior, at all, make sure to thank them and show appreciation. Relationships take intention. It feels good when they are going well on their own but after the honeymoon phase they tend to change and it takes both partners continually growing to make a healthy relationship work.
Even if the behavior doesn’t change completely, cheering your partner on and thanking them when they do make improvements triggers the reward center in the brain. We all love praise. It is a great motivator. So thank your boyfriend or girlfriend for every small improvement. The emotional action of gratitude proves to the body that the event has already happened.
You can start to feel as if the change has already come, and celebrate how much happier you both feel. One because they are no lingering triggers soliciting a negative response from you. Two because you have given up the struggle of nitpicking and nagging.