Changing Someone (or oneself)

Guest Post by wordssetmefreee

When I was a kid, I remember watching movies where a woman changes her irresponsible or alcoholic husband to become her dream life partner. She accomplishes this through forbearance, persistence, and faith, qualities that tended to glorify her and epitomized womanhood. Movies are just a reflection of prevailing social attitudes. Since our culture expects women to adjust and make marriages work at any cost, it follows that a woman trying to mold her husband is/was seen as a positive and proactive way to finding happiness.

In real life, however, is it possible to change someone? Is it even fair to attempt to change someone? What are some situations where we might wish to change our loved ones?

  • We might want them to be fairer (sharing house work and parenting for instance), more responsible, or more committed to the relationship. These are reasonable expectations.  Let’s call this the reasonable zone.
  • We might want them to exercise, eat better, and relax more, out of concern for their health. Although this is reasonable, we are now entering the sensitive zone of personal choices.  What if someone’s personal choices impact our happiness?  What if your spouse is overworked and constantly irritable?  On the one hand, a healthier, happier spouse does have a positive impact on our own happiness and the health of our relationship.  Yet, where do you draw the line here?  What if someone is happy with their excess weight or their no-so-great eating habits?  Do we worry about the future impact of their habits on their health (and consequently our happiness)?  Or do we let them be because it’s their choice?
  • Some of us may even be occasionally tempted to change their tastes and preferences, and may go so far as to tell them to change their feelings about something.  This is a clear cut ‘wrong zone‘.

Expecting one’s partner to be more responsible, fair, and committed is completely reasonable. Wanting them to modify their lifestyle or character (become more disciplined, more relaxed, or more diligent) is going to be somewhat problematic, even if it is well intentioned.

However, asking them to change their tastes and preferences is completely unfair. Expecting them to change their feelings about something is not only unreasonable, it’s downright impossible. People have no control over their feelings; they only have control over their actions. They may despise someone. They can choose not to yell at this person and they can certainly choose to not hit the person. But they can’t change how they feel (intense dislike/hate).

When attempting to change someone close to you, ask yourself, ‘whose problem is it?’ If your husband likes to get up late on Sundays, take a late shower, go unshaven all day, dress sloppily, then that’s what he likes to do. It is not your problem to own. Let him be. If your wife likes to watch a certain show that drives you nuts, leave the room. Let her be. In both cases, don’t attempt to change the other’s tastes or preferences.

So, let’s assume that we remain in the reasonable zone or venture into the sensitive zone – we want someone to change because it makes them healthier, happier, less frustrated, it makes our life better, and it makes our relationship better. Even this is extremely difficult to do. Many people resist change for many different reasons. It is therefore crucial to understand the factors that constitute change, before we attempt to change someone or ourselves.

Factors that Influence Changing Oneself or the Other

1. Self awareness

Change begins with self-awareness. The first step is for the person himself to feel the need for change. When I feel tired because I’m overworked and realize it, I’m aware that I need to take breaks. When I feel emotionally distanced from my loved ones and realize it, I’m aware that I’ve been spending less time with them and paying the price for it. Awareness is therefore an important prerequisite for change. If you want your partner to change, help him/her become more and more aware of the problem. When discussing this very sensitive topic, try to be helpful rather than judgmental. Focus on how a certain behavior or habit is impacting him or those around him. Stay away from offering solutions, because interfering with the process of self awareness and self-motivation to change can be counter productive. You can’t really GET someone to change, but you can help them LET themselves change.

2. Desire and Commitment

Awareness leads to desire (to change) and desire leads to commitment. In the desire stage, we start thinking about what we want. If only I could find time to go for a walk. If only I could enroll in that programming class so I can feel more adept at my work. If only I could practice my violin. Visualizing what we would like to do can be extremely motivating. As a partner, help the other visualize what he/she would like to achieve. Of course, dreaming can only take us so far. A practical plan is necessary to execute. Strategize on what can be done to make the change happen – what are some obstacles, what are some possibilities, is there a Plan B when Plan A fails, would intermediate goals and rewards help. Review the plan daily, acknowledge successes and don’t let your partner be intimidated by setbacks along the way.

3. Be the person/change you want to see

Gandhi was right. Modeling change can be powerful. If you want your children to read more and watch less television, ask yourself how much you are reading. Children who see their parents reading a lot also tend to become avid readers. If you want your partner/spouse to exercise more, offer to go for a walk with him. If he prefers to go to the gym, offer to go to the gym with him (at least initially, to get him motivated).

