Dealing with a partner that never changes

Saturday March 20 2021
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By Phionah Nassanga

After years of dating, Priva Aketch said “I do” to her prince charming in 2009. While she had great expectations and looked forward to enjoying the rest of her life with her betterhalf, her marital bliss was short-lived.

“Two years into the marriage, my husband started binge drinking. He would leave for work every morning and return home in the wee hours of the next morning. He was always drunk and many times, he would sleep in the living room or car.  Even on weekends, he would leave home and catch up with his peers for drink-ups,” Aketch recounts.

As she was trying to cope with the habit, her husband became emotionally abusive and violent. Aketch confesses that on two occasions, her husband battered her. It is at this point that she decided to seek help. From family meetings, mitigation by close friends and sessions with the counsellors, Aketch says her husband is far from changing. 

Coping

“I have talked, our friends have arbitrated. We have gone to the counsellor, but he will not change,” she says. Twelve years later, Aketch says nothing can come between her husband’s bond with alcohol.  

Catharina Natukuda, a family counsellor, says changing someone else’s character is difficult. She says accepting your partner gives you a peace of mind and helps you know how to deal with their mannerisms.

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Natukuda says if you want other people to change, start with yourself and make sure the things you want them to change about themselves are things you do effectively.

Acceptance

Anne Namulodo says if the never changing behaviour is not a threat to your life, then it is better to accept the truth about your partner.  “For instance, when you accept the fact that your partner drinks, but is harmless, you will have peace of mind.  Coming to terms with your partner’s behaviour will help you feel less stressed about changing them because that is who they are. You may want to change someone, but remember this is a habit this person has lived with even before the two of you met,”  she says.

Peace talks

 Ali Male of A to Z Counselling Centre, says how one communicates with their partner also matters. He insists that scolding, quarrelling, nagging and shouting are recipes for disaster and usually do not in any way help the spouse to change.

“Talking to someone that never changes is annoying yet quarreling also leaves no room for change. For example, when you speak to your spouse in a harsh tone, it makes your marriage tense and your spouse will become your headache, the person you want to avoid,”  he says.

Focus on positivity

Change is a gradual process and paying attention to your partner’s weakest points is likely to leave you frustrated.  But focusing on your partner’s strong points lessens the burden.

“Sometimes you need to assume that you do not see what this person is doing not because you do not love them, but because you too have your weaknesses.  Try to think about your favourite moments with your partner and what they do best,” Natukuda advises.

Be the change

Natukuda says it is important to accept that you cannot change your spouse, but you can only change yourself and your own reactions. Changing your behaviour could trigger your spouse to make changes.  That is why getting to know who you are, your attitude, behaviour, expectations, hopes, dreams, memories and concerns towards your partner might help you deal with your spouse’s mannerisms.

 ‘’If leaving dirty dishes on the table after eating is your partner’s weakness, do it yourself. Understand that you cannot keep reminding an adult to clean up where  they have  eaten from or behave a certain way,” she adds.

Complain without blame

 Male says communicating without blaming your partner is a step in the right direction because when they are blamed for a few things they have failed to change, it feels like nothing they do is good enough.

 However, make a conscious decision to give your partner the benefit of doubt, let go of quick judgments and enjoy your relationship.

Identify cause

Behavioural patterns are very rarely end-games in and of themselves. There is usually something deeper sparking the drive to act in the same way over and over again. For example, if your boyfriend parties every night – staying up late and drinking lots of alcohol to his own detriment – there’s something more to this than him simply being “immature.” Telling him to “grow up” will not compel him to change and, even worse, it will likely drive the two of you apart.

Instead, ask him what he’s getting out of partying. “Are you doing it to relax?” “To relieve some anxiety?” “To avoid responsibility?” Come from a place of really trying to understand the drive behind the behaviour before even attempting to change the behaviour.

Set boundaries

Accepting a partner’s destructive behaviours is not always the most caring thing you can do. If his behaviours are truly damaging to himself – or endangering you – it is time to set some firm boundaries. Setting boundaries means that you simply stop accepting some behaviours. And it means the relationship is on the line if the boundary is crossed.

The key to setting boundaries is making it absolutely clear – within your own mind as well as to the other person – what you will and will not accept. For example, if your husband likes to drive extremely fast, it is not enough to say, “Do not drive fast.” Make it clear: What specifically does “extremely fast” mean? Does this only apply when you are in the car or all the time? Does it also apply on remote roads where there’s little danger in driving fast?

Be clear with your boundaries. You are putting the whole relationship on the line, after all.

Additional reporting from psychologytoday.com

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