“I have tried everything and he still won’t change”, my client reported to me. “I mean, I’ve told him how I feel and what I need, I use the right words and still he just can’t give me what I need.” This was not the first time she has said this to me. Week after week this young woman would come into therapy and express her frustration with her husband. She tried with all her might to change him. The problem was she was trying to change the wrong person, she needed to be focused on trying to change herself. Her view of him, her perception of him, her expectations of him, but not him. The only person who can change him, is him. She did what many people do, focus on their partner and not them-self.
Often, it is ‘easier’ to look at someone else, their flaws and weaknesses. It is much more challenging to look at yourself. But that is exactly where you need to look. if you can adjust your expectations, modify your approach, you will get different results, and very possibly, more of what you want .
My challenge, as a therapist, was how to get this message across to my client. I thought maybe I should try to do as I teach change my approach with her. Instead of listening and empathizing, suggesting and informing, (as I typically would), I told her a story. The story was of a little girl who went to her dad and would ask for his attention in various ways. The little girl was about eight years old and she played the clarinet. She would ask her dad to listen to her practice and he would often be too busy telling her he would listen later. Later never came. Then she would tell her dad about upcoming school performances and he would tell her he’d try to make it, but again, rarely did. This eight year old girl l grew up very hungry, emotionally hungry for her father’s love and attention. As I told my client this story, she began to weep. She was the little girl. Because she was so hungry for love and attention, she looked to her husband to give her everything she did not get from her father. She was looking in the wrong place. She needed to look within herself.
My client got it. As she did, she began to nurture herself more by taking yoga classes, writing in a journal daily, and spending time with friends who could give her what she needed. She began to see her husband differently. She saw him as a man who loved her and had his own strengths and weaknesses. She was not angry with him anymore. She realized she was “shopping in the wrong store”. If you need shoes, go to the shoe store, not a supermarket. Once she could see herself clearly and take responsibility for her happiness, she was able to let go of trying to change him.
Her therapy had been successful. She came back to see me a year later to tell me she was pregnant with their first child. She was now committed to self care as she knew their lives were about to change forever. She had’t tried to change him anymore. He later sent me a thank you note!