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Thread: a question about trying to change someone

  1. #1
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    a question about trying to change someone

    Hi all, it's been a little while since I've started a thread. I'm still chugging along in my healing process post-break up. Recently during moments of reflection, I have been thinking quite a lot about the dynamic my ex and I had.

    I would like to believe that I am - at least I make a conscious effort to be - a very understanding, empathetic, and considerate person. I try my best to remain open-minded, appreciative, and kind. My friends closest to me (my ex included) have described me as very genuine, authentic, and good-hearted.

    My ex, on the other hand... while I have always maintained that he has a good heart, his character could definitely be better. While he treated me very well during the majority of our time together, towards others he could be very mean and disrespectful, and he would often use offensive and degrading terminology regarding them. For other males, his level of respectfulness was usually based on how they dressed and what their interests were, while for women he based his respectfulness primarily on how attractive he found them (at least, this was my viewpoint). I found myself constantly telling him to "please be nice," and to "please don't say that" when it came to him speaking to and about other people (which I knew I shouldn't have had to do), and I would go extra out of my way to be kind and do generous things for other people hoping that he would take notice and want to do them, too.

    Throughout our entire relationship, I really tried so hard to encourage him to be a better, kinder person through my actions and words. I pushed myself to be better in the hopes that it would push him to be better. I just wanted so desperately for him to be nice to others the way he was nice to me.

    But eventually I realized that by doing this, I was trying to change him, and I hated that. It made me feel so guilty, because I didn't want to have to push him so hard to be a good person in the first place!

    Obviously the lesson learned here is to stick dating someone who has a comparable character to you, so this issue doesn't exist. But in general, is trying to change someone for the better really that wrong? Where is the line between accepting someone for who they are and trying to encourage them to be a better person?

  2. #2
    Platinum Member Rose Mosse's Avatar
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    You can tell from a person's core. If the core is good, the lessons will stick. Over time, you'll become better at reading people. Hang in there.

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    Platinum Member Cherylyn's Avatar
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    You can never change a man. My poor mother tried to change my late father and wished he could've been a decent human being to no avail. Never make my mother's mistake! My mother was so naive when she was young. She has since learned street smarts and hopefully passed them down to me!

    I don't think it's "wrong" to try to change someone for the better. Your intentions were good but realistically, you're simply wasting your time, energy and resources on a man who is who he is. "A leopard cannot change its spots." Nothing is more important than character.

    Many men (or women) don't have an empathetic gene in their DNA make up. It's not there. They were either not raised with it or they'll never comprehend the word "empathy" in a million years. They're total lost causes.

    Or, they'll engage in gaslighting in order to win every argument, wear you down, defeat and confuse you. Beware of those psychological sneaky tricks.

    Accepting a person for who they are really depends on how picky you choose to be. If you have a high tolerance and look away at alarming behavior and accept him as a package deal, then you're settling for mediocrity. If your standards are extremely high regarding consistent integrity, moral and honorable behavior, then it's better to remain patient until you find the right one for long term stability with a great guy.

    If you have to lecture a man as if he's in 2nd grade and try to teach him how to behave with common decency and common courtesy, there is something wrong with the man and you for that matter.

    It pays to shop around. Why not the best?

    After my parents' fiasco, I vowed to marry a man who was the exact opposite of my late father and snatched him up.

    I can't speak for all men but I will tell you about my husband: He's just like his father, a very moral man, very kind, considerate, selfless and honorable. It helps if a man was raised in a normal, loving, nurturing, stable, solid "mom 'n pop 'n apple pie" household. The man knows of nothing else. Also, my husband observed his father treat his mother with utmost respect and love. Great fathers teach their sons how to respect women. Generally, these types of men are keepers. Look at their background and his family because a man's background is your stable, blissfully happy future.

    I never dated in HS, college and didn't meet and marry my husband until I was 22 years old. He was worth the wait. All other dates were nothing but big time losers. It pays to be very picky and choosy.

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    Member Reg's Avatar
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    On the face of it, it may seem like a good idea to try and change someone for the better. But the reality is that it's very difficult to do so.

