Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

I was watching a TV talk show and a woman in a bad relationship went on and on about how she read every book she could to learn how to fix her guy and she was frustrated that he hadn’t changed. She complained that it seemed hopeless to fix him. Many people feel the same way, whether it’s looking to fix someone in a relationship, a parent wanting to fix a child, someone wanting to fix a friend, etc. No matter what the situation, my answer is the same: “You can’t fix or change anyone but yourself!”

People aren’t cars that can be repaired if they’re not operating the way you’d like. Yet that doesn’t stop many of us from trying to make changes in someone we care about. We complain and nag and demand what we want, and get frustrated, angry and disappointed if the person doesn’t become what we want. Many people enter romantic relationships thinking that when the person falls for them, they’ll be able to get them to change. It doesn’t work that way!

Women think they’ll get their guy to conform to communicating the way they do, to want to spend all his time with her, to become romantic like guys in movies, and to stop unacceptable behavior, like lying, always being late or cheating. Men think they’ll get their lady to be more independent, warm up more in bed and stop nagging, whining or making demands. If you want to be happy, accept that everyone has a right to be who he or she wants to be. Just because you don’t like someone’s behavior, no one has to change, and they won’t, unless they decide they don’t like it.

People have a right to be or do what they want and it’s not up to you to change them. Wanting it won’t change things!

The ONLY way to change someone else is to change yourself! Someone might do something different to please you if you bug them enough but it won’t last. I believe that’s one reason there’s so much divorce. People try to please until the ink is dry on the marriage license. Then they begin to do more of what they like and stop acting like the person they thought their partner wanted them to be. But sometimes if you change your response to a situation, and stop complaining, people might change because they want to. This was a big lesson for me.

My new policy is to nicely explain what bothers you, then change your response to it.

For example, I was seeing a guy who was always late. Often we’d meet on a corner or outside a restaurant when we were spending the evening together. I hated waiting ALL the time, often over a half hour. He could have called to alert me but never did. My complaints did nothing to change it. He always had an excuse. One night we were going to a club downtown to hear live music. It was cold. I always warned him if he was late I’d leave but never did. This time after 10 minutes I jumped on the subway and went by myself. A half hour later he arrived, very annoyed that I’d left without him.

I didn’t lecture. Instead, I smiled and nicely said that I’d warned him I’d leave since I don’t like standing out in the cold waiting and I didn’t want to miss any of the show. He had no excuse this time because of how I responded. and was dumbfounded. I’ve learned that when people do something wrong or that they know bothers you, they expect to be scolded. That kind of brings them a weird sense of closure. I don’t give that anymore. My friend kept apologizing, which he never did before. And from then on, he made the effort to be on time or call ahead if he’d be late. This was all done by changing my response instead of complaining!

You can’t fix anyone but YOU. But you can fix how you respond to what you don’t like.

And if someone annoys you that much, you probably shouldn’t be with that person. Often we expect too much from a romantic partner. Accept behavior you don’t like if it’s just different from how you’d do it but it’s not wrong, like folding laundry differently or not going into details that you’d like in a conversation. If it doesn’t make the person wrong or bad, don’t treat them as wrong or bad. Sometimes people will slowly try to do something more your way if you nicely tell them why it matters to you instead of why you don’t like it or just want it.

Decide if the person is worth staying with and accept their way. Or leave. That’s the only real choice. Driving yourself crazy trying to fix someone will NOT make you happy so why bother? Fix your response instead and you just might get more satisfaction from the person.

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