On The Futility Of Trying To Change Someone

On one of my recent posts someone commented that it’s unfair of me to get to know people by just letting them behave however they want with no criticism from me, because two-way input is important to relationship development.

As a matter of fact, I used to feel the exact same way. Let me tell you why I don’t anymore.

I’ve written before about how Steve REALLY REALLY wanted to start having kids right away, and yet as soon as I got pregnant and couldn’t go out partying with him all night anymore he lost interest in the whole parenting business and left me sitting at home to manage it alone. (I was chopping my own firewood at eight months pregnant, because it was that or freeze.)

It was very confusing and frustrating to me to find myself effectively a single parent, when Steve had been the one who’d pushed and pushed for us to start a family. I tried appealing to his sense of fairness and compassion, which had zero effect. After Elizabeth was born he barely came home at all. My tears, pleas, lectures, warnings, all rolled right off of him. “This is who I am,” he would say as he headed out the door. “I’m not going to give up my lifestyle, and you shouldn’t expect me to. Why are you taking this so personally?”

And there I was with a newborn daughter, no money of my own, and wedding vows that I still felt bound by.

I found myself making excuses for his behavior. “He’s young,” I told myself. “Parenthood is very overwhelming, he just needs time to adjust. Also, he was hoping for a boy. Maybe if we have a son things will be different.”

Things were different alright. They got worse. For some reason Steve took an immediate dislike to Luke; apparently he’d been hoping for a “mini-me,” and Luke looks very much like my brother and not much like Steve except for the crazy-thick hair and blue eyes. Whatever the reason, Steve felt animosity rather than love for his son, and still had no interest in his daughter even though SHE is his “mini-me” both physically and personality-wise. I guess girls don’t count in Steve’s world.

I was getting desperate by now. I tried everything I could think of to make Steve see that he was throwing away everything of value in his life to pursue the things that would eventually destroy him. It made not a bit of difference, except that now he gave a different reason for his behavior. “Maybe if you wouldn’t NAG so much,” he would say as he headed out the door, “I might WANT to be home more!”

So I changed my ways. Instead of pleading or threatening, I focused all of my energy on making our home as warm and welcoming as it could possibly be. I cooked meals that didn’t require him to be home at a certain time, so that he always had a hot supper waiting for him whenever he stumbled in. I was affectionate, understanding, accommodating.

We hardly ever fought anymore, but other than that nothing really changed. “Love ya, Babe,” he would say as he headed out the door. “Don’t wait up.”

Eventually I had to face the facts. Steve and I were never going to have a real marriage, because he didn’t WANT a real marriage. He wanted someone to raise his heirs and attend to his domestic needs so that he could be free to live his life as if he were single. I called an end to the farce, and I’m happier being single than I ever was being “married.”

I have learned my lesson, and learned it well. People are who they are. People cheat on their spouses because they are adulterers; it has nothing to do with who they’re married to. How you treat other people is not about who they are; it’s about who YOU are.

So now I just let other people show me who they are. It works much better than me telling them who I think they should be, which is pretty pointless anyway if you think about it.

I don’t know how to be any fairer than that.

Categories: Family, kids, Life, Love, Marriage | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “On The Futility Of Trying To Change Someone

  1. Pastor Bill

    I agree with you if I go into any relationship with the idea of changing them it sets up confrontation. There is give and take in the natural things I cook you clean etc. But concerning matters of the soul I have found influience rather than force to be a far better approach. I read a very good Book many years ago on this very subject titled “Force or Power”. Hope you have enough firewood this year and that your holiday season be Full of Love.

    Pastor Bill


  2. Debora

    I agree, but give and take is only possible if both parties are willing. In my marriage I was doing all the giving and Steve was doing all the taking. When I finally said that that wasn’t going to work anymore, and that if he wanted to stay he would have to start acting like a married man, he said that he wasn’t really cut out to be a married man and that the freedom to live his party lifestyle was more important to him than any woman could ever be.

    He knew those things all along. I was the only “married” person in that relationship; he never was and never wanted to be.

    If a person wants to have a relationship with you, they will. If they don’t, there’s not much you can do to change that, or them. I’m surer of that now than I’ve ever been.

    Doing good on firewood, should have plenty this winter. Happy holidays to you too.


  3. Julie Taute

    Hello there. Your reply is so true. It takes both… And oh how painful when we finally realized it was only us!! It has been 4 years now the pain is fading more and more. Thank God healing is taking place.
    We hope and pray you, Elizabeth and Luke have a warm, Merry CHRISTmas.
    Yoour friend
    Julie and family


  4. Debora

    Julie, it’s good to hear from you. Yes, I think that’s probably the most painful-but-liberating moment in most people’s lives: when they finally understand that they’re not personally responsible for the choices that other adults make. Everyone walks their own path.

    Thanks for the prayers and good wishes. I hope you and yours are warm and well and happy too. Merry Christmas! :^)


  5. A wise leadership saying is, “I am responsible to you, not for you.” In other words, I am responsible to a person to tell them the truth. I am not responsible for the decisions they make with that truth in hand.




  6. Debora

    I like that saying. I think that’s sort of my motto these days, although this is the first time I’ve heard it phrased that way.

    I think I want a tee-shirt that says that.


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