NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's a Mistake to Think You're Going to Change Your Spouse After You Get Married

Thinking that you will change your partner after you get married is usually a big mistake. All too often, people are in denial about this and they fool themselves into thinking that they'll work on their partners and, somehow, they'll change them, only to be disappointed, angry, and resentful when they cannot control their partners.

It's a Mistake to Think You're Going to Change Your Spouse After Marriage

Here is a fictionalized account to illustrate the problems with believing that you can get your partner to change after you get married:

Mary and Jim (the same Mary and Jim from the prior post) have been married for almost two years now. The marriage has been a roller coaster ride, but things have been improving since they began attending marriage counseling and self help groups.

Early on, they went through a rough patch: During the first few months of seeing each other, Mary considered them to be in a relationship, and Jim thought they were dating. Neither of them had communicated this to each other at that point in time, so they each had a different understanding as to whether they were dating or in a relationship.

When Jim ran into his ex and decided that he wanted to try to work it out with her, he told Mary that he couldn't see her any more and she was extremely hurt and disappointed, especially after she introduced Jim to her friends as her boyfriend. A few months after they stopped seeing each other, Jim called Mary and said that he realized that he made a big mistake. He and his ex had the same problems that they had the first time, and he realized that he missed Mary very much. He asked her if she would consider seeing him again.

Mary wanted to say "yes" immediately but, having been so recently disappointed by Jim, she told him that they should talk first. Jim agreed to this and they met for dinner. They talked, Jim apologized, Mary forgave him, and they decided to date each other exclusively for a while to get to know each other better and see whether they were compatible.

Time passed. Over the next seven months, they got closer. Their families met and liked each other. Everything seemed to be going so well. When Jim asked Mary to marry him, Mary accepted. They were both extremely happy. Mary and her mother began planning the wedding.

And then one day a few weeks before they were supposed to get married, Jim asked Mary to borrow a sizable amount of money. Mary was surprised and, as they were accustomed to doing by now, they talked about it. After much hesitation, Jim told Mary that he gambled on a horse race and lost a lot of money.

He told her that he had been given "a tip" and he was told it was a "sure thing," but the horse lost. Now he owes the bookie the money, he doesn't have it, and he's afraid of what will happen if he doesn't pay. He told her that he would never gamble again.

Mary was very surprised. She had no idea that Jim gambled. Part of her knew that this was not a good sign and she should think about it carefully, but she quickly overrode her feelings, gave Jim the money, and told herself, "I know this is a big problem but if it happens again, I'll change him after we get married."

Mary never told anyone about Jim's gambling. She knew that if she talked to her parents about it, they might try to talk her out of getting married, especially because her father had a gambling problem when she was younger and this caused a lot of problems in the family. She also didn't want to think about it too much herself.

Jim paid her back the money, and they never spoke about it again. But a year after they got married, Mary realized that Jim's problem was a lot worse than she had allowed herself to know. Not only had Jim not stopped gambling, but he was in debt for a lot of money again.

But she kept telling herself that she would change him by bailing him out each time, trying to be understanding, and encouraging him to go to Gamblers Anonymous, which he refused to do. They argued about it a lot, but Mary didn't give up hope that, if she tried very hard, she could change Jim. Finally, over time, when they exhausted their savings, the bills were piling up, and Jim and Mary were barely talking to each other, in desperation, Mary went to her parents to tell them what happened and ask them to borrow money.

It was only then that Mary, disappointed, angry and hurt, began to even consider that she might not be able to change Jim. Mary's parents had similar problems early on in their marriage, but they worked it out in marriage counseling and both of them attended 12 Step programs.

Her parents talked to Mary and Jim, offered them a one-time loan with a written agreement about how it would be repaid, but all of this was predicated on certain conditions--that they see a marriage counselor to work out their problems, that Jim go to Gamblers Anonymous to work on his compulsive gambling problem, and that Mary go to Gam-Anon to work on her codependency.

Neither Jim nor Mary were happy about the conditions, but they needed the money, so they agreed. Early on in treatment, both Mary and Jim began to come to terms with their individual problems as well as their problems with each other. Their problems were not solved immediately, but things were better.

At times, Jim still thought he could control his gambling, only to find out, once again, that he could not. At times, Mary still thought that she could change Jim if she tried hard enough, but she was slowly coming to the realization that she could not.

If you and your partner are having problems, it's better to face them now. Thinking that you're going to change the other person after you get married is usually a big mistake and can leave you disappointed and disillusioned. If you're stuck and you don't know what to do, rather than deluding yourself, get professional help from a licensed mental health professional.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR therapist, and couples therapist.

I have helped many individuals and couples to overcome emotional problems.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.