“I would be so happy in our relationship if only you would change your behavior!”
I hear comments like this all the time from couples in therapy or IMAGO workshops.
And it’s usually followed by a statement that starts with either “You always…” or “You never…”
The truth is, things will never change with this approach!
Every time you use an “always” or “never” statement, you are actually encouraging your partner to view this behavior as a part of themselves. It must be who they are, after all, since they are “always” or “never” engaging in this behavior.
And you are certainly encouraging yourself to view your partner in this light. You will notice each instance of the behavior – and you will be less likely to notice when the behavior isn’t present.
Instead of encouraging change, you are effectively “freezing” your partner in this image. And you’ll just become stuck in a pattern that’s painful for both of you.
Understanding the Source of This Frozen Image
Have you ever taken a step back to look at why this particular behavior frustrates you so much?
It goes back to your childhood. With your caretaker, you had a particular back-and-forth interaction at an early age. From that, a pattern was formed.
You learned that this is what a love relationship should look like, sound like, and feel like.
Fast forward to today.
You are subconsciously steering your pattern toward that very same image of a love relationship. That “frozen image” you wish could change so much, yet you are also unintentionally encouraging.
But the truth is if your partner suddenly did change the behavior you dislike, you would find it uncomfortable, even terrifying.
That’s because subconsciously you would worry about your ability to be in a relationship with your partner. You’d lack the relationship skills to be with this new person.
You know one particular pattern, and if that pattern was suddenly gone, it would throw you off balance and make you feel anxious.
In fact, if there are times when your partner does stop the frustrating behavior, you may even find yourself feeling anxious, “knowing” this will end soon. In fact, you may even unconsciously do or say something to make it end sooner!
That’s just one way that you may subconsciously work to maintain this pattern and “frozen image”. The ways you are steering your partner’s behavior can be subtle or extreme.
Here’s an example.
Let’s say you came from an alcoholic family. As a result, you are desensitized to that environment.
So, if your partner has just one drink every month, you might tell them, “I think you have a drinking problem.”
Your comment doesn’t really match reality. But it comes from your past. You are seeing a pattern that isn’t really there. And that can damage your relationship.
Breaking the Pattern and Unfreezing the Image
Here’s the good news: you can change both subtle and extreme freezing behaviors. You can break the pattern. But it will require you to do a few things.
Actively listen. Really hear what your partner has to say. Get to know them on a deeper level.
Mirror their exact words. This process will allow you to see the “real self” of your partner. And that’s the only way you can develop the necessary skills to be with your partner.
Be kind to each other. It will take time to change the old pattern. Don’t expect a “quick fix” overnight. It’s a process. Be patient – with yourself and your partner.
Remind yourself that you can do this. It is a necessary skill to develop. The old pattern kept you safe as a child, but today it is only damaging you and your partner.
Trust that you have the ability to learn. You can grow outside of your comfort zone. You can learn new ways to be in a love relationship with your partner.
The process of learning and growth will serve to strength your connection – and help you build a happier, long-lasting relationship. If you need help, seek the guidance of an experienced Houston marriage counselor.