Can You Change a Loved One?

There is a well known joke, “How many psychotherapists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is none, the light bulb must first want to change.”

With people, it is not so simple. Yes, in some ways, the person must also want to change. Yet it is also possible to change a person in profound ways. How is this done? There are two fundamental ways.

The most important way to change a loved one is to first find a way to accept them as they are. If you are fixed only on the things that need to change, your heart cannot be open, you will not be loving, and the person will not want to change. They will instead feel criticized or rejected. If you focus on loving the person rather than hating the behavior, seeing the soul rather than the personality, the essence of being rather than their attitude, you will be able to open your heart and your loved one will feel honored and want to change. Leo Buscaglia, our first teacher of love, taught that love is the most effective behavior modifier and the fastest way to change a person.

In the first four years of our relationship, Joyce and I tried our hardest to change one another. As much as we loved each other even then, we found a multitude of incompatibilities. The biggest, however, was our religious difference. I just could not accept that she was a Christian and she couldn’t accept that I was a Jew. It was a deeply spiritual man named Mr. Davis who first told us the secret of love was accepting one another just as we were. Now after forty years together we have long understood what he meant. Through accepting each other’s religious differences, each one of us has changed. We have found a true spiritual union.

The second way to change a loved one is through accentuating the positive. If you are sincere about this, it will work for both superficial as well as profound changes. It must be done with caring and love. I used to leave my dirty laundry in piles on the floor. This annoyed Joyce and she would ask me to not do this. Sometimes she politely asked. Sometimes she expressed her irritation. This method caused about a fifty percent success rate. Than she launched the positive approach. She vigilantly waited to catch me in the act of putting my dirty clothes in the laundry hamper. When she did, which I admit was rare in the beginning, she smiled at me, praised me sincerely, and even sometimes hugged and kissed me. In no time I achieved a hundred percent success rate.

Does positive reinforcement work for deeper changes? It sure does. Many women complain that their men don’t take care of them enough emotionally. We have encouraged these women to pay closer attention. We have seen dramatic changes in these men when the women have genuinely appreciated even their smallest nurturing attempts. If your husband or manfriend asks how your day was, or listens to you, seize that very moment to let him know how grateful you are. He will quickly learn emotional nurturing.

Many men are disappointed in their women’s lack of physical affection. We have urged these men to sincerely acknowledge every, even tiny, act of physical affection. If your wife or womanfriend gives you even a small hug, that is the precise moment to let her know how good it feels when she touches you. Thank her with a real smile while you look directly into her eyes, and she will want to touch you even more.

Many parents are unhappy about their older child or teenager’s lack of helping in the home. Have you really tried lovingly praising even the smallest act of responsibility or helping out?

Changing a loved one can be an exciting challenge. Just try a little loving acceptance and positive reinforcement, and then watch the results.

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