    The person you are trying to change (men or women) have likely been in their patterns of behavior for many years. It's very difficult to change and will not happen without rebuttal.

    In future, try to identify their traits early on and decide whether you are compatible with them or not (the whole point of dating someone before entering a relationship).

    As it seems you have learned, it's a fool's errand to identify that you are not compatible, but to then think that you will try and make them compatible.

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    Platinum Member Wiseman2's Avatar
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    Ok try to continue to heal and move forward. The breakup has already established that you are incompatible. Many people go through the sour grapes phase after a breakup and paint their exes as evil demons for a while. It's part of the healing process to assess the things that didn't work so you can choose better next time.

    Keep in mind, it's fool's errand to try to fix or change anyone. Correcting him all the time meant that you were unhappy. Yes it's arrogant to assume anyone you're with is defective and needs to be retooled according to your standards. Dating is a what you see is what you get situation. A relationship that has a chance of working is based on acceptance.

    The bottom line is either you're compatible or you're not. It's not your job to change, fix, teach or remake anyone. The pretense that your way- the correct way- is better will assure your dissatisfaction with whoever you're with...and theirs.

    A bit of short term therapy may help you sort through the breakup as well as get a better handle on healthy boundaries and explore whatever dissatisfaction in your life compels you to try to control and change others.
    Originally Posted by rainorshine
    Throughout our entire relationship, I really tried so hard to encourage him to be a better, kinder person through my actions and words. I pushed myself to be better in the hopes that it would push him to be better. I just wanted so desperately for him to be nice to others the way he was nice to me.

    is trying to change someone for the better really that wrong? Where is the line between accepting someone for who they are and trying to encourage them to be a better person?

  7. #6
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    To be honest I would be annoyed and even insulted if a man I was dating thought I needed him to teach me how to be a better person.

    I'm sure your intentions were good, but that pretty much never works.

    Date someone whose character matches what you're looking for. People are not fixer upper projects.

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    Rose Mosse and Reg: I appreciate your comments sincerely and will remember your advice moving forward. Thank you!

    Cherylyn: Wow, your advice was just what I need, thank you. It sucks to accept that my ex probably, more than likely, falls into the "lost cause" category - I truly want to believe everyone has the ability to be good and decent. It hurts me to know my efforts were a waste, because I still care deeply for him. But I can't worry about that anymore. He is who he is, and well, I definitely settled for mediocrity. It makes me sad to even think that, but I'm glad I was able to finally realize it (it's crazy how clear things become once you fall out of love, huh?), and he should absolutely be with someone who never once feels that way about him.

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    Originally Posted by Wiseman2
    Keep in mind, it's fool's errand to try to fix or change anyone. Correcting him all the time meant that you were unhappy. Yes it's arrogant to assume anyone you're with is defective and needs to be retooled according to your standards. Dating is a what you see is what you get situation. A relationship that has a chance of working is based on acceptance.

    The bottom line is either you're compatible or you're not. It's not your job to change, fix, teach or remake anyone. The pretense that your way- the correct way- is better will assure your dissatisfaction with whoever you're with...and theirs.

    A bit of short term therapy may help you sort through the breakup as well as get a better handle on healthy boundaries and explore whatever dissatisfaction in your life compels you to try to control and change others.
    I agree completely that it is not my job to change, fix, teach, or remake anyone. While my intentions were never to ‘fix’ him (I was able to deeply fall in love with him despite his mean streak to others, so I definitely accepted who he was to some degree) I guess I did feel as though it was my duty, for lack of a better word, to help and ‘teach’ him to be kinder.

    As Cherylyn touched on, he was raised in a very dysfunctional household, surrounded by people who did not respect one another. I knew he lacked that teaching growing up, and for awhile I felt like, as his partner, I was then responsible for helping him to learn by setting a good standard and, well, leading by example. It wasn’t my job, but as the person he loved, I felt I was his best hope at the time. I realize that sounds very messed up, but it hurt me to know the reasons behind his actions. I didn’t want his poor upbringing to follow him forever. But, of course, it will.

    It wasn’t until the latter part of our relationship that I finally realized the characteristics are embedded into his core. That’s when we broke up.