4. Environmental modification ( for children)

Removing temptations from the environment works wonders, especially with children. In our kitchen, we don’t stock junk food because we want everyone to eat healthy. There are tons of fruit in the fridge if someone wants to grab a snack between meals. We made a conscious choice not to have cable. We do have our DVD player to watch movies because it is so much easier to control movie watching than cable television with its constant transmission. (We get the news on our car radios on our way to work.)

Just as negative elements and distractions can be removed from the environment, positive elements can be added to it. When my kids were very little, they had 2 choices for their free time – they could stay in and read or do art or they could go outside and play. Our home has always been stocked with lots of children’s books and there are plenty of art supplies and a whole play area where they can really get messy with finger paint and other art materials. I took them on lots of outings – walks, parks, museums, aquariums, and read lots of books to them. As they got older, they willingly enrolled in team sports like basketball, soccer and cross country, which keep them pretty occupied. They’re not addicted to screens because they got so used to healthier ways to entertain themselves.

Please note that environmental modification can be used as a positive parenting tool, not a controlling tool.  It is not just about ‘removing’ things from the environment but also about giving children lots and lots of choices (positive ones).

The above are some straightforward ways to bring about positive change. But what do we do when change is hard to actualize? What if the person is resistant to change?

Some factors that create resistance to change

1. The underlying self-image and correcting it

Sometimes people are a certain way because that’s how they see themselves. We all carry these self-images of ourselves at an unconscious level. Sheela may see herself as inept at her work and feel like she’s getting by without really being productive. If she is offered a promotion (because her boss genuinely appreciates her diligence), she may see this as further confirmation of her fakeness. Ravi may see himself as an uninteresting person. If his friends ask him to go on a trip with them, he may see this as their attempt to rescue him from his boring life, as an act of sympathy. Children who are controlled a lot and have to fight for every little thing may soon get labeled as obstinate, difficult, or rebellious. Soon, they come to believe these labels, and may continue to rebel throughout their adult lives, even when it’s unnecessary. We hold on to our self-images (even when they are negative) because they are familiar and grounding.

As adults, it is therefore important to change our self-image if we want to change ourselves. Or help the people we love or work with change their self-image. If you want your co-worker to be more precise with numbers, praise her in the instances when she does demonstrate precision. If you want your son to be more considerate, notice and comment when he helps you clean up after dinner. If you want your friend to be more committed to your friendship, draw attention to the wonderful time you had together when she did make it. Complaining about what’s not happening confirms people’s negative self-images. Offering genuine praise challenges people to question their negative self-images. When you start noticing and drawing attention to their good side, they will begin to accept the idea that developing their good side is actually possible and doable.

2. Difficulty with taking input and being a ‘doer’

Some people are somewhat resistant to taking input. They feel cornered when you just “tell” them that something makes sense. Even a gentle suggestion may seem very forceful to them. Such people tend to be ‘doers’, that is they like figuring out things for themselves. It is much better to ask such people what they would like to do. Chances are they will choose the sensible path, once they are free of having a “solution” thrust upon them.

My older son is one of these people. He would typically waste a lot of time after he came home from school, then had to stay up really late to finish all his work. High school syllabus along with extra curricular activities demanded much more speed and efficiency from him, which he did not possess. As a result, he was sleep deprived and tired all day. To me, the most obvious thing to do was to start work early so he could get a good night’s sleep. But can I suggest something simple like this? Not with him (I now know that from many years of experience with him:-). Instead, I tried to nudge him toward finding his own solution. Our conversation went like this –

When he complained about being tired at school, I said, “Yeah I can imagine. You were up so late last night.”

He said, “These stupid projects and assignments! What are these teachers thinking?? How the heck can I get so much done in one evening??”

Me: “It’s certainly a ton of work!”

Him: “Yeah. It does require a lot of time.”

Me: “Uhuh.”

Him: “Maybe if I could start in the afternoon ….”

Me: “Hmm…”

Him: “I could eat my lunch quickly, then get started. Let me try that today and see how it goes.”

And it did go very well. He went to bed at a decent time that day and felt better the next day at school. He started doing that everyday and began managing the work load better. There would be days here and there where he would slip into the old habit of wasting time. But, once again, I simply acted as his sounding board. He would then self-correct himself and get back to a more efficient routine. I needed to accept that it’s simply his nature to be independent in the extreme, try out everything, and decide for himself what works and what doesn’t.

