Thinking Out Loud

Waiting for Change

Many couples in turmoil find themselves waiting for change—more accurately—waiting for the other person to change. This is a dangerous, though understandable tactic. Here are some of the reasons why it occurs:

  • I want to see if he’s serious.
  • I want to know I can trust her.
  • Words without actions are meaningless.
  • I want to know that he really cares.
  • I’ve been hurt before, so I’ll wait to see what she does.

That last one gets to the heart of this type of standoff: Why put yourself in a situation where you have been hurt many times before? It almost seems foolish to do this. Fear is a powerful motivator.

Of course when you look at this waiting behavior more closely two big pitfalls emerge. First, when both people are in a waiting mode—nothing happens so nothing changes. Actually that’s not true because here’s what really happens: Both parties become detectives, observing carefully (and stealthily) for evidence to prove the insincerity of the other, thereby protecting themselves from taking any risks and getting hurt. Imagine the scene with both people doing this on a daily basis.

Second, when one person attempts to change and the other observes and waits; a very unbalanced dynamic occurs that is destabilizing. So, for example, Joan makes efforts she believes will improve the relationship and Jim watches this very carefully but doesn’t make any changes himself. He wants to be certain of Joan’s sincerity and resolve. How long does he wait to be sure of Joan’s motivation? And (here’s a good one) he might wonder why she would make these changes when he’s basically being the same? That’s a really “crazing making” dynamic.

Real change comes when both partners take stock of themselves and discover what they can each do to improve the relationship. In effect, asking themselves what the relationship needs and what each can do to strengthen it. This simultaneous effort demonstrates an investment that is undeniable, gives hope, and communicates that “we’re in this together.”

Waiting and watching for change to occur in others is a common trap. When both people take initiative to change, they have an opportunity to learn and discover more about each other and see what the potential in the relationship really is. It isn’t a guaranteed formula for success but it opens the door to real possibilities and durable changes.

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