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Don't try to change the behavior, just ask for consideration

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

In relationship, don't try to change the who, focus on how

D.C.: My question is straightforward — when is change, if ever, okay in a relationship? Can I expect my partner to change if I don't like something and his behavior causes stress in our relationship? Is it fair to expect change in order for the relationship to improve, or do I need to suck it up and deal with his behavior?

Carolyn: You're not entitled to ask people to change who they are, but you are entitled to ask others to consider you when they choose a way of expressing who they are.

It's easier to say with an example: You can't ask someone to start loving sports, but you can ask a mate to support your decision to join a once-a-week adult league, or to go to a game with you once or twice a year, or not carry on about how stupid sports are.

Likewise, the sports-loving half of the couple can choose to spend one night per week with a team versus four or five, or DVR some games so that not every weekend is spent chained to the couch, and rally for a few trail hikes or gallery tours or whatever the non-sports-loving partner enjoys.

Both can recognize that the other cares about something she/he doesn't, and give an honest, heartfelt, sustained shot at either acquiring, open-mindedly sharing, supporting or just not crabbing about that interest.

That's only half of it, though. The other half of the issue is the person's response to your request. If someone sees your point and wants to accommodate you, then great. If someone doesn't want to accommodate or doesn't see your point, then you've got another decision to make: Stay, or go, with one caveat. Staying means you don't keep nagging for the change you wanted but were denied. The issue is closed.

That's because "S/he won't change" means the exact same thing, in effect, as "S/he can't change." You may believe a change is possible, but when someone stands by a choice or trait or behavior for any reason at all — from brain wiring to pure free will — you have to regard it as permanent.

Respecting invisible boundaries eliminates need for hard rules

Washington: In what he called an emergency, my husband guessed my e-mail password and accessed my e-mail. I use the same password for just about everything, and now my husband has it. He does not understand why this makes me upset. It's not that I'm hiding anything in particular, but I think even couples need some basic boundaries like this. Am I out of line for being mad?

Carolyn: The problem isn't that he has your password, but instead that you don't agree this was an emergency, right?

Couples don't need hard boundaries like secret passwords if they both respect the unspoken, invisible boundaries — such as, don't go reading my e-mail unless I've asked you to or you urgently need to (for, say, someone's contact information).

Since your husband went onto your turf for what you (apparently) deem a flimsy reason, then you don't trust him to respect the whole concept of turf. That's what you need to try to express to him, to explain why you got upset. In the meantime, give yourself a less guessable password — a smart move regardless.

Don't try to change the behavior, just ask for consideration 04/21/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 20, 2010 8:42pm]

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