It’s natural to think at times, “I want to change my boyfriend.”
However, changing your partner can be tricky. Often it can feel like it’s not working when you try to change your partner. Or maybe they tell you what you want to hear but do not actually change.
Common emotions when wanting your partner to change are to feel stuck, resentful, and overwhelmed.
To break these patterns, and feel better, read on.
Changing Your Boyfriend Tip #1: You Must Figure Out Your Needs
The most important question is to ask yourself why you want them to change. This is to help you clarify your own needs.
Why do you want your boyfriend to change?
Do you want your boyfriend to change because he’s hurtful?
Or is the desire for them to change less painful? Perhaps you want your partner to change because they can be annoying. Or maybe your reasons are more superficial like wanting your boyfriend to lose weight?
Whatever your desires are, no judgment, but to effectively negotiate change with your partner you must know why it matters to you.
If Your Boyfriend is Hurtful
If you want your boyfriend to change because he’s hurtful, it’s important to dig a little deeper.
A hurtful partner may, at times, be an indicator there’s abuse in a relationship. Some abuse like hitting is obvious. Yet a lot of abuse isn’t as clear. It can take the form of repeatedly yelling with empty promises to change. Emotional abuse also includes making jokes at your expense.
If there is abuse present, first know, no matter what your partner says it is never your fault. If your partner refuses to change, or only gives you empty promises it’s essential to seek couples therapy. You and your partner will need the support of a mental health professional to eradicate abuse.
If couples therapy is not an option, you may need to consider leaving to be safe. If your partner is very abusive, it can be dangerous to leave though. In these situations, you may seek your own therapy and develop a safety plan to leave.
If Your Partner isn’t Meeting Your Needs
Sometimes, you may want your boyfriend to change because they aren’t making you happy.
At this point, you need to consider if your partner is meeting your non-negotiable needs. Your non-negotiable needs are 3 things you need in any relationship to feel safe. In a romantic relationship, you may add 3 more things you need in such an intimate relationship to feel connected.
Your non-negotiable needs are unique and personal to you. There is no right or wrong answer to this. These needs are tied to your authenticity. Your non-negotiable needs are sometimes derived from traumatic experiences. Examples of non-negotiable needs include reliability, sobriety, and honesty.
To easily identify your non-negotiable needs, download this free worksheet:
Changing Your Boyfriend Tip #2: Look at the Facts
Once you have identified your non-negotiable needs, it’s important to be honest with yourself.
Sometimes, a relationship hurts not because of abuse, but rather disconnection between your needs and reality. When you are dating or even married to someone who doesn’t meet your non-negotiable needs, you will forever be dissatisfied.
For long-term happiness and satisfaction, it’s important to accept the reality of your non-negotiable needs. These are needs that you truly must have met to be satisfied no matter what.
If you need someone who is honest, for example, this doesn’t go away. Even if your boyfriend is attractive, or you have a lot of fun together, you will be dissatisfied if he has a pattern of lying.
If you want to change your partner, it’s important to be honest about the facts of how they truly think and act rather than what you wish was true.
Your Happiness Comes from Accepting Reality
When we want another person to change, it’s natural to get stuck in fantasy thinking. (A pattern of fantasy thinking rather than accepting reality is a sign of codependency.)
Fantasy thinking is where you find yourself debating with reality. If you want someone who is romantic, you may fantasize about your pragmatic boyfriend suddenly sweeping you off your feet. The reality may be though that while they have many wonderful qualities, passionate displays are just out of their character.
Fantasy thinking about how your boyfriend may change to meet your needs is unfair.
It’s unfair to your partner because wanting to change them is the opposite of love. Fantasy thinking is also unfair to you because it keeps you stuck in an endless cycle of alternating between hope and anger.
Your mental health requires you accept reality. If your boyfriend consistently lies when you need honesty, it’s essential you accept this. Otherwise, you will feel endlessly stuck.
Changing Your Boyfriend Tip #3: Your Boyfriend’s Unwillingness or Inability to Change is Not the Real Problem
When you notice your partner doesn’t meet your non-negotiable needs, it’s natural to try get stuck in a painful cycle.
At times, you may try to convince yourself you don’t really “need” your non-negotiable. Other times, you will get fixated on trying to change the other person. Both approaches are recipes for depression, anxiety, and relationship conflict.
Your non-negotiable needs are true even if they are inconvenient.
Your Partner’s Choices and Feelings are Not the Problem
I spent years in painful relationships where I tried to change my partner.
At times, I’d think I’d figure out how to be happy with them. I tried to tell myself I’m not actually traditional, so commitment doesn’t matter.
Other times, I’d get stuck in resentment and blame. I would decide my partner’s unwillingness to give me what I want was the real problem in my life. I’d think if only they would change then I’d finally be happy.
However, it wasn’t my partner’s fault I was unhappy. I was unhappy because I failed to see that debating with reality was the real problem.
