What Do I Do If My Partner Doesn’t Change?

Dearest Ginzo,

We all have things that we could work on and change. It’s tough to do, but it’s easier when it’s just us and harder when we’re expecting our loved ones to make the changes. In my example, my partner has been incredibly receptive to my feelings and thoughts about our relationship, and they’ve stated that they’re willing to work on these things to better both themselves and our relationship.

I know that change takes time, and I don’t want to ask too much (nor too little). How do I find the balance of expecting a person to change some of their behaviors? What’s reasonable, what should I look for, and what do I do if change just isn’t happening in the way I want it to?

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Dear Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes,

I’m glad that you and your partner are able to talk about your concerns about the relationship, and that they have been open minded. Every relationship faces challenges, but the ones that work out are the ones where both partners are willing to talk about them and weather the storm together.

My therapist once told me, “You can’t change other people, but you can change the way you respond to them.” Clearly, you are aware that you can’t snap your fingers and make your partner change, and you have done the tough work of being honest with them. Now it’s time to focus on how you respond. My main advice? Let go and have faith in the person you love.

This is an analogy that has probably been beaten to death, but human beings are a lot like plants. In order for them to grow, they need to be treated with care. When you’re hoping someone will change, micromanaging or criticizing them is like over-watering them — they’re going to look all withered and sad for a while, then die. Contrary to what many believe, people can and do change — but they need to feel accepted and loved, despite their flaws, to accomplish this. Don’t stand on the sidelines and wait for your partner to fail, or point out where they are not taking your feedback to heart at every opportunity — give them the benefit of the doubt that they will succeed, and root on (hehe, more plant analogies) their best efforts.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be honest when a concern comes up. Chances are, this will be an ongoing conversation, and it’s important to keep the lines of communication open. It’s more about where you are placing your attention. I would encourage you to, instead of looking for signs of change in your partner, recognize signs of change in yourself. This not only gives them a little breathing room, it lets you focus on the one thing you can control — you. A great way to see how things have changed for you as a person and in a relationship is tuning into your emotions.

It’s easy to avoid our feelings. Feelings are icky sometimes, and it would (temporarily) feel better to numb out and avoid them. But emotions are one way your body tells you that something needs your attention.

Let’s say you’re trying to fall asleep but you’re distracted by a nagging sense of anxiety. Instead of running away from how you feel by scrolling through your phone for hours (I personally have done this more times that I’d like to admit), get curious about it. Take a minute to explore where this emotion is coming from, and sit with the feeling (or even journal about it). You may come to realize that your partner agreed to start texting you “goodnight” as a way to communicate love, and they didn’t that night. A need isn’t being met, and while this doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed, it’s important information to take note of.

Ultimately, if things in your relationship don’t improve, there is nothing wrong with walking away. Despite our best efforts, a lot of frustrating but totally valid things can get in the way of our relationships succeeding. Whether it’s timing, a fundamental difference in values, or it’s simply more work than you’re willing to put in, you don’t have to stay if you don’t want to. That is a good enough reason to break up even if your partner works very hard to make you happy.

It all comes down to trust. Trust your partner to do the things that you asked of them, and trust yourself to know when you need to move on.

XOXO,
Ginzo

Advertisements

How Do I Set Boundaries With My Family and Friends?

I’m not sure how to start one of these! Ok, so it seems like my friends and family only treat me like a commodity. Sometimes I feel like I’m an old doll put on the Shelf. Then when someone can use me for a purpose that’s when I’m taken off the shelf. It’s only when I can be used do I feel like I’m an important person to them. It really hurts me. I’m not sure what to do about it. I don’t know if I should talk to them or find other ways of setting boundaries. Advice would be helpful. Thanks!

Sarah

Dear Sarah,

I’m sorry to hear that you are feeling used and hurt. This is a feeling I can relate to because I’m a chronic people pleaser, and it has taken a lot of self-reflection and therapy to move away from the need to always please others and put myself first instead. In the worst of my people-pleasing days, I would do anything that was asked of me, and I never expressed my own needs. As a result, people walked all over me and I was stewing with a heart full of resentment. I had to change my self-perception and start clearly communicating expectations, not only for my own mental health, but to save these relationships. It’s something that I still struggle with, but I have turned a corner and am the best at expressing my emotions and needs than I ever have been, and my relationships and personal happiness have been reaping the benefits.

It could be that you have surrounded yourself with a bunch of users, but my rule for any scenario when it seems like everyone is treating you in a certain way is to look at what is in common in all these relationships: you. What is more likely than them being a bunch of dill holes is that your friends and family treat you this way because you haven’t communicated that it hurts you. Perhaps you are that friend who will always let someone rant about their day with no expectation of them returning the favor. People tend to think these types of friends have an endless supply of kindness and generosity for them, or more realistically, they don’t think about their feelings at all. This doesn’t mean they are any more self-involved than the general populace. Keep in mind that everyone is walking around in their own world, consumed with whatever is going on in their lives. It takes perceptive and sensitive people who are genuinely interested in your inner world to put themselves in your shoes, and even these people are caught up in their own stuff. You cannot expect anyone to read your mind; you have to clearly communicate your needs and you have to tell them when they hurt you.

