Can You Change a Toad Into a Prince?

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The answer might surprise you. From Deborah Dunn, author of Stupid about Men: 10 Rules for Getting Romance Right.

What do you expect from your man? Which of your expectations are fair, and which are over the top? What are the “deal breakers” in this relationship; the things you cannot live without? There is no question that working through these questions will not only improve communication, it will improve you. Because instead of trying to change him, you will begin to accept and truly love him for him. Of course, you will also realize just how arrogant us women can be.

Our desires to change our men are really very narcissistic. By narcissism, I mean that we want the man we love to reflect our tastes, our views, and our lifestyle choices. We make it all about us! Ironically, when we first become involved with someone we are really attracted to, we often do the exact opposite: we accommodate the man. We present ourselves as someone we aren’t and pretend we enjoy things we don’t just to convince him we are a good match for him. We don’t admit to ourselves that we are putting up a false front to please him or that we have a hidden agenda to change him once we’ve snagged him. We convince ourselves that he will be so happy and so fulfilled once he is with us, he won’t mind. It is only after we are in a committed relationship with him that we allow the masks to come down and the issues we dislike to surface, and that is when your man is very likely to accuse you of “not being the woman he married” or having been dishonest with him when you were dating. Those are character traits you can work on changing about yourself — and you should, because they’re certainly not flattering. Becoming less self-focused will make it easier for you to find the good in others instead of zeroing in on the flaws you want to change.

Changing a Toad
Of course, there are true toads — men whose behaviors and attitudes are crude, lacking in character, common sense, goodness, or sensitivity. Toads aren’t always bad men, but they aren’t exactly good men, either.

Unfortunately, there are many women who are attracted to men like this, for several different reasons. Toads can be very entertaining, and some are occasionally fun. In fact, there is a good chance that a woman and her toad may have a rather intense chemical attraction going on, especially if she dallies in the swamp a bit too long.

But a swamp is no place for girls looking for good men. Yes, these swamp creatures might be cute, but they are still toads, and they can pull you down into the slime when you least expect it.

Many women don’t get this. We make the mistake of thinking that it is possible to find good “material” — a work in progress, so to speak — in places most good men don’t frequent. We look for our potential mates in all the wrong places (like cheap bars and clubs) and then wonder why they don’t quit going to bars and clubs after we marry them. We fall in love with men from extremely troubled families who show all the signs of following the same path, and then wonder why we cannot change them into men who are kind and caring to us.

But once we wake up and realize we’re in a swamp, instead of having the courage to admit we’ve taken the wrong path, we often decide that all we need to do is make the swamp a little more like home. So we set up camp, hang curtains, have babies, and try to pretend we are with the man of our dreams instead of a toad.

Shannon, even though she was with a good fellow, not a toad, was still in a swamp of her own making. Anyone who is ambivalent about marrying shouldn’t do so, no matter how many other people we make unhappy in the process. We should pay attention when we feel uncertain, because it is our intuition and our deep spiritual selves warning us that we are about to make a huge mistake.

Hear this: You cannot change a man, especially after you marry him.

I simply cannot make this point strong enough. Women often think marriage will change men. It rarely does; it only makes them more of what they already are. If they are good men, they will probably get better, and if they are not good, they will only get worse.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and I’m sure many of you reading this are summoning up stories you know of women who prayed their men into a better place or helped their man change his ways by being patient and kind and forgiving.

That is perfectly fine.

But in those cases, the women were probably already married to them, and they got lucky. Their stories are statistically rare.

As for toads? The best way to avoid them is to stay away from the places where you meet them. But honestly, they are everywhere these days — even in church. So if you cannot avoid them altogether, you are going to have to hone your toad detector, and learn to do a better job of spotting them.

Be especially careful of the man with the sad life story who attempts to convince you that he has managed to survive all of it unscathed, and he only needs for you to teach him how to be a better man. If he is unscathed, he is a better man already and doesn’t need you to do that for him. You are not his teacher, and he will resent your efforts to be one once you are married to him. It is not that you should necessarily stay away from all men with horrendous family histories — sometimes that does make a man stronger, and surviving a bad family can create an incredibly good man. What you must do is make sure he is good before you marry him.

What if you are already married, and your plans to change your man didn’t work? Taking positive action is the only thing that will change your situation, even if it doesn’t change the man. For example, learn how to encourage, reward, and reinforce the behaviors you want in your man. This is not manipulative or an attempt to change the man; you are simply changing his behavior, which is entirely different. Stop being whiny and critical of the things you don’t like; instead praise and give positive attention to the things you do like.

Out of the Swamp
To sum it up, two of the reasons women try to change men is that they fail to recognize a prince, or they fail to be satisfied with a perfectly good frog. It is important to realize that many times the two issues are two sides of one coin. The bottom line is that whichever one applies, neither one is very respectful or kind to our man.

Essentially, I’m declaring a “Be Kind to Frogs Day”…every day. That means you’ve got to quit throwing your frog against the wall when you don’t get the change you want as quickly as you want it, hoping a prince might be hidden inside. It just isn’t fair. You wouldn’t want your man to do that to you, so you shouldn’t do it to him.

The best way to avoid the trap of trying to change a man is to make sure you are satisfied with your man just the way he is before you take the relationship further. The rule of thumb is to ask yourself “If he never changes, am I satisfied with him now?” You don’t marry potential, you marry the man. You love who he is, not what you think he might become.

The best way to ensure that you are not expecting too much of someone is to be upfront early in a relationship about what you expect from a relationship. Don’t be afraid you are going to scare a man off by telling him what you expect from a husband once your relationship begins to feel serious. But also make absolutely certain that you aren’t setting the bar so high that a good man could never make you happy, just because he doesn’t come with all the trappings of royalty.

This doesn’t mean that you grill a man, hand him a list of your expectations, or make him feel like he is under a microscope. Many women do scare off men by making them feel like they are interviewing for a job instead of looking for a relationship. The getting romance right rule advises you to change yourself. This means that you are going to have to change your unrealistic expectations, the false belief that you have the right to change someone else, and the tendency to use the men you date as safety nets when you are afraid of life.

If you are married to someone who should change but won’t, then you are going to have to make the decision whether or not to stay with him and live with your lot.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deborah Dunn, author of Stupid about Men: 10 Rules for Getting Romance Right (Copyright © 2009 by Deborah Dunn), is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice near Raleigh, North Carolina. She is the founder of Community in Crisis, a nonprofit disaster education organization, and is an expert in women’s issues, marital conflict, disaster education, and grief.

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