Should you force him to change?

Romantic relationships are funny. Unlike anything else, we knowingly use them as the basis for committing some of the most asinine behaviors in recorded human history. For example, Henry VIII gave Pope Clemet VII the middle finger, was summarily excommunicated from the Catholic Church and supposedly entry into heaven, and in turn launched an entirely new religion, all to be with a woman – Anne Boylen – whom he eventually beheaded because she couldn’t conceive a male heir. Who got the short end of that stick depends on whom you ask.

When I think back to some of my own relationship catastrophes I immediately sense an exponential drop in my IQ. How can someone smart enough tie his own shoes have been so blatantly blind and incredibly stupid in affairs of the heart? There’s the one with the former ‘entertainer’ and rehabilitated ‘sugar baby’ who just couldn’t seem to keep other dudes’ pens out of her ink.  Or the soon-to-be divorcee who just so happened to still be living with her soon-to-be ex-husband (separate rooms of course) as she waited for the house to sell. I fortunately never let it get as far as the well-worn phrase “I’m leaving him, I promise”.

Today I could spew a laundry list of reasons why these two romances and several others were a Titanic waiting to happen. But in that moment whether it was loneliness, insecurity, or just plain idiocy I had convinced myself, at least partially, that each one was destined to be something more – the magic sauce was there. Or maybe in the recesses of my naive mind, or just my ego, I thought that my chivalrous behavior, honesty, intelligence, and trustworthiness would overcome their more dubious histories. Like a modern day Robin Hood with a dash of Casanova I believed I could save these beautiful maidens from the clutches of the evil villain – notably themselves.

I often think back to those experiences when I hear of someone who has finally decided to cut bait on a relationship because ‘things aren’t getting any better’. Customarily this tragedy befalls the fairer gender who, after giving her sweetheart/boyfriend/FWB 46 different chances to cease and desist any plethora of character flaws decides that she deserves much better and the time has come to start ‘living for me’. Yet what should mark a new beginning too often ends up turning into a scene from Groundhog Day.

It usually goes something like this. Mr. Right falls off his lofty pedestal once the last and final straw has been broken. Which prompts pledges much like he did the other times she tried to leave ‘this time will be different’, ‘I’ll do better I promise’, even ‘I’ll get help’ with each new plea being more desperate than the next. And should she actually give in and stay initially things take a turn for the better. He stops going to strip clubs, finding himself in strange women’s beds, or doing lines of cocaine. But eventually, like the proverbial leopard, those spots are too deeply stained and he’s knee-deep in it all once again while she’s left beating herself up at being so foolish.

Or his reindeer games don’t have an affect and she actually puts her big girl panties on and kicks him out. Though saddened at the loss she feels so much better about herself, she’s free, independent, confident and self-assured. She did what needed to be done and she knows she’ll be better for it in the long run. Then one day – which is scientifically proven to be around 90 days after the breakup – she gets a random “I miss you” text or “I’m sorry” email. This happens to be exactly when that new-car-smell of freedom and self assurance she was basking in before before starts wearing off because the new life she anticipated isn’t working out like the brochure promised. And now considering it all she suddenly begins wondering if she made a huge mistake and even persuades herself that maybe he has changed. He says all the right things swearing the break was his wakeup call, it’s given him room to think and look at his life and he’s now gotten his act together. As if a lifetime of bad habits has been erased in less time than the gestation cycle of a chinchilla.

GNO’s and Hollywood romantic comedies have been built on what happens now. After constant urging and ample sweet talking she decides to meet him for coffee – besides it’s just coffee what can happen? The Salted Carmel Mocha tastes as good as he looks and smells and like Cinderella she’s suddenly swept up in the golden carriage where at the stoke of midnight she’s finds herself picking her bra off his bedroom floor wondering what the hell just happened! Did she just agree to get back together or did she simply let him cash in some frequent flier points?

Almost overnight they’re right back where they left off, and no sooner has she changed her relationship status on Facebook then the old shenanigans start all over again. And now all she wants is five feet of rope, two cement blocks, and a deep river. She just needs to figure out whether to use it on him or herself.

I’m convinced that people can change. Given the right frame of mind and the proper circumstances people have the innate ability to buckle their chinstraps and get down and dirty to fix what needs to be fixed. But what I’m not convinced of is real change when it’s tied to an ultimatum – fix it or we’re over! That signifies more than a few opportunities were given to make things right without success and now it’s time to bring out the big guns.

Really? Is that what love is about? To be reduced to relationship extortion in order to get someone to change? I pray that the Queen and I understand each other enough to never do something that would knowingly cause the other pain, but God forbid if it should happen that we would do whatever necessary to stop once we were confronted about it– not as a last resort.

