You Can't Change People But People Change

You can’t change people but people change. It has been one the nuggets of my supposed wisdom I have been spouting for the last few years.

My husband and I were college sweethearts. Shared the same values, both engineers, for different reasons pretty much on our own without any financial help getting started as we graduated college. And we muddled along for years, sparks of true passion occasionally, mostly just existing, not really fighting much, but uncertain in how to have a relationship, not having had very good examples from our own parents.

Managed to get married and have our daughter. But my husband had checked out mentally, within the first year or two or three. And never really came back despite his declarations of commitment. He didn’t like my ambitions, some of the circles I was trying out socially and in my career. The thing was that he didn’t realize that he didn’t like my ambitions, he really thought he wanted me to pursue some of my dreams, but his unhappiness manifested in passive-aggressiveness and verbal criticism. Nothing really cruel or abusive. He told me what I needed to change about myself, and I would change. Quit the job he didn’t like me having, live in towns where I didn’t want to live, be more publicly supportive of him, join him in his latest whim of a hobby, and on and on.

I did learn to be more nurturing in the day-to-day stuff, my family is kind but not very expressive. I thank him for that push, because it has become an important part of my personality, my self. But the changes were never enough. I was exhausted, working a lot, taking care of a young child, going home to a negative vibe. 

And I was no saint. My ex-husband is two things – a pack rat and a starter of projects or hobbies that he doesn’t finish for many months or years or never. So I felt like I was continually living in chaos. Clutter everywhere, rooms in our home unusable due to home improvements started and abandoned. So I nagged. I just wanted a peaceful place to come home to.

Eventually I realized that it was really just our temperaments were fundamentally different. He wanted to keep his steady job, and then come home and putter endlessly at home with things perpetually incomplete . I wanted more flexibility and mobility in my career, and a home that was cozy and welcoming. Accumulating things mattered to him, I don’t care about physical objects so much. I wanted experiences with places, and new foods, and travel. He stressed endlessly over the simplest excursions. Where to park, where to stay, etc. Both being basically nice people and having shared values was not enough to overcome how worn down we both were by dealing with each other's temperaments.

I eventually gave in, admitted he was checked out mentally, and was able to let go myself. It was sad, we were both emotionally devastated that the dream of the nuclear family with the home surrounded by the white picket fence was gone. I didn't think either one of us was going to change. So that was that.

In the ten years we have been divorced we rarely disagree, we talk regularly about our daughter, both present in her lives. My ex-husband is a nice guy and a pretty good dad, and I think he would express similar sentiments about me and my mothering. Our daughter is beautiful, well-adjusted, smart, and so much more. We have managed to do that right despite our different personalities.

The thing is we each did change, have changed over time, have changed very slowly, but changed. Lots of our personality traits have remained consistent but there are some signficant changes. The most important of which is that we both learned not to try to change other people. My ex-husband is much more patient and tolerant with his second wife than he ever was with me.

I too was in a long relationship. It was intense and passionate, in the day-to-day stuff we were almost always in sync, wanted to spend all our time together. Our blended family of his kids and mine were central to our life together.  That was a big change for him, because his access to his kids had been limited in the past. Eventually, though, something in my new guy shifted, he reverted back to some ways of behaving that he had left behind. Not good behaviors. 

This time I knew to go with the flow a bit, see how thing went, rather than trying to control the situation. And the relationship played out the way it was supposed to.

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