NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, April 26, 2020

Relationships: 10 Reasons Why Trying to Change Your Spouse Doesn't Work

So many people enter into a relationship where they see the "potential" in their partner, but they won't accept how their partner is in the present.  Although men do it too, it's usually women who try to change, "fix" or rescue their partner.  They believe they can get their partner to change to be the way they want him to be.  Many of them become so focused on fixing their partner that they neglect themselves (see my articles: Overcoming Your Need to Rescue Your Loved Ones as Part of a Codependency Pattern and You Want to Change Your Spouse, But You Can't, So What Can You Do?).

Why Trying to Change Your Spouse Doesn't Work
Many people push, prod and try to do everything in their power to get their spouse to change, and no matter how good their intentions are, it usually doesn't work.

Exploring why it doesn't work and how to change this dynamic is the subject of this article.

A Short Fictional Vignette
The following fictional vignette, which is representative of hundreds of clinical cases, illustrates why trying to change your spouse doesn't work:

Helen and Tim
Helen and Tim, who were both in their 40s, were married for 10 years.

After Tim's father died, Tim started gambling compulsively (see my article: Overcoming Grief Gambling).

Prior to his father's death, Tim and his friends would get together every few months to play Poker.  But after his father's death, Tim felt a strong urge to play Poker more often, so he found other games, including online gambling.

At first, Helen wasn't concerned, but when she saw that Tim was spending almost all his free time in Poker games and he was losing money they didn't have, she became very concerned and told Tim to stop.  Tim would respond by promising Helen that he would stop, but he continued to gamble and lose large sums of money.

By then, Helen and Tim were spending a lot of their time arguing about his gambling and no time enjoying themselves the way they used to do before.  Helen was angry most of the time with Tim, and Tim felt resentful.  He felt that Helen was nagging him and acting like his mother.

The situation deteriorated until they were barely talking to one another, and they were no longer sexual (see my article: Have You and Your Spouse Stopped Having Sex?).

A few months later, they were sitting in a couples therapist office trying to salvage their relationship. Over time, they learned that Tim hadn't grieved for his father and the gambling was not only a distraction, it was also an addictive behavior that gave Tim a dopamine high in much the same way that taking drugs gives a dopamine high.

Gradually, as Helen learned not to nag and to focus on herself, Tim agreed to go to Gamblers Anonymous (GA) and work with a sponsor.  He also entered into his own individual therapy to deal with the loss of his father.  Over time, as he dealt with his emotions, he stopped gambling.

10 Reasons Why Trying to Change Your Spouse Won't Work:
  • Trying to Get a Spouse Who is Unwilling and/or Unable to Change is Futile
    • Before you try to change your spouse, consider whether he actually wants to change.
    • Is he capable of changing?
  • Focusing on Your Spouse's Behavior Takes Your Focus Away From Your Own Behavior
    • It takes two people to be in a relationship.
    • If you're focusing mostly on your spouse's behavior, you might not see how your own behavior affects the situation between the two of you. 
  • Focusing on Your Spouse's Behavior Takes Your Focus Away From the Dynamic Between the Two of You
    • There's a particular dynamic between you and your spouse.
    • When you focus on your spouse's behavior, you might miss that dynamic. 
  • Trying to Get Your Spouse to Change Might Be Unrealistic
    • Ask yourself how realistic you're being.
    • Ask yourself if you can live with the current situation when you consider everything.
  • Reframing Your Expectations Might Be More Realistic
    • Reframing your expectation is not about accepting abuse or accepting a situation that you find completely unacceptable.
    • If your spouse is unwilling or unable to change, is it possible to look at the situation from a different perspective that might make it acceptable to you?
  • Pushing Your Spouse to Change Can Erode the Relationship
    • No one likes to feel pushed or nagged.
    • People rarely change when they feel pushed and, if they do, they do it with resentment which causes other problems in the relationship.
  • Trying to Change Your Spouse Puts You in a Parental Role
  • Focusing on Changing Your Spouse Might Make You Lose Sight of What's Good in Your Relationship
    • Are you only focusing on your spouse's problems and not seeing what's good in your relationship?
    • Has your focus on your spouse's problems overshadowed what's positive?
  • Criticizing Your Spouse Can Lead to Divorce
  • Focusing on Yourself and Making Your Own Positive Changes Can Help the Dynamic Between You and Your Spouse
    • Rather than focusing exclusively on your spouse's problems, you can focus on yourself.  
    • People often focus on their significant other as a way to avoid looking at themselves.
    • Practice self care and try to find ways to improve things for yourself (see my article: Is Self Care Selfish?).
People often don't change when they feel pressured or pushed.  Not only is this not an effective strategy, it often does more harm than good.

In order to make significant lasting change, a person has to be internally motivated to change as opposed to complying with someone else's wishes. 

Even though no one should accept abusive behavior or put up with things that they know are unacceptable to them, focusing on yourself is usually more effective than focusing on what you perceive as another person's faults.

Getting Help in Therapy
It's hard to live with problems that you feel are unacceptable, especially when you love someone and also want the best for him or her.

Focusing on yourself might be challenging.  It can also be hard to break old habits of focusing on someone else instead of focusing on yourself.

Even if you're not pressuring your spouse to change, you might find it hard to decide whether to stay or to leave the relationship.

If you're struggling with one or more of these issues, rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist who has experience helping clients with these issues.

Many therapists, including me, are providing online therapy, which is also called teletherapy and telehealth, while they are out of their office during the COVID-19 pandemic (see my article: The Advantages of Online Therapy When You Can't See Your Therapist in Person).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, Somatic Experiencing and EFT therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I am providing teletherapy sessions during the COVID-19 crisis.

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.