3. Simple for one is hard for another – being aware of differences in learning/abilities

Remember that what is simple for us can be hard for another. And vice versa. Being organized is easy for me but incredibly hard for my son. Making small talk and pretending to be interested in and managing large social groups is easy for my sister, but hard for me. Show understanding when the other struggles with change. Work with them. Help them find ways to problem solve. Don’t let them get discouraged when they fail. Keep reminding them that change is a process.

When my younger son wanted to play on the soccer team, it was incredibly hard for him to focus on his teammates directions and the ball simultaneously. His autism made it hard to separate or tune out the other team’s instructions to each other. Since he has autism, everyone around him is understanding and supportive of this. We solved this problem by assigning him a ‘buddy’ on the team who gives him instructions. The buddy works (practices soccer) with my son one on one before the game. This makes my son more attuned to his friend’s voice. During the game, he is better able to attune his attention to this single source of auditory input.

But how understanding and supportive are we of each other’s struggles when we don’t carry labels? We may be neurologically typical and yet, most people tend to struggle with certain skills. Being aware of this simple fact helps us persist with our goals without giving up and finding the right supports to facilitate the process.

4. Model willingness to change

If you want your partner or friend to change in one area, pick another area that is difficult for you to change. I wanted my friend to read more fiction and poetry (because that’s what I love discussing) and not just non-fiction (which she tends to enjoy). So, I began signing up for hiking up the hills more (I tended to prefer flat trails) because she loves making it all the way to the peaks (of some smaller, local hills). Once she started seeing me do things that did not come easily and naturally, she became more willing to step out of her comfort zone as well. Willingness to change ourselves motivates those around us to change. It also builds empathy in us for other’s struggles.

5. Assign responsibilities according to strengths/talents/interests

In my MBA class, we were part of team of 4 that worked together for the entire 2 year period. In my team, we had the analyzer, the (detail oriented) fact checker, the (big picture) strategic planner, and the writer/presenter/charmer/people person. Each of us excelled at our roles and tried to learn from the strengths of the others. Work environments frequently categorize people in teams along similar lines/strengths. At home, I hate doing dishes but I’m the better cook. When we share household tasks, I do more of the cooking while my husband does more of the dishes and laundry.   Many parents also divide child rearing duties to match their strengths – one parent may be involved with studies while the other manages sports and other interests/classes. Here, there is no necessity to change one’s style, and different styles can be complementary.

6. Ignore weaknesses by remembering strengths

There are some things that are either impossible to change in ourselves or are so difficult to change that it’s not worth the effort. It’s best to ignore certain weaknesses if they do not interfere with our lives or our loved one’s lives in a major way. My co-worker’s husband tends to be very fact oriented in his conversations. She wished more than anything to be able to have more fulfilling conversations with him at a deeper level. For him, her getting promoted would be just that, a simple fact that deserved to be celebrated. For her, it would lead to a discussion of the effort that went into it, a proper evaluation of the outcome, the dynamics of a motivating work environment, future career options, and change management. After several failed attempts at trying to change this aspect of him, and a lot of frustration for both of them, she stopped trying to change how he converses. She is now content that they do have a very loving relationship. He is always there for her and supports her in every way, in her career, in her personal life, in her interests. She has joined a book club to get those deep conversations that she enjoys (and while she is busy with her deep discussions, he gets happily busy restoring his 1960s Thunderbird in the garageJ).

Non-negotiable Situations – when trying to change someone is futile (Black and white areas)

It is important to note situations where we cannot change the other and the healthy/sane option is to leave the relationship:

  • in all cases of abuse, emotional or physical, it is best to leave – counseling can help in a few cases, but as soon as one realizes that counseling is not helping, it is best to leave
  • when you find out your husband is gay and you happen to be straight (No, you cannot change someone’s orientation, it is like left or right handedness. Your husband may have gotten married out of parental pressure; he may be fearful or in denial or selfish or good hearted or all of the above – it does not matter, just leave)
  • when your spouse is alcoholic (he needs counseling/help, and again in some cases, this actually helps, and when it doesn’t, you need to leave)
  • when your spouse is selfish, mean, is aware of this and is unwilling to change because it suits him – patience, understanding, and supportiveness have no place here. He is the way he is because it’s convenient. By staying, you are rewarding him for his selfishness. Nothing you do is ever going to make a difference because there is no desire or commitment to change.
  • finally trying to change someone’s tastes, preferences, feelings, opinions, and personal choices that have no impact on others’ lives is wrong, unfair, and when done with persistence, can constitute as abuse.