    I definitely don’t think of him as an evil demon. Like I said, I’ve always believed he has a good heart. He cared deeply for me and was kind, patient, and thoughtful to me. I wanted so badly for him to showcase that to others. I guess that is the whole reason behind me feeling ‘compelled’ to encourage him to be kinder, but I would push back against the idea that I 'controlled' him. I never once forced him to do anything, and I don't think he ever saw it that way, either.
    Last edited by rainorshine; 07-11-2019 at 08:57 AM.

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    Originally Posted by boltnrun
    To be honest I would be annoyed and even insulted if a man I was dating thought I needed him to teach me how to be a better person.

    I'm sure your intentions were good, but that pretty much never works.

    Date someone whose character matches what you're looking for. People are not fixer upper projects.
    Thanks, botnrun. I don’t think he got annoyed (or insulted). It wasn’t an incessant thing. We were long distance for the majority of our relationship so my remarks were actually pretty infrequent. Perhaps he felt annoyed occasionally, but he knew my intentions and appreciated them. When we first broke up, he told me that he had been the best version of himself for me and because of me and thanked me for that. I know I had a momentary impact on him, but I know it wasn’t lasting. I agree fully to go forward only dating men whose characters match what I'm looking for.

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    Platinum Member bluecastle's Avatar
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    Nice hearing from you, rainorshine.

    I agree with the general consensus here. In short: changing someone, even in the tiniest ways, should not be part of a relationship. Aside from being a fool's errand, it is, as bolt pointed out, condescending and controlling, no matter the intentions.

    It's also a very, very common dynamic: relationships in which one party (or both) spends a lot of time thinking that it's good now but will be really good once the person becomes a little more x, a little less y.

    Behind the instinct, often, is a form of rationalization, justification. You basically know in your gut that the person isn't right for you, but other parts of you—the heart and, very often, the loins—don't want to admit this. So we create a story of "change," a narrative that provides comfort to make up for the places of discomfort inside the relationship, much the way many people will deploy the word "love" when the feeling they are more acutely describing is a fear of being alone. Selfishness softened and edited into selflessness.

    People tend to sense when another wants them to change, and often they will rebel, finding comfort and "power" in not changing. That's how things get toxic fast. Let's say my girlfriend wanted me to read more books and watch less TV. Even if I want to read more books and watch less TV, if I believe my truest self is a reader and not a binge watcher, I'll likely become annoyed at that pressure, no matter how subtly or kindly asserted, and I'll rebel by reading even less—becoming a lesser version of myself, alongside her, rather than the "best" version of myself, if that makes sense. At that point it's basically a coin toss and a waiting game to see who ends things first, because at that point both people are in a dysfunctional relationship.

    Lots of people grow up in dysfunctional households, were dealt some rough hands as kids. Many of them are kind, responsible, empathetic, unbroken adults. I'd like to consider myself a version of that. One would have to have a cold heart not to sympathize with some of what I went through as a kid, but I wouldn't want that to translate to sympathy for being, you know, an a**hole. I'm not an a**hole. I'm kind and decent and don't need a patient professor of a girlfriend to teach me these traits. That's my level and the people I make time for are on that same level, so we can help each other level up in small, organic ways.

    A phrase of yours that jumped out at me above: It hurts me to know my efforts were a waste, because I still care deeply for him.

    There's a lesson there, I think. We have this idea that relationships are "work," which is true, but not this kind of work. Intimacy is not labor, in which you put in the hours to get a reward for "efforts." A relationship is not going into the salt mines to put food on the table, a roof over you. There is no nobility in that approach, on either side, though sadly many people, especially Americans, with our collective religion of "work," make this mistake. We want a reward for "staying in it," for "believing in" someone. Zoom out just a bit and that's actually a selfish approach.

    You sound like you're doing well. There's no shame in having spent some time—some of it great, some of it not—with someone who wasn't right for you for the long haul. You might do it again. And again. These are not failures, but experiences. They sharpen our compass, preparing us for the next chapters. They let us know what our hearts are capable of—by filling them, at times, and starving them, at others.

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