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?


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.


How Do I Break Up With Someone?

Dear Ginzo,

I’ve never broken up with someone before but I have to now. In my previous relationships the other person always ended it. A few times I have wanted to get out too but haven’t had the courage to actually break up with them. I’m embarrassed to admit that I will just kinda pull away until they finally end it or get the hint and we just stop talking. I recently realized this about myself and decided that if I was ever unhappy in a relationship again, I would break up with them instead of my usual cowardly move. But now that I have been seeing this person for a few months, I realized that we just don’t have that much in common and I don’t see myself with them long term. But I’m scared. I really don’t want to hurt their feelings because I think they’re great, just not right for me. I am also debating my method. When I told one friend I was just going to text my soon-to-be-ex and get it over with, she yelled at me. Then I talked to another friend about it and she says she would actually PREFER to be broken up with over text. Wtf? What do I do now? HELP!

Never the Dumper, Always The Dumpee

Dear Never the Dumper, Always The Dumpee,

First of all, hats off for recognizing this about yourself and deciding to make a change. In a world where “ghosting” has become a common experience in the world of dating, it’s good to hear that you’re taking the road of emotional maturity.

I have had the discussion, “Is there really a good way to breakup with someone?” many a time, often when someone brings up that episode of Sex in the City when Berger broke up with Carrie on a post-it note (and I hate Carrie Bradshaw but yeah, that’s a terrible way to breakup with someone). I think there is a right way to breakup with someone, to a point. Either way, you are ending the relationship, and regardless of the circumstances, it can hurt. Rejection sucks and change is hard to accept. But there is definitely a way to break up with a person that shows them respect and allows you to be both honest about your feelings and sensitive to theirs. When it comes to your situation, it sounds like it is simply a matter of lack of chemistry. They have done you no wrong; it just isn’t going to work out. In this case, being too specific only serves to hurt their feelings. For example, being like, “Well, I think you’re really great, but your porcelain doll collection is off-putting and I can’t see myself being down to go to any of those conventions you attend” is just going to hurt their feelings. You don’t have to lie, but a simple, “The chemistry is just not there for me” should suffice. Also, none of this, “Well, I am just not ready for a relationship right now” stuff because that only serves to lead them on. Don’t leave a door open for them that you know is shut for you.

As far as over text v. in-person debate goes, I actually don’t think there is anything wrong with breaking up with someone over text message. It’s really all about context. Someone with whom you were making long-term plans and have been seeing for over a year? Yeah, you sure as shit better not break up with them over text. Someone you have dated for a couple of months and had maybe 5 dates with? Eh, you might save them the gas money and their dignity by letting them read your breakup texts swaddled in a nest of blankets and sadness. Today, text is the primary form of communication for many relationships, romantic or otherwise, and it is in the process of changing the etiquette of a lot of social situations, hence your two friends’ wildly different opinions on the subject.

If you are still not sure which is the best route, I would suggest you decide which way based on their preferred method of communication. Are they more verbal (i.e. do they prefer phone calls over texting, do they express affection out loud)? Or are they more inclined to express their feelings non-verbally (i.e. over text, through body language), in which case, an in-person breakup may be way more difficult for them to handle? Hopefully after dating for a couple of months, you have some insight into their communication style. Reflect on them as a person and this will guide you in the direction of a breakup that’s respectful.

Best of luck breaking things off, and give yourself a good pat on the back for being an emotionally intelligent human.


Am I Leading On These Tinder Guys?

Dear Ginzo,

I just got out of a long-term relationship a little over a month ago, and I am definitely not ready to dating anyone else seriously. However, I am getting to the point where I am lonely and curious about what’s out there, and frankly, could use an ego boost. I recently downloaded Tinder and wow! Talk about an ego boost! But now I have been chatting with a few guys on there who have expressed interest in me. I am feeling guilty about not wanting to take any of them seriously, but Tinder isn’t really where people go to meet the love of their life. Am I doing something wrong, as long as I’m not making profiles on any serious dating sites yet?


Single and (Almost) Ready to Mingle

Dear Single and (Almost) Ready to Mingle,

Isn’t dating just the worst? I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are beautiful parts of it, like when you really connect with someone and you feel a little less alone in this world, or when they buy you food. But it is also very complicated in this day and age when we have way more options than ever before when it comes to relationship status. When you’re on a dating app, you could be looking for a permanent monogamous partnership, you could be looking for someone to tickle your toes and never call you again, or more likely, something in between the two. There is nothing wrong with wanting any of these things; the important thing is that you clearly communicate what you want.

I think you are right in that Tinder isn’t the most serious dating app; it definitely has had a reputation for being a “hookup” app in the past. However, you would probably be surprised by how many long-term relationships and even marriages have come out of Tinder now that it has been around for a couple years. If I could shoot a reading recommendation your way, Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari has a lot of interesting information about the revolution of Tinder, as well as dating trends in the modern world in general. You might find some intriguing information for yourself there as you navigate back into the dating world. But before you run out to your local bookstore for some great advice from Aziz, let me just make it clear that you being on Tinder as opposed to a dating site that is marketed as more for long-term love doesn’t get you off the hook for clearly communicating your needs. Of course, there will be plenty of gents who are more interested in the hook up side of Tinder, but there will be others who genuinely want to meet a cool person they can connect with on a romantic level.

In many cases, it will be easy to differentiate between the two. A guy who messages you and asks for pictures of your genitalia is probably not looking for much more than a picture of your genitalia, for example. But if you start talking to someone and find that the conversation flows easily between you and a deeper connection could be made, don’t let it get too deep before you have the good old, “So what are you looking for?” conversation. Contrary to what some people might think, this isn’t going to dose the emerging flame of your romance. Clear communication is extremely sexy to most adults trying to make a real romantic connection.  

As far as what you say you are looking for yourself, you don’t have to feel pressured to get into the nitty gritty of your breakup. And you probably shouldn’t say anything like, “Just trying to get an ego boost from the schlongs on this app!” I would go with brief but honest: “I just got out of a relationship so I am not looking for anything serious, but I downloaded Tinder to dip a toe in and see what’s out there.” If you are not ready to go on dates yet, say that. One very freeing part of your situation is that you don’t have to worry about “scaring people off” by being “too honest.” If you aren’t ready to date, be upfront about it; you don’t need these guys to stick around to feed your ego because in the age of online dating, there is always another ego boost around the corner. And really, if they aren’t willing to have an honest conversation about what they want, they probably aren’t worth much more than ego boost anyway.

In summary, Tinder away, but don’t deceive anyone about your intentions. Congrats for taking the first step towards moving on, and I hope you ultimately find whatever it is you’re looking for, on or off line.