Most relationships may not be those non-negotiable black and white situations. They may fall in the grey area – where your spouse, friends, parents, children, or co-workers are not really selfish and have good intentions but may be making choices that either impact them or both of you in a harmful/negative way. In these situations, understanding what factors constitute change, being empathetic to the challenges in engendering real change, and knowing what expectations of change are fair versus unfair can go a long way in shaping our relationships to fulfill our needs.

Please share your thoughts and experiences with trying to change some part of yourself or someone you love or care for.

Related Posts:

I hope the following links drive home the point that change cannot be used to gain approval/validation, to alter one’s personality/preferences nor can it be used to make a failed/abusive relationship work.  Change is pertinent in primarily 2 broad situations – (1) when we ourselves are unhappy with the existing state and wish to change – and (2) when our behavior directly impinges on another’s rights.

Can a woman marry and change an uninterested man into a loving and responsible husband?

Taking responsibility for improving (?) men’s sex lives empowers women?

Does loving someone mean we should improve them?

How do we go about accepting ourselves just the way we are?

“I think most problems in life are when we look for approval and validation outside of ourselves.”

“10 years ago, the girl would have been counselled on how to change her dress sense for the boy, how to do as he says.”

Who would you never ask for advice?

What are you criticised the most for?


46 thoughts on “Changing Someone (or oneself)

  1. I believe people do not change unless something prompts them to. Nobody likes change and we prefer remaining in our comfort zone – good or bad.

    Changing oneself is equally tough but we all need to be self aware and be willing to look at ourselves honestly.


    • Yes, change is uncomfortable and we hang on to the familiar, even when it’s painful/uncomfortable. Reminds me of Thich Nhat Hanh’s words,
      “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m actually going to play Devil’s Advocate and ask: Is any expectation from others to change reasonable at all? I disagree with the very premise that there are reasonable and unreasonable zones because who decides what’s reasonable? Whose opinion takes precedence in deciding this? Perhaps the point you’re trying to make is that of asking someone to alter their behaviour vs their beliefs but in general, one follows the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • SB, is it not reasonable to ask your partner or child or parent to be more considerate and responsible?

      My son was in a phase when he would constantly turn up the music in his room because it’s “his room” to ear shattering levels because he “likes loud music”. There have been other phases – cooking something that catches his fancy and making a spectacular mess in the kitchen. Neither gentle reminders nor consequences nor removal of privileges worked. A serious change was needed and it could only happen by sitting down and discussing what was getting in the way.

      Last summer, my husband traveled so much that I barely saw him. While we had been at peace with his one week out of the month travel, he began doing 2 to 3 trips a month. I was left with managing my job, both kids, house work, daily problem solving with my son’s autism challenges at school, tons of insurance paperwork for his services, the school IEP, and changes to deal with at my own workplace, not to mention dropping and picking up kids both ways to several sports and events.
      I felt this was inconsiderate on my husband’s part and demanded that he change.

      Yes, people have a right to their choices, but when their choices directly impact someone else’s rights, then it is reasonable to expect them to change their behavior or conduct their behavior in a time/space/manner that eliminates the impact on others (eg. attend a rock concert instead of turning your room into one, clean up after you cook/experiment in the kitchen, plan your travel in such a way that you schedule time for your share of the responsibilities).


