If Only My Partner Would Change, Everything Would Be OK

Couple sitting in front of white wall, arms crossed, looking away from each other as if frustratedIt’s not uncommon to hear couples say, “I love my partner, but if he would just do___, we would be better off”, or “I love her, but if she would only do ____, I would be happy in this relationship.”

These are very real desires: “If only my partner would do [something], then we would have a perfect relationship.”

Well, maybe not perfect. But people who are asking for their partners to change really believe the changes they wish for would fix the problems in the relationship. It’s a pattern some couples exist in. Unfortunately, that position keeps the couple stagnant, each waiting for the other person to make the changes.

It would be great if our partners would change in just the ways we would like them to. It would be fantastic if counseling could get someone to just realize how their difficult behavior is ruining the relationship. It would be terrific if they would then comply and make the necessary changes, so that everyone could go back to the business of living and being happy. End of story.

As a couples counselor, I have yet to see this actually occur. It’s not that partners don’t ask for changes, it’s just very unlikely that only one person admits to being responsible for the problems in the relationship. In difficult relationships, when one person is disturbed by the other, it’s usually because both are doing something to bother each other. Both people contribute to the problems, and it takes both people becoming aware of their part in order to solve their difficulties.

By the time couples enter counseling, though, they are often exhausted, misunderstood, and hungry for nurturing and attention. When two people in a relationship are both looking to feel better, they expect their mate to do what is necessary for that to happen. It’s natural to assume that your partner will be there for you and give you what you need.

The problem is that in most cases, people are not sure what they need, but they are sure of what they are getting—and what they are getting is something they don’t like. At this point, both people feel disappointed that their partner is not giving them what they need. This pattern must be broken in order to be able to figure out what each person is looking for. This way, both people can feel better in the relationship.

Arguments often mask the hidden needs each person carries. One person may want to feel valued by their partner. The other may want to feel important to their partner. When both people are fighting to get what they need, without knowing what they need, they often come to the conclusion that their partner just doesn’t “get” them. When people feel misunderstood, they also feel alone in the relationship. When you feel with your own thoughts, you might even conclude that your partner doesn’t care about you. This can lead to more isolation and real sadness for both of you.

Pain and hurt feelings are relationship signals that people are not getting their needs met. Yelling, arguing, blaming, criticizing, disconnecting, stonewalling, and staying silent are the behaviors people use to get what they need. But no one likes to respond to people who use these behaviors on us. We can’t respond because we usually feel judged, belittled, and attacked.

Often couples in difficult relationships may find themselves engaging in the preceding behaviors. They might even think that’s just the way it is and they have to live with it. Each partner may secretly—or not-so-secretly—feel like the other person is doing terrible things to them. The funny thing is, both people probably want the same things: to feel better, peaceful, loved, appreciated, and happy.

If you feel locked in a relationship and think your partner should be doing something different, why not consider looking at yourself? You are most likely a well-intentioned person who wants to live in a good relationship with your partner. Start with acknowledging your part. You may be surprised how far this might take you, maybe even to that sacred place you have been longing for: a common ground.

© Copyright 2011 by Linda Nusbaum, MA, MFT, therapist in Long Beach, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • a bichel

    a bichel

    February 3rd, 2011 at 3:53 AM

    expectations are a part and parcel of a relationship and I don’t think there are too many people who can confidently say that they have never had expectations from their partner…rather what is better is if people expect but at the same time reflect upon themselves and see how well they have stood up to their partner’s expectations…!

  • Jonathan


    February 3rd, 2011 at 5:32 AM

    If or when you enter into a relationship with the theory that you could make that person better or the relationship better if he or she will only make some changes then you are setting yourself up for a disaster. If you love someone then you love them for all of their quirks and faults, and who is to say that changing that one thing really will make things better? You have to be willing to take the good with the bad, and know what your own personal limits are and how much you can stand to ignore if you love this person.

  • bettyjo


    February 3rd, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    It’s so empowering to take responsibility for our own actions and behaviors and feelings in a relationship. It took my marriage almost falling apart before I realized that the best way to change things was to take a look at my self, and stop blaming my husband. We have been married for 11 years now :)

  • Pete


    February 3rd, 2011 at 1:43 PM

    Changes are inevitable for any person, but only if they are voluntary. External enforcement will not help and especially when the external force is one’s partner. This is because there may be already existing ego clashes with one’s couple. It can create a lot of friction.

    All these problems just indicate that if a person introspects and brings about a change in himself for the better,he will bring true change that is both meaningful and helpful.

  • Sandra


    February 3rd, 2011 at 3:50 PM

    I went into my 1st marriage knowing that who I was was ultimately not who my ex wanted me to be. I could never live up to his standards, and do you know how rotten that made me feel? I have been divorced for a long time but I still have not gotten over the things that he made me believe about myself. He wanted that perfect woman and that was not me, but he thought that he could change all of that. Ha! I changed but never in ways that he wanted. I learned to be stronger and take up for myself and that was definitely not what that ex hubby wanted. He divorced me needless to say, but I was never too sad about that.

  • Grace


    February 6th, 2011 at 8:37 PM

    Most of the requests are either selfish, silly, or completely arbitrary. There are very few things a man can do that ticks me off so much that will totally ruin a relationship but they are serious. My list includes excessive use of drugs, alcohol, not keeping a job, being rude to others…things like that.

  • Rex


    February 6th, 2011 at 10:01 PM

    I would get along with most of my exes if they didn’t whine constantly about the tiniest thing. I once had an argument with my ex-girlfriend over, get this, whether certain towels in the bathroom are purely decorative or not. She’s still single. And I use every towel in the house. :)

  • Vickie


    February 7th, 2011 at 1:46 PM

    In my experience one person in a relationship always feels that they have to be right, and are somehow divinely free from error. Well they are not! If you can’t listen to your own faults, why would you think you deserve a relationship when you’re unable to hear your partner? No-one wants to feel unheard.

  • wat


    November 8th, 2012 at 3:21 PM

    Is there a perfect partner? We thought so when first got married, right? Can you change your partner? I don’t think so coz I’ve been married for almost 30yrs and I’m lying if I said I’ve the perfect marriage. In a marriage there should be love and respect for each other, teamwork, compromise, jobs and most important, communication. It will not work if one is missing. Nobody is perfect and thru the years, we’ve accepted each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

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