Change

At my therapy session not long ago, I was lamenting some frustrations about my husband and the resentment I felt that I was doing so much work to try to improve our marriage, while he didn’t do a thing.

“Yes, I remember thinking, when we were working together, that [your husband] wasn’t going to change.” Remarked my therapist, who worked with both of us through two separate difficult periods. “I remember thinking that it made as much sense to work with just you, because you were the one who was open to doing things differently.”

It was incredibly validating to have someone outside of our marriage–an unbiased third party–recognize that.

It was also incredibly depressing.

If my husband really can’t change, then what is the point of putting all this effort into our marriage? If the stress of having kids affects our relationship this negatively, will there be anything left after this difficult time is over?

And I’m not just putting it all on him. I don’t actually know if I am doing any changing. For all the books I read, for all the blog posts I write, for all the introspection I manage, am I really growing in positive ways? We play out the same shit in our marriage over and over again. Clearly my feelings about certain issues are the same. For all the different ways I try to approach those issues, in the end the resentment builds up until we find ourselves right in the middle of the same fight we’ve had a million times.

I was thinking about whether or not people change, on a broader level, as I contemplated the state of my marriage. It seems clear that people change, because if they didn’t then relationships wouldn’t ebb and flow the way they do. My friend and I suffered the horrible dissolution of our friendship because we had changed, right? At least that is what I keep telling myself.

But maybe we didn’t change. Maybe it was just our circumstances that changed. Maybe, as people, we are always the same, we just manifest differently in reaction to distinct life situations.

Maybe relationships shift because external facts change, and each person reacts to those external shifts differently.

I don’t know. As someone who works hard to make positive changes in her life, I find the reality that I can never change who I am pretty depressing. Even if I can alter the ways I react in certain situation, the underlying affect of those situations on me will remain constant. Or maybe they won’t. Maybe age and experience and perspective really do mold our outlook on life, and make us different people in doing that.

I clearly am not sure where I am going with this. Right now it’s only really relevant to me as it relates to my marriage: can my husband and I change our behaviors enough to salvage our relationship? We have a lot of years left before our kids are older and this particular set of challenges morphs into something else (which is evidently harder in most ways, so I probably shouldn’t expect it to bring us much respite). With the levels of exhaustion we’re dealing with, will we have the energy to act in ways that aren’t true to who we are, in order to support one another and maintain intimacy? We will be able to show each other empathy when empathy is clearly something we both struggle with (at least when it comes to showing empathy toward each other).

I have a great book about making marriage work, but honestly I don’t have the inclination to crack it open. I’m so tired of trying to change my every response to support the people around me. It’s exhausting, and I’m already exhausted enough as it is.

I’m just not sure what the point is. And I’m sick of being the only one who seems to care.

Do you think people change? Why or why not?

11 Comments

  1. You don’t change to “support the people around you” you change because you don’t like the results of you not changing you and your approaches.
    You have changed when the same sequence of objective events occur but your internal response is different, and perhaps your external response is also.
    People do change over time ~ but not for others or on other people’s timetables. A common mistake happens when the person implements giant changes in external factors but nothing changes inside and they simply recreate the old dynamic in a new pond.
    Living with other people is very hard. Living without other people A) doesn’t happen in our society today and B) is also very hard. Water your own grass and pluck out the your weeds and appreciate that dandelions mean spring is happening.
    Goodness! I am really no help at all. Sorry.

    1. You are a help! Just a reminder that it’s hard to live with other people is a big help. I let myself forget that, or disregard it, and it’s important to remember.

      You’re right that I am not changing (or wanting to change) my behavior for someone else, but because I want to change the interactions that I have with that person, and because I want a different result in interacting with them. That is also really important to remember. I will keep that in mind.

  2. Two young kids, two full time jobs… this shit is HARD. Of course two people are going to carry stress, and of course it’s going to affect your marriage, because at the end of the day you probably both don’t have the emotional reserves for empathy toward each other.

    I feel like these are the survival years, where all you can do is give each other the benefit of the doubt and space to handle all the shit we have to deal with on a daily basis. It won’t last forever, and trying to dredge up the energy to work on all this change now… it’s just really, really hard.

    I have been listening to (over and over and over, LOL) first 50 rules of the audiobook version of “Marriage Rules” by Harriet Lerner for the past few weeks and it’s been really, really helpful for me. They’re not these overwhelming “OMG I NEED TO CHANGE!!!!” rules, but it does show me that OMG, I need to change the way I approach our interactions when it comes to my husband. I love it and highly recommend it.

    xoxo

    1. Thanks for the book reco. I will definitely check it out. I definitely need to change the way I approach our interactions when it comes to my husband too. Now if I only I can figure out how…. 😉

  3. People certainly change. It’s amazing to reflect on the past decade and see how far I’ve come and how different I am now than I was even 5 years ago before pharmacy school. I’d say that people need to be willing to change and it helps if those around them are willing to let them change. Having young kids is absolutely survival time and it’s much harder to change while fighting for survival. Obviously it isn’t impossible to change, just more difficult. In my relationships, I take care of my part of things by explaining how I need to be treated and by calling out unacceptable behavior if it occurs and similarly respecting boundaries of the other person.

    1. “In my relationships, I take care of my part of things by explaining how I need to be treated and by calling out unacceptable behavior if it occurs and similarly respecting boundaries of the other person.” I really appreciate hearing this. I think I do this, but not in a very productive way. I need to work on this, definitely.

  4. The majority of the work I’m doing in therapy is learning to let go of the idea of changing other people/situations and focusing on changing my reaction/thinking to avoid anxiety. I think its a powerful tool, because when (if?) I master it, I could use it in any situation. On the other hand, I sometimes swing too far into thinking that I just need to suck it up and accept everything thrown at me—when there are times I should be asserting my needs or putting my foot down. I really like Ms Future PharmD’s statement above, its a good way to know where to draw the line.

    1. That would be a powerful tool. And I know I need to work on that too. Easier said than done though, like so many wise choices…

  5. And related to what your therapist said—about you being the one willing/ready to change, not your husband—I wonder how common this is in couples, and does it tend to fall along gender lines (women more open to change than men). I think the differences may be related to having a growth vs. fixed mindset. I’m definitely in the growth mindset camp.

  6. Going through therapy made me realize that people don’t change. Period. Even though I’ve done a lot of work on myself, I haven’t fundamentally changed. I still don’t like my personality much, but I now can recognize my strengths rather than focus on weakness. I struggle every day with how to interact with my mother in a way that doesn’t piss me off. Most days it feels impossible. As far as my DH, well we have the same arguments over and over again too. There’s always going to be some aspect of our personalities that don’t mesh well. I think though that we are willing to bring stuff up before it becomes huge. The hardest part about it (and currently we are struggling with both our families) is that we will never completely do what the other wants or act the way the other one thinks we should act. Being accepting of each other’s shortcomings is hard but we both work on it. Oh, he didn’t go to therapy with me either, it’s just that I think both of us try to recognize that we won’t always agree.

    Dunno if that’s helpful or not, I just don’t have sage words of wisdom. :\

    Holy cow, I may have to write my own post!

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