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

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

Recently, a potential client told me she was dating a 52-year old man with an eye to marrying him. But he was a drinker, she said, and she didn’t know if he would stop. In the same week, a Mom told me she was worried that her 30-year old daughter was single and not concerned about dating.

These women both want someone to change.

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

We often deal with family members and friends who we “think” need to make a change in their lives. Problem is: 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 won’t do anything.

Do some people never change?

People don’t change unless they want to or see their behavior 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 feel discouraged about 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 “gotta/wanna” make the change. Yet we can take care of ourselves by setting limits in the relationship. 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, the clearer and stronger we can be that we don’t want to be sucked into a bad situation. Detachment means not owning another person’s problems. Detachment helps us lessen our expectations and our frustration.

Some insights about change:

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