When you’re dating, it’s hard to ignore the other person’s flaws. Maybe you don’t like the way they chew their food, how they dress, or their attitude. You believe that you can change him or her. That they’ll become your project and afterward you’ll live happily every after. Stop! Andrea Miller, author of RADICAL ACCEPTANCE, shares why you cannot set out to change your SO.
There’s a cliché about how women go into a relationship with the expectation to change a guy, and how guys go into a relationship expecting the women won’t change. Perhaps you see him as a project and daydream about how you will upgrade him (or that marriage or kids or the right job will make him right for you)? I will address how common and damaging this cliché is, and how it can be replaced by a much more evolved, empowering approach that serves you both. Remember: changing someone else is an act of aggression. Changing yourself is an act of love.
Harboring an expectation of change from your partner is one of the most dangerous ways to treat the relationship. By committing to love a future version of him, you are rejecting the current version.
Another common mistake is projecting your own ideals onto him, and then expecting him to meet them. Here’s a story that illustrates this point.
Liang and Yin had been friends for a long time before they began dating. Yin had always thought Liang was cute and funny, but not exactly her type. She was typically drawn to the king-of-the-boardroom alpha male. Liang had no such ambitions. In his late twenties, Liang was working hard at a consulting firm and advancing quickly, but he didn’t like conflating his identity with his career. He was an artist at heart and one day imagined himself moving to Europe with his guitar. He was successful and good at his job, but he didn’t need to run his company to be fulfilled. When they married, however, Yin was determined to change that.
Yin was beautiful and very charming—seductive, even—and she had a successful career. She confided in her friends that she wanted to “work on” Liang to step up his game. She wanted him to become a partner at his firm, and he needed to start playing the part. Yin tried updating his wardrobe, dragged him to the hottest restaurants in Houston, and insisted that Liang trade in his seven-year-old Honda Accord for something fancier.
I asked her why she was so intent on changing Liang. “He’s so kind, funny, and sweet—oh God! And so smart!” I said. “Why do you want to change him when he offers so much to you?” I realized that to an extent Yin was projecting her own values onto her husband. She loved Liang dearly and wanted him to succeed. But she also wanted him to look like he was succeeding, and this troubled me. “Yin,” I asked her directly, “is this really about Liang? Or is this about you?”
After a defensive exchange, she finally got honest with me (and herself). She had always cared a lot about what other people thought about her, and part of her desired a “trophy husband” she could show off to her friends and family. But Yin eventually realized how lethal these expectations could be to her relationship, and she backed off. She accepted that Liang did not need to flaunt his success to feel successful. Sensing her attempts to accept his values and acknowledging he was allowed to enjoy the fruits of his success, Liang eventually bought a BMW, and he’s enjoying it a lot more than he thought he would.
People do change, but it’s rarely at anyone’s behest. Make a list of his traits you’d like him to improve on. Maybe they’re small things like his wardrobe or his love of fried food. Maybe they’re bigger things like his career ambitions, or maybe how he micromanages you. Now imagine that he can’t significantly change them. Can you still love him? Can you possibly find compassion for the unattractive traits, traits that may even cause him pain? Are you in love with the man beside you now, or the man you wish he would one day be? Be honest with yourself, and don’t think you’re a bad person for saying no.
If you have to fix him, chances are he’s not the one. Attract your soul mate with this ritual.
Excerpted from Radical Acceptance by Andrea Miller. Copyright © 2017 by Simon & Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.