Thursday, June 7, 2018

People don't really change

"I have yet to hear from a letter writer who got into a relationship hoping their partner would fundamentally change their approach to romance and emotional connection, and everything worked out just as they had hoped." ~Danielle Mallory Ortberg,'s Dear Prudence columnist.

This is why, if you express that you need or want something to change and it doesn't, you can expect that it will not. There may be reasons given for not changing, and they may be perfectly valid and legitimate, but that doesn't have to equate to abandoning your needs in order to be understanding.

Too many times people think the conversation has to go like this:
  •      "The ______________ is [a problem for me] because I [list unmet need]."
  •      "But I [defense of problem and reason not to stop]!" 
Your needs should be taken seriously by your partner. It doesn't mean your partner has to meet that need, simply that they recognize it's important to you so you can both talk about it. Maybe compromise.

If insufficient compromise exists, the next step is to either adjust expectations to match reality, or adjust reality to match expectations.

You can substitute any issue or behavior, state why it is an issue, and name the unmet need (or needs).

For example:
  • "Your hobby of collecting toenail remains and scattering them across the kitchen counters is getting in the way of my dinner prep."
  • "But I need these clippings and there's no where else to store them!!"
What you're saying is, hey, this thing is happening and I don't really like it. I have this unmet need because of it. I would like this not to happen.

If they respond with well, that's really too bad for you because I really want to keep doing this, then they've made it clear they aren't going to change.

And that's when you need to evaluate: is this something you can continue to tolerate?

What of your expectations and needs can be adjusted so reality is more bearable?

Knowing that this issue will not change, does that change the idea of tolerating it? Especially if you realize it's not just temporary?

If you can't change your expectations to match reality, can you change your reality to match your expectations?

Profound unhappiness resides at the address of not having what you want so it's worth exploring what can be changed: your internal state or your external reality.

I used the example of the toenail clippings because it's a fun way to slant the audience to sympathy for the requester, but what if the refusal to meet the need appeared much more "legit"?

The solution is  the same anyway, that's the beauty of assessing reality and examining unmet needs.

For example:
  • "I really want to go to bed at 7pm but you like to stay up much later. I've been having trouble functioning because I'm not getting enough sleep."
  • "I don't really want to go to bed at 7pm though. I know you have to get up at 3am for work but I don't."
Now that the request is easier to imagine rejecting, see how easy it is to try and use logic to "talk down" the need?

This isn't good because the need is legit to the requester.

It doesn't matter whether or not the other person is on board. What matters is that they take it seriously enough not to dismiss it.

Maybe then there can be compromise, but if there cannot, and the need is not negotiable, then it's time to think about what would have to change.
. . .

This is for those who have complained, cajoled, whined, begged, pleaded, asked, demanded, insisted, wondered, wished, and insinuated for a particular thing to change, only to be met with disappointing results and evidence that change will not be forthcoming. But if you can tell your partner cares and is trying to change, great! 

Change also takes a while. You still always have the prerogative to decide whether or not the change is happening "fast enough" or to the degree that you need it. You do not have to dismiss your own needs. It's okay to need what you need. It is also okay to NOT need the same thing as your partner, or to not want to meet their need. Everyone's needs are valid.

P.S. by co-contributor B:

Note that often the things on our list signify other things, and we have to look through the thing itself to figure out what it's symbolizing for us.

For example, say your dealbreaker is: "The next person I date needs to be romantic and bring me flowers." That could play out in one of two ways:

1. Someone passes the test but it doesn't actually make a difference in the ways you think it will, or

2. They don't pass the test but some other thing they do magically fulfills that need.

You need to look past the superficial declaration to see what are you really wanting. Maybe it was attentiveness, which may or may not be realized through gifts of flowers.

Another interesting thing illuminated by a therapist is that sometimes we make new "must have" lists in reaction to our previous relationship, based on what we feel could have saved it or what was wrong with it. But a new person, and a new relationship, doesn't necessarily need those same things. And we're deluding ourselves if we think we're making those lists in a vacuum, "objectively," because after a failed relationship they're almost always going to be informed by that.

So for example, "I want someone with a decent job" or "someone who treats me with respect" are perfectly reasonable must-haves. But "sees Marvel movies with me" might be a reaction to the fact that the ex didn't, because he didn't care to spend any energy doing the things YOU enjoy, and that's actually the baseline thing you're looking for. Then you're browsing Tinder and you see that this guy says he hates superhero movies and you're like, too bad, swipe left, because you've confused your signifier with the overall character quality or relationship skill—all based on what went wrong in your previous relationship.