Vocalizing these feelings can release you from the burden of them. I suggest you do talk to some of your friends and family about how you have been feeling, but keep a couple of things in mind. Some people will react better to this conversation than others. Some will get defensive, and some will try to minimize your feelings to make themselves feel better about hurting you. Others might be horrified that they have made you feel this way and feel very guilty about it, which, if you are like me, may make you feel terrible, too. There are some people who are going to be receptive to this conversation and will immediately take steps to ease this burden on you, but others are not going to be that emotionally intelligent. So yes, have conversations about it with the people you can trust to listen nonjudgmentally and validate your feelings, but with the people who aren’t going to be so kind, you can skip it if it is going to be more trouble than it’s worth. For both of these groups, however, you will have to actively set boundaries.

The first step in setting boundaries is to define them. You know what certain people always ask of you, so reflect on which of these things makes you feel used and drained, which you don’t mind doing so much, and which you actually enjoy. Know where your limits are so you can make them very clear. I would suggest you journal at this topic. Not only this is a great way to process emotions, it will also serve as a reminder of why you need to set these boundaries, which will be helpful when you are tired and feel like it would be easier to just give in. Write down certain go-to phrases for setting boundaries that specifically apply to scenarios in which you feel used. Some that have worked for me in the past:

“That isn’t convenient for me.”
“Now is not the right time.”
“I don’t feel comfortable doing that.”
“I can’t make that a priority.”
“I am not the right person for that; please ask someone else.”

The trick is to remain strong and always keep in mind why you are doing this. You might find that a mantra you can return to again and again will help you keep your conviction. If you are a visual person, you might write down an empowering phrase on a post-it note next to your mirror. Continuing to journal can help you keep in touch with your emotions through this process, and allow you to see where you have improved and where you still need work. Try anything you can do to help you remember that this is worth it. YOU are worth it.

There will be people who truly are using you for your generous nature, and once you start putting up boundaries, they may disappear from your life. This can hurt, but take this as the blessing that it is; you don’t need them. The added bonus is that you will find out which people truly love, care for, and respect you. These are the people who are on your team. Hold them close and appreciate them for the valuable role they play in your life. Foster these relationships by yes, helping them when they need it and you have the emotional resources, but also asking for their help. Keep these relationships as balanced as you can by leaning on them as much as they lean on you; you can trust the people who really care to be quite content with this arrangement.

It won’t be an easy journey, but it will be worth it. Keep your head up and give yourself a pat on the back for doing some important emotional work. Best of luck!

Ginzo

How Do I Make Friends at Work?

Hey Ginzo,

I started a new job about 5 months ago and I feel like I haven’t made much progress in terms of bonding with my coworkers. (I am close with one of my coworkers, but she sits on the other side of the office). It has a pretty long training process that just recently finished, and I thought I would be friends with my coworkers by now. We all have the same job and they’re friends with each other, but I can’t help but feel excluded constantly: They eat lunch together all the time and have a group chat. I know they’ve been working together much longer than I have, but every time I try to connect, it doesn’t seem to work. My brain tells me that I shouldn’t take it personally, but I can’t help but let it get to me sometimes. Advice? Thanks ❤

The Lonely Coworker

Dear Lonely Coworker,

I’m sorry that you are having a hard time making friends at work. When you’re feeling isolated at the place where you spend most of your time, it can be disheartening.

Maybe you need to reconsider your methods for making friends. For example, do you tend to interact with your coworkers in bigger groups? It can be difficult to really connect to people in these situations, especially if the rest of the group has established common ground. Try instead to invite one person to take a walk, grab lunch, get a drink after work, or to an activity you know you both like. Instead of trying to fit into the group as a whole, focus on making individual connections.

If you reach out to form individual friendships and find yourself getting the cold shoulder from certain people, it might be hard not to take it personally, but you just aren’t going to connect with everyone. Expand your horizons in terms of who can be your friend. Many companies present opportunities to socialize, such as volunteer work, intramural sports, happy hours, and other events outside of the office. Instead of heading home to throw on your sweats, take advantage of these events to get yourself out there and meet more people.

In the end, you might just need more time to establish yourself at the company. Five months may seem like a long time, but if these people have been working together for a while, it may just take you a little longer to catch up. Don’t give up too soon. In the meantime, try making yourself more approachable. Make an effort to say “hi” and smile at everyone, and people will feel more comfortable approaching you. Ask people about their lives and remember things about them. Be helpful when you can, and ask for help when you need it. These are things that are very effective in making people like you.

Also, sometimes simply acting more confident attracts people to you. Walking with your head held a little higher is an easy way to fake it till you make it.

Best of luck! I hope you are feeling less lonely soon.

Ginzo