Can people really change?

That was one of the implied questions when we started going to a marriage counselor. Since many things hadn't been discussed before, we ended up spending lots of time on what needed to be changed. But once things were out in the open, could we affect any meaningful change, or would we just need to learn to accept the shortcomings we both have?

The self-help industry thrives on the promise of the New Year's resolution, that it is never too late to start over. We can change our bad habits, lose that weight, be more organized, spend more time with friends, call Mom on a regular basis, etc. But for some reason that belief is not so generously granted to others. People throw up their hands in frustration to their spouses, family, bosses, companies and government. A leopard can't change his spots, a scorpion can't help who he is, you will never live up to expectations, etc.

Even if we (falsely) agree that people can't change, bad habits are also viewed differently depending on who has the shortcoming. If it is someone else, it is a defect in character. If it is yourself, it is "I can't help it, it is just the way I am" or maybe you can classify your flaws as a disease.

As I mentioned, we both went into counseling thinking I was the one who needed to make the most changes. I believed throughout that I could make changes to improve, both for myself and for our marriage. Though I volunteered (and made) several changes, I didn't blindly promise to change anything and everything. It wouldn't have been sincere or realistic, and I don't think that is what she was looking for anyway.

I have just started reading a book called The Silver Linings Playbook. Pat's wife Nikki has left him and he is spending their "apart time" trying to do things that will make her happy when she "inevitably" returns. He works out 10 hours a day because he thinks she will like him more if he is buff. He begins reading all her favorite books so that he can "drop knowledge on her" by quoting lines, thus impressing her and making him more desirable. He is the only one who believes she will be coming back, and all those around him consider him crazy and desperate.

I too was desperate to save our relationship and our marriage, but I knew superficial changes and empty promises wasn't what we needed. I wasn't trying to create a mythical, perfect person, tailor made for her to love. I was looking to become a better, more honest version of me. But at the end of the day, I would still be me - and she did fall in love with me once. Whether you believe in nature, nurture or a combination of both, we have become who we are over a long period of time. Real change is difficult, but I believe absolutely attainable.

But it is difficult. There will be many false starts and incomplete projects. When I decided to start writing a blog, I went looking for an appropriate (and available) title. It turns out there are lots of blogs dedicated to documenting change that didn't get very far. There were many with phrases like 'divorce', 'a new me', 'year of change' and 'starting over' in the title that only had one post. I won't shine the spotlight on someone who didn't follow through by providing links, but it shows that people with the best of intentions do stumble along their path to progress. But stumbling is not failure. I'd like to think they are making progress even if they aren't writing about it online.

Whether she went into counseling believing I could change or not, J said she was impressed with all I had done to improve. It wasn't enough though. I don't think it was "too little too late", it was just "too late". The challenge going forward is to affect change and improve myself without the tangible reward of saving my marriage. Unfortunately, many of the things I needed to improve on are how I communicate and interact with my partner. I wasn't able to work on this during counseling, and now it's kind of theoretical work at this point. By the time I get to the practice phase of my education, I hope I remember everything I've learned this year, and that I've made lasting changes.


matt said...

Fall down seven times - get up eight

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