“Don’t change the people you love” may be the single worst marriage advice ever given.
The truth is; if you don’t change those you love they’ll annoy the shit out of you, and you’ll end up hating them.
Changing those you love is not only entirely appropriate, it is absolutley essential. Without positive change, the relationhip is inevitably doomed.
It turns out that the accepted wisdom on this subject has nothing to do with wisdom at all. Relationship expert George Blair-West states that trying to change others is entirely inappropriate. “You don’t have a right to change your partner, but you have a responsibility to tell them what it is that you need for a relationship to work for you.”
Yet on closer inspection, this makes no sense.
Communicating what you need without enforcing the consequences of not getting what you need is a complete waste of oxygen. Without leverage, what you are actually saying is that you don’t need these things at all. To actually need something different, requires the other person to change, thus undoing the first part of the statement.
Conflict is inevitable
The thing about relationships is that they inevitably lead us into conflict.
In the process of getting to know someone, beyond the initial honeymoon period where everyone is perfect and on their best behaviour, there arises moments of discord, that annoy, frustrate or offend.
In these pivotal moments, there are only 2 choices. Move through the conflict effectively toward intimacy or become blocked by the conflict and diverge toward an arrangement. Either there is nothing between you, or there is stuff between you. Intimacy or arrangement. How you handle conflict determines which one it will be.
Handling conflict effectively always requires you to fight for change. The nature of conflict is that two parties differ about something which brakes rapport and causes them to feel as though they are no longer on the same team. You are against me and I am against you. In order for rapport to be regained, things must change. For things to continue as is, means there is now stuff between us that is different and incongruent. Not only is it divergent, it is repulsive. There is now danger. I must now defend or attack. Therefore, conflict resolution is an essential skill for anyone wishing to have real relationships.
Without the ability to fight for and demand change there cannot be intimacy.
All effective conflict resolution comes down to one word. Leverage. Either you fight with leverage or without it. With leverage you move through conflict to intimacy. Without leverage you get stopped and diverge at conflict and move into arrangements.
While the concept of leverage is basic and straight forward, the process of acquiring true leverage is difficult. There are five key components to gaining leverage within your most important relationships and therefore having the ability to effectively change the people you love.
 As quoted by Elissa Lawrence in her relationship article for the courier mail – 350,000 soulmates. Marry based on science not lust. (30/01/2021)
The 5 core competencies to obtain true leverage
The only foundation capable of sustaining growth and health in interpersonal relationships is personal security.
The ability to give and receive love to another person comes entirely out of the overflow of a deeply loving relationship with yourself.
More importantly, security positions you as the prize and as such, the prize never loses. As the prize, you are here because you want to be, NOT because you have to be. Therefore, if you are not treated the way you deserve and desire, you will no longer want to be here.
Insecurity on the other hand, makes leverage impossible. It causes you to make all decisions based on fear and neediness. Being needy for approval, acceptance and love in any relationship is the weakest and most unattractive way to be positioned. Neediness repels.
Insecurity leaves you with no power to create improvements causing you to be passive aggressive about the things you don’t like, threatening consequences you have no capacity to enforce.
If you are at all insecure you cannot afford to confront or offend those you love for fear of what it will end up costing you.
The problem is that everyone knows you are only bluffing. As such you continue training others to keep treating you poorly.
There are 7 essential practices for overcoming insecurity as outlined in my book Unhindered.
Once you are secure in your own opinion of yourself, you are able to begin the process of becoming crystal clear about what you truly desire. Having clarity means that you are no longer willing to settle for anything less, and being secure means you believe that you are capable and deserving of this kind of life.
This clarity allows you to organise your life in a way that enables you to achieve these things. Aiming at a desired future and having everything pointed in this direction is the only way to improve your life.
If you are going to demand change within your relationships, you will have to be very clear about what those demands are.
Without clarity, you have no way of knowing what needs changing, and what it needs to change to. This will lead to fighting out of frustration and hurt and inevitably create relationship chaos.
