Don't Go Changin'
The French are amazing, and I'm not just saying that because I'm going to Paris
in a week and a half. Well, I am just saying that I'm going to Paris
in a week and a half. But anyway, as Steve Martin once pointed out, the French
have got "a different word for everything!" ("'Hat' is
' chapeau!'") And excellent expressions. Like "Vive la France!"
"Nutela!" and -- more to today's point -- "Plus
ca change, plus c'est la meme chose." -- "The more things
change, the more they stay the same." Why, this petit gem even has its
own application in le monde of relationships, to wit: "The more
you try to change someone, the less they are inclined to budge."
(I've said this IMPORTANT BREAKUP GIRL MAXIM for years: You can't make
anyone do anything.)
That's why it turns out that many marriage
experts (like, the good ones), have trashed the so-five-minutes*-ago precepts
of what's called "Behavioral Marital Therapy" ("Okay, I'll take
out the trash once a week if you promise to work on that mousetrap.") It
did work, but sometimes, and temporarily. As the late** Neil
Jacobson observed: "We finally realized that the very pressure to change
acts as a formidable barrier to that change. In the face of perceived coercion,
most people throw up their defenses and withdraw."
So, since no one was bugging them, I guess, the experts changed their tune.
Gradually, they're starting to focus on "Integrative Couples Therapy"
-- which might as well be French, so let's try more common parlance:
Acceptance Therapy. "If [partners] can quit viewing one another's
behavior as evil and begin to see it as inevitable and natural, then the same
problems can continue to occur, but without such an emotional sting," says
Christensen. "To love and marry someone, you must accept the essence
of the other person. You can push for change at the periphery, but not at the
The key is to try to place what's bugging you in a larger context. This, ideally,
is how conflict morphs into compassion -- which itself is WD-40 for
a relationship's grittier hinges. Christensen and Jacobsen cite the example
of the wife who got furious that her husband
"forgot" to tell her he was going hiking. Turned out he wasn't being
an inconsiderate clod; he was (clumsily) trying to avoid the argument he knew
he'd get. But once these two threw it into reverse and backed, mud flying, out
of "You never...!" and "Why can't you...?" they realized
that they had to tinker with a different part of the foundation: the one where
her sensitivity and his avoidance were making things crumble. The point: either
decide it's -- really no big, or dig. Not for blame, just for
human fumbling. Figure it out. (Just talk like human grownups; don't worry about
"I" statements, which more often than not devolve into "I feel...really
And guess what: When you quit trying to change them, they actually sort of
do! Ooh la la!
Now, of course not every peeve will pass the <gritted teeth> "isn'titcutewhens/hedoesthatannoyingthing"
test. Tips on how to noodge when you must:
- Send e-mail. Nicely. Avoids escalation, yelling. (No caps.)
- Make specific requests (within reason). DON'T: "You never show me you
care." DO: "Ya know, it would totally make my tummy go bloop bloop
if you'd call me just to let me know you got there okay." (Also DON'T:
"Please caress my left cheek at regular intervals. Here, I've set this
- Get the skinny. Ask -- uh, not sarcastically -- why whatever
it is (say, car inspection) hasn't gotten done. You might be crock-potting
about something with a completely reasonable explanation ("Oh, I didn't
want to make you mad by telling you it was stolen.")
All of this emphatically does not mean that BG has changed her position on
dealbreakers. Or that, God forbid, abusive
behavior should be grinned-and-borne. If, on a bad day, you're struggling
to find "the wisdom to know the difference," just ask BG to echo back
the wild call of your gut. I may take off for a long weekend ici et la, but
you can always count on me. That'll never change.
> How accepting are you? Take Christensen's survey here.
> How acceptable are you? Um, totally?!
* ~ $100
** deceased. Not "stubbornly/chronically."
FIRST LETTER >