Changing the Other vs Leaving Them Alone

Changing the Other vs Leaving Them Alone
June 15, 2016 Rachel Alexander, Esq.

Things would work, if only s/he would change

Changing the Other vs Leaving Them Alone by Rachel Alexander{7:36 minutes to read} Many relationships seem to have to do with how the other person needs to change in order for the relationship to work. One spouse would be happy if only the other would return to work. The other spouse would be happy if only the other would be more sensitive and expressive. If only

Good morning! It’s time to wake up!

People seem to get jammed up in relationships when they insist that the other person should be someone other than who they are.

What’s wrong with encouraging the other person to change by pointing out his/her flaws?

Several things. First, it sends a message to the other that she is inadequate, not wanted as she is, and in order to gain your (conditional) love and approval, she should improve herself based on your criticisms. It puts the other in an unfriendly territory of needing to agree that he is not okay, in order to align with how you feel about him, that is, deride himself or dis-align with you. Arguing with who a person isn’t—instead of responding and being with who our partner actually is—is a dead end.

A relationship doesn’t need both you and your version of who the other person ought to be. Just who you are and who the other person is, is fully sufficient.

Close relationships, which contain a spaciousness—where both people appreciate one another as essentially whole universes unto themselves—tend to last. This may be a lonelier view of intimacy, but it’s also more awesome and magnificent. Most everyone has been through enough to already be the best version of themselves that they can throw together.

As a divorce mediator, I meet with a lot of good people who are getting divorced because their partner isn’t what they are supposed to be. Couples don’t arrive at my door a month or two after discovering that the wife never wants to return to work, or the husband isn’t demonstrative—they come 14 years later.

Here’s what I think. When you discover that who you’re married to is, well, who they repeatedly show themselves to be—a spender, a penny-pincher, a short-tempered ass, whatever—take note. That actually is who they are, and yeppers, they are your spouse. The choices open to you are these:

  1. Acknowledge who he or she is and decide there are other aspects of them and the relationship that are more deserving of your attention. You can live with the aspects you don’t enjoy, and maybe even work together to find some ways to manage conflict around these areas.
  2. Determine if it’s a deal breaker. Address it with your spouse and a counselor, and if it can’t be resolved to your satisfaction, leave the relationship.

I believe these are the two choices, however, choice 3 is the one most people make.

  1. Upon discovering the intolerable quality or behavior of your spouse, set about on a multi-decade campaign of verbal assault and passive-aggressive behavior to forcibly reshape your spouse into who you would have them be.
  • Argue over every Neiman Marcus credit card bill when it arrives. Don’t miss even one month.
  • Snort and sigh when you leave for the office and your spouse is still in bed.
  • Roll your eyes in disgust when your spouse helps himself/herself to a second piece of cake.
  • React with grand theatrics and amazement when the accountant reports that, for the 9th consecutive year, your spouse under-withheld and you owe the government money.
  • Stoke the discontent and irritation the way a desperate boy scout would a dwindling fire on a frigid night.
  • And stay together! In this way you have the best of both worlds—you highlight everything that you can’t stand, weaving it through the fibers of each day, so your discontent is duly noted, and while voicing your objections, continue on with a marriage you’re beating into disrepair.

Option 3—or, the “no-option/both options”—has people straddling two choices while making none. Option 3 inflames the discontent while suffocating the cinders of goodwill. Option 3 feeds discontent while starving love.

I’d like to make an official motion to remove #3 from the list of options.

While I loathe the expression “it is what it is”—primarily because it provides neither information, wisdom, nor relief of any kind—when it comes to your spouse, it may be useful.

  • Your spouse is who he is. He isn’t going to be the first person to reverse hereditary baldness nor will you discover him early next Sunday morning planting a vineyard in your backyard.
  • Your wife is unlikely to discover after three children and menopause that she wants to be more sexually experimental and daring.

You can expend a great deal of energy on trying to argue someone into being a better version of himself, but all that tends to do is alienate your partner and drive you in circles, which wastes gas and can produce dizziness.

In my experience, relationships break down when validation isn’t practiced and respect erodes. Respect doesn’t mean liking everything that your partner is or does, but it means acknowledging that it is, well, what it is, and your pointing to it and stamping your feet is not going to achieve anything except sore feet and a weary pointing finger.

One last thing:

  • Your wife probably knows her issues and doesn’t require you reminding her to attend to them.
  • Your husband is very likely already engaged in being the best version of himself possible under the circumstances.

While you are together, let it be a friendly togetherness. Next time you’re tempted to remind your spouse of how they royally f%#$@ed up, breathe deep and nod to the person who they are in the other moments; the one who is with you, shortcomings and strengths. Nod inwardly to the one who has chosen to keep company with you as you sometimes sail, sometimes battle through the years together.©

Rachel Alexander

Rachel Alexander
Alexander Mediation Group
119 West Valley Brook Rd
Califon, NJ 07830
(908) 832-2305


  1. Alaina 6 years ago

    Dear Rachel,
    I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I enjoy your blogs. Do you write these yourself? They are so insightful.

    The one from last week was especially appealing to me. It expresses what has made my marriage work for so long and so happily–we let each other “be”. Which is not to say we don’t ever get angry with the other, but we accept that that is who that person is and on a regular basis, almost daily, we “decide” to love each other nonetheless. It’s a beautiful thing, I say with all modesty. Somehow, we unwittingly fell into this understanding–I think because we just truly loved each other– and I have spent years trying to figure out why our relationship works, so I can explain it to others. Your blog says it all.
    I sent it to my children.


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