Before you go anywhere near demanding change from those you love however, you must first demand change from yourself. Get your own house in order first. In biblical terms: take the plank out of your own eye to see clearly to remove the speck in the eye of the person you love.
Integrity is the ability to lead yourself well first. It is to be non-negotiable about addressing everything in your own life that is in the way of what you desire and deserve. Having integrity is not about being perfect, but it does require you to completely come out of hiding and wholeheartedly seek to live out your vision, values and rules from a place of deep personal security.
Operating from a place of integrity greatly increases your authority simply because you are not requiring those you love to address areas of dysfunction that you have not first addressed in yourself.
It is easy to follow the lead of someone with integrity. Yet being instructed by someone without it, always creates resentment and bitterness simply because what they are asking of you is unfair.
Fully becoming an adult means you’ve developed the capacity to negotiate instead of compromise. To negotiate as an adult is the only thing that makes win/win outcomes possible. Maturity brings with it the behavioural flexibility that enables you to get what you want, while also making sure those you love get what they want too.
Adulthood is about functioning effectively in an eco-system as an interdependent part. Maturity means negotiating so that you both get what you desire and deserve. Without maturity, you’ll either force your way or compromise so that no one really gets what they want. Win/lose or lose/lose
Only now with these 4 foundational stages do you have any ability to demand change with confidence.
When an issue requiring change is finally addressed, the unavoidable push back is this:
Wait…Who are you to be telling me to change something?
What right do you have to set these expectations?
How can you justify these demands?
Answering from a place of positional authority is never enough. Just because you are husband, mother, boss, or friend; does not automatically qualify you with the power to demand change. Most people want to go straight to number 5, authority, without having earnt it.
If you haven’t done the appropriate groundwork, then you have no good answer to these central questions and the whole process falls apart.
Authority is earnt
True authority is the power to genuinely hold the line until you see the change for all the right reasons and is earned through a foundation of security, clarity, integrity and maturity.
Then you genuinely have the necessary leverage to not only create change, but to demand change: ‘This must change. If it does not, here is exactly what will happen.’
Without authority, you’ll back down at the crucial moment and therefore undermine the whole process.
The fulcrum to all leverage is love.
This model ONLY works where love is present and is the foundation of the relationship. It speaks to the fact that both parties want the relationship to be pure and the space between them to be uncontaminated. If you love someone, you want to be close to them. You have a compelling reason to work things out and deal with the stuff that has come between you.
You may have buried in your psyche somewhere the notion that true love is unconditional, yet this concept is purely abstract and is entirely impractical when applied to real world situations.
According to the dictionary, love is "an intense feeling of deep affection." Meanwhile, Urban Dictionary defines love as, "The act of caring and giving to someone else. Having someone's best interest and wellbeing as a priority in your life. To truly love is a very selfless act." However, just because it is culturally defined and it is widely accepted, doesn’t prove that it is wisdom.
Analyse the mechanics of deep love and you’ll discover that it is not as selfless as you imagine. It is all about the intense feeling of deep affection YOU have for that person.
If someone continues to treat you poorly and behave foolishly towards you it becomes impossible to maintain these intense feelings of deep affection.
If you still believe you do love that person in spite of their terrible treatment of you, you have confused love for something else entirely. There is nothing selfless about clinging to an abusive relationship. That’s the very definition of the martyr syndrome – which is all about validating your own existence by being the best person you know.
In summary, not only is it appropriate to change those you love, it is essential.
Here is how.
1. Face, overcome and eradicate your own insecurity.
2. Become clear about how you desire things to be knowing you are worthy of being loved.
3. Demand change from yourself first. Be wholehearted about who you want to be.
4. Develop the adult traits necessary to negotiate with behavioural flexibility.
5. Hold the line until change happens.
Insecurity Project Podcast
If you’ve enjoyed this blog, check out the extended explanation of this concept on the Insecurity Project podcast