How many times have you heard someone say “I can’t change”? If you are like me, you have heard it many times. In most cases, what is really being said is “I won’t change”… I am happy with how I am and I see no reason to change. When you are in a relationship with such a person, you have a clear dilemma… do you accept this or not?
Let’s qualify the word “change”, we are not changing about changing a personality to fit in with someone else…. that is not sustainable. We are talking about rigid thinking concerned with communication, conflict-management and attitudes that might alienate a partner, such as silent-treatment and stonewalling. There are, of course, cases where such changes in thinking would be virtually impossible. There are people who are so convinced that their views and ways are so correct, that they do not the need to even discuss them, let alone look at even changing them. Under these circumstances, one must wonder if a relationship would ever conceivably work with an individual like this. That said, many choose to stay in relationships like this for reasons of their own.
The key word here is certainly choice. You cannot really complain if you have chosen to stay in such a relationship and accepted fully the notion that your partner “cannot change” or you stay because you are hoping that over time, change will happen. That person is also making a clear choice even it seems out of their control. The “cannot change” motto is in most cases a schema based on fear of change… A clear defence mechanism that keeps them in a secure place. A place that no-one is really allowed to enter. It is a method that works for them. As an individual, the issues arise when another person comes into their life. This is when this rigid view starts to affect all aspects of interaction. How could it be any different?
Back to the dilemma. How much change in attitude can we reasonably expect in our partner before we say “This is not for me”. The key is clear communication. As stated, we cannot complain if we accept everything but we can make our needs and wants clear to our partner and expect a functional response. Clear, honest, respectful dialogue about what is not working (and about what is) sets a standard for the relationship. It is then up to both partners to decide whether they can meet those standards. If not, then the consequences are clear, or should be.
Many couples I deal with in therapy face this issue. Should I stay or leave? The fact that they are in therapy means they have recognised the issues but cannot (or will not) find a solution. Breaking up is never easy but sometimes there is no other way. This decision is in fact based on whether your needs are being met and you are able to do the same for your partner. If not, and the couple cannot (or will not) work it out, then separation is most likely the best outcome.