In a loving and secure relationship one partner should never ever need to force the other to change. If one person’s actions are causing the other heartbreak and misery they should want to change out of love. Because if there is mutual respect and admiration in the relationship the willingness to change is simply a manifestation of those feelings, something one does for the other out of love not by way of a threat.

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18 responses to Should you force him to change?

  1. You nailed it right here: “In a loving and secure relationship one partner should never need to force the other to change.” I’m still learning so much from my failed marriage but yeah, I agree with you about being in a loving and secure relationship you just can’t force people to change. It has to come from their own self if they want to change or not. To give an ultimatum? Well, that doesn’t work. I tried that before. 

  2. I couldn’t agree more with the last paragraph. Very well said. 

    Ultimatums NEVER work. They really just cause resentment. 

  3. Where did you get that picture of me groveling? Darn, I thought I’d gotten rid of every copy!

  4. dk

    Perhaps it’s the idea of ‘soul mate’ or ‘one true love’…when we fall for someone, oftentimes we build them up to be much better than who they really are because there’s no wayyyyyy they would EVER cheat on me, lie to me, (insert cardinal sin here) to me…because I’m such a fantastic catch, a great partner, I’m a giver, (insert wonderful quality here) to them…and there’s a great soul in there, right? I couldn’t be that bad of a judge of character???

    I’ve been there.  You meet someone who essentially needs ‘fixing’ and they will adore you because you’ve got it all together…right?  Wrong. That’s when I realized I didn’t have it together because I felt the need to be with someone who had more insecurities than me to feel better about myself. Sad that it took me several times to realize – and about 5 different girls (that I know about) – for me to understand that no amount of love or forgiveness or ultimatums or threats to leave would rehabilitate this person’s ways.  He’s been doing it for over 20 years…why would he change overnight for anyone? I mean, I know I’m fabulous…but look at Jesse James & Sandra Bullock…enough said…

    At the end of the day, it is what it is.  I now see people – colleagues, friends & lovers – for who they are, not the potential I want them to be.  It’s a matter of acceptance and realizing what you are willing to put up with and what you aren’t. You should never have to go to someone and explain to them the consequences of their not-so-pristine actions.  You’re a potential partner, NOT a parent. They should already know better. 

  5. If you can’t come up with a compromise you have to begin to wonder if it is going to work out.

  6. Wow, I really love this post. I have to say I really enjoy your blog. I discovered it a couple of months ago and a lot of the posts have really affected me in a positive way. I tried my best to get my ex-husband to change, as he started becoming abusive and having an affair right when I gave birth to our daughter. I tried and tried and he just wouldn’t stop. You’re right in that there was nothing I could do. I left him as I needed to protect my daughter and myself. This post reminds me that I made the right choice. Thank you.

  7. I also believe people can change but they have to WANT to.  you don’t give someone an ultimatum, you communicate and before the relationship is dangling by a thread, you give the person a choice.  Tell him/her what it is you think needs to change, how the current behavior makes you feel and what you see happening in the future if things stay the course.  Then you leave the ball in their court.  There is nothing else you can do.  If the other person is invested in the relationship and in an emotional place where they can change, then you stand by them.  If not…well then you have your answer.  It’s best to move along even though it’s probably the toughest thing you’ll ever do.

  8. “The door to change only opens from within.” – Stephen Covey. It is amazing to me when I hear others trying to “fix up” or “improve” their significant other. If they need fixing up, why are you with them?!? 

    Your post is dead on… when it comes to matters of the heart, our emotions often get the best of us.

  9. Misty Simon

    People do not change. Certain behaviors can change, but people are who they are. The fool is one who thinks s/he can change the other person.

  10. blog.girl13

    Ok, this post makes me feel like maybe you are spying on me.  Such good timing on this subject as I am going through something similar right now.  Not that “he” really needs to change a thing, just that I am realizing that I am more invested in our relationship than he is.  Time to get out.

  11. Halen, you are right. But how many people actually talk it out before it’s too late? Divorce statistics tell that answer. And they have to change and show change and the earnest desire to continue to change until it’s fixed. 

  12. Amy, thanks so much. I appreciate your words of encouragement. Sounds like you made the right decision. 

  13. DK, dead on here. Thanks for the insight. And no amount of love will ever get someone to change if they don’t want to, or better yet, don’t see that they are doing anything wrong. 

  14. Lots of Q-bert character’s should be my comment, here! You’re right, though and it does work both ways. An ultimatum isn’t going to cause her to permanently change. Sometimes the truth burns.

    Still, I kind of wish you fell off the side of that pyramid.

  15. I stumbled on your blog through TheJackB and I’ve been enjoying reading your perspective. You even inspired a post. Feel free to visit if you’d like to read my response. 🙂

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