If each partner is aware of the other as a terrifically flawed human being, there’s a world of opportunity out there for the success of love.
My friend was so cute. Let’s call her Susan. She was in a new relationship about a year ago and all she could do was talk, talk, talk about her new boyfriend. Let’s call him Todd. Susan and Todd were so in love, and Todd was “so funny!” He did the crossword puzzle every morning! He was so focused on his newspaper; she’d pour him coffee and sit down across from him. She’d think they were having a conversation; instead he’d look up, literally puzzled. He hadn’t heard a word she’d said.
“Oh, it’s okay. He’s just so smart and focused,” she’d say in loving defense of Todd, smiling, drifting off into that faraway place in the mind where only those in the honeymoon period can go.
Here we are, a year later, and this is what I’m hearing from Susan:
“I don’t know what to do. Todd never listens to me. It’s like white noise when I talk. When I ask him a question I’m pretty sure he hears that wah-wah sound that the grown-ups make on the Peanuts cartoons.”
Susan wanted to know how I thought she could change Todd. And I didn’t have great news for her. Because she can’t.
But she tried. She nagged, she threatened, she tried giving him the same medicine, ignoring him when he had something to say (which, even more frustrating, didn’t affect Todd in the least). In this negative environment, communication had fallen apart. Todd didn’t understand why Susan was so frustrated, which is why none of these tactics worked. He can’t change unless he decides to change; he can’t even attempt to fix what’s wrong if he can’t see the problem.
So Susan should just cool it, and give in to Todd’s behavior? No. Susan shouldn’t have to change either. If she needs more focused attention, if that is what she is looking for in her relationship, that is as important as Todd’s need for what is probably less about the crossword puzzle and more about having quiet time in the morning.
When you start feeling the need to change your partner, you should consider whether you are in love with the person, or in love with the idea of being in a relationship. Jazz legend Duke Ellington pointed out that “love is supreme and unconditional, like is nice but limited.” Do you love or do you like? If you answered ‘like,’ you can skip the rest of the article and have fun until your partner has been twenty minutes late to meet you for dinner one too many times.
Get Over Wanting To Change Your Partner
Change is such an unbending word, with no room for error. Here are a few ideas that can help you invest in your relationship that are far less daunting than the frustrating notion of change:
My husband always folds the towels wrong. He folds them into a floppy flat square roughly the size of a chess board. Do they fit on the linen shelf that way? No. Once they are folded that way, he shoves them onto the narrow shelf at which time they resemble something closer to a throw pillow.
But wait! Oh my God, my husband FOLDS TOWELS.
Get some perspective. If I nag at him to fold the towels the way I fold them, he might stop trying to help out altogether. Look at what it is you are trying to change. Sometimes the stuff that seems critical is small stuff amplified by day to day stress - someone cut you off on the freeway, or that chick in accounting was wearing the shoes you want but can’t afford. Who better to take these frustrations out on than the one you love the most? Freaking out on your partner for these little things is hurtful and absolutely not productive. (After nine years of practice) I just smile when I see my towels wadded in the closet (awwww, he tried!)…and the other day, he folded them the right way, which whisked me right back into that honeymoon period! Speaking of which:
Remember The Honeymoon Period
Think about Susan and Todd, and how in the beginning, Susan just loved that Todd was so focused on his crossword puzzle. It made him so interesting, so special! If only we could all turn back time to the beginning of our relationships and write a list of what we found so quirky and unique about our significant others. We could laminate that list and carry it with us, and refer to it when we later, inevitably, found that same special tic to be annoying and a deal-breaker.
If each partner is aware of the other as a terrifically flawed human being, there’s a world of opportunity out there for the success of love. If you have:
It’s funny—things don’t need to be perfect if you can just talk to each other about the imperfections. No matter how long you’ve been together, things can be misconstrued; fleeting looks, body language, tone of voice on the phone, tone of ‘voice’ on texts, poorly selected punctuation on emails! Like too many exclamation points! Or ALL CAPS!
Unspoken fears and hurt feelings can snowball and send an otherwise happy couple downhill fast, unless one simply asks, for example: “Wait, did you just roll your eyes at me?!” Two things happen: First, once you say it out loud, it all sounds so oh-no-you-didn’t! making the flash of rage almost comical. Second, verbalizing it really diffuses the situation. The resentment goes right out the door, because you’ve had a chance to be heard, and your partner has had the chance to retaliate. It can even lead to a deeper conversation, or a good laugh. Or something else that we’ll discuss:
In The Bedroom
Here we go, the cherry on top of the you-can’t-change-him sundae. You can’t change him, he or she can’t change you…but in the bedroom, all’s fair in love and warm bodies. This is basically Communication: Part Two
For some reason, the bedroom is a place where needs can (should) be freely and urgently spoken, and freely and urgently acted on. In fact, you might consider the desire to be pleased and be pleasing in the bedroom a super-fun microcosm of your relationship as a whole. Wouldn’t it be nice if saying “no, put the silverware in this drawer” was as sexy and had as fantastic results as saying “no, put your…”
You get the idea.
We’ve all heard of unconditional love. It’s the kind of love that accepts all the wrinkles and love handles and missteps and dirty looks and accepts that sometimes the towels won’t be folded right. That may be asking too much, but it is not too much to ask that, as an anonymous writer famously pointed out, “love should equal an ‘us’ without destroying a ‘me’.”