Making a Plan to Change Your Partner
When you think you have done the best you can to ask for what you need in your relationship and still feel dissatisfied, you might find yourself making a plan to change your partner. You start making suggestions to her or him to see a therapist, work out more, watch less TV, eat better, read this book or take that class, etc. All the little things you suggest fit into your master plan of how to change your partner into a person who will meet your needs more consistently. You might find yourself justifying your plan, saying that it really would be good for your partner to change, not just for you, but for him or her as well.
The point here is not or whether you are "right" about what would be good for your partner. The point is that you have adopted an indirect and doomed strategy to meet your needs. This strategy is doomed for several reasons.
First, the more you focus on changing your partner, the more you lose touch with your own needs and begin to behave out habit and reactivity.
Second, regardless of how subtle you think you are, your partner will perceive your intention to change him or her. Consciously or unconsciously this will activate resistance and s/he will move to defend needs for autonomy, acceptance, and honesty.
Third, you lose your power. When you funnel your energy into the futile attempt to usurp someone's autonomy and change them, you don't have much energy for self-awareness, responsibility for your own needs, and direct action.
Fourth, when you make a plan to change your partner you are living in an imaginary future in which you hope things will be better. You have lost touch with the opportunity to meet your needs in the present moment.
So if you are not going to change your partner, what can you do? You can make small do-able requests connected to the need alive for you in the moment. This sounds simple enough but can be difficult if you have a story (and/or experiences) about how your partner disappoints you. Believing your stories, it's easy to collapse into hopelessness or resignation.
For example, one gem reader told me how she complains that her partner watches too much TV. She has complained to him for years and asked him to watch less, with little change. She didn't realize that asking her partner to watch less TV isn't a present moment do-able request. She thought she was asking for connection and he was hearing disapproval and demands.
The next time she has a need for connection and her partner is leaving to watch TV, she could make a request in that very moment. It might sound like this: "Honey, I would love to relax and connect. Would you be interested in walking up to the park to watch the sunset with me tonight?"
When you are feeling hurt, dissatisfied, or lonely in your relationship, the first impulse is often to blame your partner telling him and her all the ways they are messing up. The next impulse might be to analyze your partner and concoct plans for changing him or her. These don't inspire your partner to connect with your needs and love you in the way you want to be loved.
Your work is to bring mindfulness to those moments you want to lash out or lose yourself plans for the future. Pause, name the reactive impulses, and ask yourself what you need and what you could ask for that would start to meet that need in the present moment. If there is a foundation of caring and love in your relationship, then your partner does want to meet your needs and can best do so when they are revealed as they arise in the moment with a simple do-able request.
This week, practice naming your need and make one simple do-able present moment request of your partner each day and invite him or her to do the same.