Changing Your Boyfriend Tip #4: You Cannot Change Another Person
A universal fact about change is no person can force another person’s change. This is true even in intimate relationships. Not even in therapy do people change because of another person.
People change only when, and if, they decide they want to change. Usually, people change because the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing. This means that the problem must be personally seen as a problem to the person themselves.
The avoidantly attached men I dated did not perceive their disinterest in commitment as a problem. It worked for them. No amount of begging, pleading, or angry tantrums was going to motivate them to change.
In fact, my angry outbursts, and passive-aggression, was pushing them away. Their own anxieties and avoidant attachment were reinforced by my desire to control them.
Your Inability to Change Your Partner Is Not About Love
People change out of their own personal motivation and readiness. Yet when you love someone who isn’t changing to “make you happy,” it can be easy to equate this with love.
A person can love you, and you them, and not be able to meet your needs.
For your own mental health, it’s imperative you don’t equate love, or your worth, with your partner’s ability – or inability – to change.
Changing Your Boyfriend Tip #5: Change in a Healthy Relationship Requires Negotiation
You may find that your partner does meet your non-negotiable needs, yet you still want them to change.
Perhaps you want them to be more frugal or affectionate or less messy for example.
Maybe you want them to change because you find something they do, like talking loudly, annoying. Or maybe it’s more superficial such as wanting to change how your boyfriend dresses.
If you want your partner to change qualities which are not about your non-negotiable needs, it’s important to meet in the middle.
What Can You Bend On?
It’s natural at times, even in happy partnerships, to want your partner to change some behaviors. However, it’s important to be flexible.
Other times, you may notice you prefer something but it’s not a deal breaker. Say you like a tidy house, but your partner is messy.
You absolutely have the right to assert your desires with your partner. At the same time, maybe you can let go of the fact that he leaves his shoes at the front door instead of the closet.
It’s true that in healthy partnerships we must pick our battles. Otherwise, we can come off as critical and withholding to our partner’s. Learning to truly love another person means accepting their flaws and quirks when we can be flexible.
Include Your Partner in the Change Process
Other times, you notice that while it’s not a non-negotiable need, you still want your partner to make changes. Maybe you want them to pay more attention to you rather than your phone on date nights for example.
In a healthy relationship, partners come together respectfully and openly communicate about desired changes. Respect includes telling your partner what changes you want to see while being open to their feedback. It’s inappropriate to decide what someone else will change.
Once you share your need, it’s important to be open to your partner’s perspective. Maybe they agree that it’s a behavior they want to change. You can then thank them and support them.
Or maybe they think the problem is different. Try to understand their perspective. Maybe your partner, for example, says they are on their phone because they see you on yours all the time.
You can then agree to change together.
If they are defensive, you may need to validate that this behavior is clearly important to them, but you hope that you will be able to discuss this soon in further detail. It’s a healthy relationship skill to give your partner space when they get agitated, so they have time to process.
If your partner is still unwilling to discuss this, or make these changes, ask yourself if this is something you can let go of or if maybe it truly is something that’s non-negotiable. In the first example, you practice acceptance of this behavior. In the latter, you figure out if you need to leave.
When You Want to Change Someone Remember You Can’t
It is essential to take people at face value. You don’t have the right to change them. Furthermore, you don’t have this power. Your inability to change others is not a sign of love. Nor is it a reflection of your worth if your partner is unable to meet your needs.
Your partner may love you deeply and still be unable to meet your needs. They get to decide this. While you only have the right to communicate your needs, you have the responsibility to respect your partner. This includes accepting what they don’t want to change.
Finally, when you want to change someone else, it’s important to accept reality. Your mental health depends on you accepting the facts of someone rather than what they say. If your boyfriend keeps promising to change, but then doesn’t, this is important information.
About The Author, Krystal
Krystal Mazzola Wood, LMFT is a practicing relationship therapist with over a decade of experience. Currently, Krystal sees clients at her private practice, The Healthy Relationship Foundation. She has dedicated her entire career to empowering people to heal from unhealthy relationship processes. She does this by teaching the skills and tools necessary to have a life filled with healthy and loving relationships.
This passion led her to write her best-selling books and create courses. Her books, The Codependency Recovery Plan: A 5-Step Guide to Understand, Accept, and Break Free from the Codependent Cycle and The Codependency Workbook: Simple Practices for Developing and Maintaining Your Independence have helped many people heal.
Her third book, Self-Love Made Possible: The 5-Step Guide to Stop Being Your Own Worst Enemy and Become Your Own Best Friend will be released late 2022. To be notified of its release, please join the waitlist here.
Her course, Confidently Authentic: Stop People Pleasing and Start Being True to Yourself, provides the skills necessary to have a healthy relationship. This course features over a year of relationship skills you would learn in therapy. Students share this course has been “life changing.”
Each week, she answers your relationship questions from a place of expertise and compassion. To submit your relationship questions, please DM her @confidentlyauthentic.com or you may send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to submit your question.