It’s generally not my style to link to other advice columnists, but my friend, Lori Gottlieb, author of the new book,“Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” does such an incredible job that it feels like a dereliction of duty to keep her to myself.
In this post from her Ask a Therapist column in The Atlantic, Gottlieb takes a question from a woman who has a three-year relationship with a man who is not as emotionally supportive and affectionate as she’d like. A snippet:
“Recently, I’ve also been dealing with feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and depression and have been reaching out to him for support. He’s worried, and tells me he wants to help but doesn’t know how. It does mean a lot to know he wants to help, but I want him to figure out how best to support me–both because I would love if he were more solicitous and because it would reduce his stress as a partner to someone in need.
How do we address this issue in a positive, active way? Do you have specific advice you could give him on being a supportive partner to somebody in an emotional crisis?”
Here are some of the highlights of Gottlieb’s response:
One thing I tell many couples when they first come in for therapy is that the more one person believes that his or her partner should be different, the less initiative he or she will take to change things. Most people come in making a case for why the other person needs to improve. Spoiler: That never helps…
Of course, you want your boyfriend’s love and support, but what I think you can’t see right now is that he’s giving you both: He’s checking in on you, sharing his concern, and asking you what he can do to help. Beyond that, there’s not much he can do, no matter how strong his love for you, because we can’t create inner peace for the people we love the most (something that’s true not just for our partners, but also largely for our children). Your boyfriend doesn’t have the answers to your emotional struggles–nor is he the answer to them. He can be there for you, but he can’t fix your insides for you…
It takes a tremendous amount of effort to try to become a person you’re not, which is essentially what you’re asking of him. If I asked him what it was like to be your boyfriend, I’ll bet he’d reply with some version of, “I love her deeply, but I can’t seem to please her. Even when I do, a day or week later, she’ll be disappointed with me again.”
As I’ve said for ten years in this space: you can’t have a relationship dependent upon someone changing for you. Accept him despite his flaws, and if you can’t, then leave him to find someone you can accept. This doesn’t mean your boyfriend couldn’t stand to improve. It just means you are not his life coach and he is not your project.
You can’t have a relationship dependent upon someone changing for you.
The #1 thing people need in a partner is someone who accepts them, in full. And if you find you’re always looking for someone cuter, smarter or richer, perhaps you should reconsider what you value most. It should be someone who accepts you, in full. Without it, you’ll never be as happy as you deserve to be.
Your thoughts, below, are appreciated.