I’ve seen, through my experience in helping run drug and alcohol treatment centers, many heartbreaking stories of destroyed lives. But, these destroyed lives aren’t just the addicts themselves, but also family members and romantic partners. In most cases, these loved ones tried hard to change the addict, but without success.
It’s not just partners of addicts who seek to change those they love. I’ve seen countless examples, even among friends and family, of people who loved a deeply flawed individual and held onto the relationship in the hopes that the person would change.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s very rare that an adult makes a true, fundamental change. So, sadly, if you’re waiting for your partner to transform into the man or woman you hope he or she can be… you’ll likely be waiting a long time.
I’m not telling anyone to give up on a relationship. But, I do want to honestly lay out a few reasons why your partner isn’t (likely) going to change.
Personality Is Set by Age 30 (And Maybe Earlier)
After graduate school, I worked as a substitute teacher at every grade level. I got to know many students when they were young. I’ve met several of them again, over ten years later. Most of them are grown up versions of their young selves.
I know that statement is common sense, but what I mean is that the shy kids stayed shy, the outgoing ones stayed outgoing, the antsy, active types stayed antsy and active, and so on. Basically, the core personalities of the students stayed extremely consistent even years later.
Experts disagree when someone’s core personality is set, but it ranges from as late as 30 to as young as 6. What’s clear, however, is that core personality, even if not 100% unchangeable, is still pretty consistent and constant throughout a person’s entire life.
So, likely many of your partner’s core values and personality traits (both good and bad) have been around for a long time and are very unlikely to ever change.
Change Is Possible, But Very Difficult
I am an optimist at heart. And, my entire business of dating/relationship coaching is founded on the belief that anyone can change. However, change is extremely difficult, especially if it’s changing core aspects of a personality (e.g. shy vs. outgoing, easily angered vs. laid back, etc.)
The brains of children and teens are “plastic,” meaning that they can adapt and rewire quickly. Adult brains, while still “plastic,” are much less so since neural pathways are pretty much set. This is a biological fact. One example of this is how children learn languages easily, but adults find it difficult.
This also explains why your partner’s bad habits, the ones he or she might even promise to change, never do. So, habits like lying, cheating, seeking constant attention, angering quickly, emotional manipulation, overeating, and so on are literally wired into your lover’s brain.
As I mentioned, adult brains are still neuroplastic, meaning change is possible. But, rewiring the adult brain takes more time, mental effort, and support. Unless your partner is fully committed to change, and seeks outside help, the odds are good he or she is just going to stay the same.
If Others Can’t Change Your Partner, Why Can You?
If you are in love with someone you want to change, you might want to look at that person’s past, going even beyond their behaviors. How many past relationships have they had when someone else tried to change them?
Many people with issues have had a litany of caring individuals who tried to change them: parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, partners, and even their children. If they are currently in a relationship with you… what makes you think that you’ll be any different and actually successfully get them to change?
Perhaps, you can be the catalyst to change your partner (or ex) for the better. But, if history is any indication, you’re likely to just be another person in a long line of individuals who failed to change him or her, in spite of your intense love.
In fact, loving someone a lot can hinder change because…
Love Often Equals Enabling
I know a woman who lived with her alcoholic husband for years until she finally mustered the courage to leave him. However, before that, she was constantly enabling his alcoholism by covering for him and bailing him out of his negative situations.
When you love someone, you typically allow the negative behavior to continue by enabling it, whether you know it or not. In fact, you may want that person to change badly, but you end up being the one who inadvertently encourages it to continue.
The reason is based on brain science. When you fall in love, your brain changes. The result of the increased dopamine and other chemicals is that the critical decision making centers in the brain go inactive, at least in regards to that person. It is why someone in love with a jerk will defend his every behavior, while her friends see him for how he really is.
So, it’s natural to want to protect and encourage those we love, even when they have glaring faults. But, sometimes that allows the person we want to change to… stay exactly the same and get worse.
For example, let’s say your partner is emotionally abusive. If he yells and screams at you a few times a week, but each time that happens, you forgive him and allow him back in bed, he’s picked up that he can be emotionally abusive and still have your love. He has no incentive to change.
Thus, one of the main reasons the person you love won’t change is… YOU. I know that’s kind of depressing, but, if you enable the bad behaviors you hate through financial, emotional, or other types of continued support, you share part of the blame for the failure to change.
Ultimately, and sadly, most people aren’t going to change, no matter how much you love them. How you respond, however, is up to you. But, it might involve ending the relationship and moving on to someone who isn’t as damaged and toxic… for your own emotional health.