Changing you is hard, changing your partner …

November 2, 2010

Impossible... unless s/he takes on the responsibility to make the change you are wishing for. Today I received a heart-wrenching email from a  young man asking me how he can help his girlfriend change so they can save their relationship. He totally loves her and she can’t see it. I had to email back sorry, but unless she chooses to change, there is very little you can do.

Trust me, I know. My therapist was a saint, for nearly a year listening to me and all my attempts to get my then husband to change. I’d grasp at tiny signs telling her “I think I can save our marriage. Things are looking better.” Finally one day she looked me in the eye and said, “What’s it going to take? Is he going to  have to kill you?”  That one stopped me in my tracks.

There’d been all kinds of abuse from physical, to emotional to financial. Yet I was still holding on.  My stance had been it’s not his fault, he’s got a mental illness and if he just gets on meds he’ll once again become the man I thought I’d married. Besides, I wouldn’t leave him if he had brain cancer. I’d agreed to in sickness & health on our wedding day. And we had 2 beautiful daughters I didn’t want to abandon for a full time job, especially since I’d been out of the workforce for quite some time.

But the truth was, I was killing myself trying to pretend that if I only did “xyz” the happily-ever-after dream would become a reality. The stress at home was so bad I developed TMJ, a painful jaw condition that got so debilitating I couldn’t even open my mouth when I tried to order my kids food at McDonalds. My jaw had locked shut. Totally.

Yes, it was a nightmare but I kept looking for every flicker of light. I believed my husband when he said he’d given up his mistress and she was just using their baby as a way to get his money. Divorce simply wasn’t in the cards for me and I believed I could make my marriage work.

The next pearl of wisdom my therapist shared was: I couldn’t save our relationship all by myself. Despite all my efforts, nothing could change unless my husband faced his issues and took on the responsibility to change. I could not do that for him. He was making choices that suited him and making it loud and clear that his needs were way more important than our relationship and family life.

For a few more months I tried to prove my therapist wrong, but in the end she was right.

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