It’s natural to want to change someone when their feelings, beliefs, or actions diverge from your expectations, but does it work?
Trying to control what you can’t control can create more conflict in the relationship, and leave you feeling stuck.
The way to begin building acceptance is to identify what you can and cannot change in your relationship.
Here are some things people typically try to control about their partner or prospective partners:
- Behaviors, such as yelling, drinking too much, or spending too much time watching TV
- Feelings, such as lack of sexual desire or disinterest in doing things you want to do
- Thoughts, such as whether or not your partner appreciates you enough
Just like we can’t control the stock market or the weather, we can’t control other people. This is something we all know deep down is true, but it can be difficult to acknowledge or to accept.
The good news is that you do have control over your actions. You can decide what to say to your partner, and what you do in reaction to them.
Here are some things you can control:
- Your communication style
- Your gestures, words, and tone of voice
- Paying attention to what you do that works, and then doing more of that
- How you respond to your own thoughts and feelings; for example, what you tell yourself when you have critical thoughts about your partner
Your power and freedom come from doing what works, and giving up on what doesn’t work.
Questions to ask yourself about control in your relationship:
- What am I trying to control about my partner?
- How is it working for me?
- Is it helping me create closeness or the relationship I want?
- If it’s not working, what should I give up on?
- What could I do instead of trying to control my partner?
Acceptance can help us get unstuck from patterns that don’t work for us, and free up energy for us to find more effective ways of getting our needs met.
Some ways to build acceptance in your relationship:
- Try to not control what your partner does for a week, and see what happens. Notice what might be difficult about this, and how this affects your relationship.
- The next time you and your partner disagree, get curious about their perspective and how they’re feeling, without trying to convince them to see things the way you do.
- The next time you feel frustrated about your partner, put your hand on your heart. Tell yourself, “I cannot control other people. I can only do my best to create the relationship I want.”
- For the next week, notice when there’s judgment that comes up about your partner or relationship. Notice if these judgments impact your behavior, or how they might represent any unmet needs in the relationship.
- Example: a judgment about a partner “working too much” may represent a desire for more connection and closeness