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?