I Want You to Change but…You Don’t Want To

I received a phone call today from a possible new client. She was calling because she was dating a 52 year old man and was interested in marrying him. But, he was a drinker and she didn’t know if he would stop. In the same week, I dealt with two other clients: one was so upset that her long time girlfriend was heavy and refused to go on a diet. I also talked to a Mom who was worried that her 30 year old daughter was single and not concerned about dating.

What can you do when you want someone else to change?

We often deal with family members and friends that we “think” need to make a change in their lives but they don’t see it that way. We all know how tiring it is to talk to people that “whine” or “wine” about an issue but they won’t do anything.

Why do some people never change?

First, people don’t change unless they want to make a change or unless they see it as a problem. For some, an issue becomes a problem when their behavior causes pain, is re-occurring, or doesn’t go away. Not changing can also be called denial or avoidance. Yet, we have all seen people make a change and then lament: Why did I wait so long?

There are some people who simply decide they are ready to change: get a new job, do a marathon, leave a marriage, go back to school. They are probably in the minority. Also, a lot of people want to change but they truly “don’t know how.”

Many people do not feel they deserve a change, or they wouldn’t be able to accomplish it. “If I went back to school now after graduating 10 years ago, I could never do it.”

Some things to help you:

1) We cannot change anyone else! Each person has to “gotta/ wanna make the change.” Yet we can set limits for a person who
doesn’t want to change by taking care of ourselves. I will not talk more than 10 minutes on the phone about my friend’s
ex-husband. I recently told a cousin of mine in another state I did not want to hear about her ongoing issue with her sister.

2) The D Word: Detach- which means “to let go of.” The more we detach from someone, we can be clearer and stronger that
we do not get involved or sucked into a bad situation. When we become “more detached,” it means we don’t own that
person’s problems. When we detach from someone, we also lessen our expectations and our own frustration.

A few reminders about change in general:

1) Baby steps!! Change is difficult and it is a process. The first step is for a person to contemplate change. “I bet I would be
happier in a different job.” “I don’t know if I want to raise kids with my present husband.”

2) Big changes cannot be done without support—it’s too difficult. Losing 50 pounds, hoarding, making a career change, being a
shopaholic: These changes are very difficult. Having a support system makes a world of difference. This can be a friend or coach or therapist.

Two books to recommend:

  • Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and In Life by Alan Deutschman. Collins Books, 2007.
  • Changing for Good by James Prochaska, John Norcross, Carlo Diclemente, Avon Books, 1994.

Wanting to change someone else is a natural thing we all want to do. The best thing we can do for someone who doesn’t want to change is to set our limits, and detach.

From the Alliance of Professional Women May/June Newsletter