      • Priya,
        Very well written post, but I have a few points to make here. Firstly I think it’s next to impossible to be able to make any long term change in an adult, as far as children or teenagers are concerned there is a lot of scope for improvement and they really do look up to parents and teachers etc. So by talking and explaining to them a lot of change can be possible. But when it comes to adults I do not see that happening. My ex-bf was a workaholic, he would work 120-140 hrs a week and several times we would just speak for maximum 5 mins in a day and meeting him was a nightmare. Even if we went out on dates he would constantly be checking mails. He was a very ambitious man and extremely driven and hardworking too and these were qualities that attracted me to him, but over a period I felt neglected in the relationship. I never nagged him because my mother would tell me the same things that you said – talk to him, show by example, plan something that would interest him etc. Once when I made him sit down and spoke to him, he felt very hurt that I was not supporting him and not appreciating him for all his work. No matter how much I tried to convince him he could never get me, so we broke up. During this relationship that lasted 3 years I made a lot of modifications to my life, I started reading science fiction because he liked it, I started planning dinners based on cuisine he enjoyed, I regularly kept in touch with his friends to just be with him, but through all of this he felt that I was enjoying all that and hence did all that. When I told him that I did not enjoy those activities, he was shocked as he said he never realized that I did them without enjoying as I was involved so much. So you see,that is when I realized that I had completely changed my preferences in the process of trying to be an example, my idea was similar to yours where you went hiking on slopes for your friend so that she would understand, in my case my idea did not work for me. The same case happened with a very good friend of mine. She also thought that since I was doing things she liked, she assumed that I had accepted that her choice was more interesting than mine and again I had lost my identity. So now I have realized that I should always safeguard my interests. In my next relationship i.e. my husband now I was very clear from the beginning. There are things we both like and there are things that I don’t, so my husband plans those on days when I am busy or not around and same is the case with me.
        No change, whether reasonable or sensitive or anything happens unless the person wants to and sees the need. And also who are we to decide what is reasonable and not because what might be reasonable to me might not be for my friend/partner or family.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Also Priya, when you gave examples of your children and how you are teaching them, I found them good but again they are kids/teenagers, not adults. Your older son might feel that now he is big enough and knows everything (thus usual teenage stuff) but you know that he still needs guidance and help. Would you do the same if your son at 30 years also behaves in the same manner? At 30 he is an adult and he should know what he is doing and the repercussions of his actions.
          How much can you talk to an adult and let them know things? As adults are they not expected to have basic understanding of things and feelings. A child does not know that putting his hand on an iron box will burn his hand, but as an adult or even teenager I know it burns and will hurt. I don’t have to try it on to see whether it will really happen and if it happens how much it will hurt. Same with adults – all adults know that certain things hurt, that different people have different interests etc, but they just want to see if others in their life will alter their preferences so that then they can have their way.
          As a 23 year old in my first relationship I was naive to believe that change will happen if I become an example and if I show a way but then at 26 I realized that all this holds good for a child not an adult.


        • HG – the way I see it, your ex-bf’s extremely long working hours (or my husband’s crazy travel) were taking a toll on someone else’s needs. So, there is a need for change here, you do agree with that, don’t you? The first step is to try to get the other person to change his working habits. Whether they change or not depends on so many factors (which I discussed). There is no guarantee that they will change. But it’s worth a try. And when they refuse to change, it does (and should) lead to a breakup (as it did in your case) because a relationship where one partner’s needs aren’t being addressed or being dismissed isn’t an equal one.

          My hiking (and your reading science fiction or doing the things your friend enjoyed) – in these situations, the other person needs to understand and respond to what’s happening. And when they fail to respond, we discuss it. And when they fail to care or see the significance of these ‘getting to know the other’ attempts, then it’s time for us to stop doing these things because they are not meaningful anymore. Unless of course, you begin to enjoy the new activity for yourself. Also, I would not do something I despised just because someone I care for enjoys it – like my husband is a baseball addict and I hate watching sports. There’s no way I can sit myself through that. But hiking uphill was a small extension of hiking on flat trails and something that I was always shying away from – so in a way, I was also trying to challenge myself a bit. I did not try to change my preferences to the point of altering my whole identity for her.

          I do hear you – you are saying in your ex-bf’s case and in the friend’s case, this did not work, because they did not respond to your gestures. You summed it up in these words, “No change, whether reasonable or sensitive or anything happens unless the person wants to and sees the need.” – Absolutely agree, it starts with self-awareness.


        • Absolutely! Adults are expected to behave more maturely and responsibly. I think what happens is we think we are adults and we know everything but we continue to fumble in certain areas. We have our strengths and our weaknesses. We may engage in selfishness because that’s the easier way. Or we may be under a lot of stress and make wrong choices. Or our life may feel chaotic and out of control and we struggle with simple things like fairness to others which sort of falls off the plate as we’re trying to grapple so many things. So the other needs to step in and remind us of the impact of our actions on them. If we are inherently good, and if the relationship is a genuine one, then this simple fact (that the other is troubled) will bother us and will begin to change our ways to become more mature, more responsible, and more responsive to the other’s feelings and needs. So, I think adults do need help from each other, from time to time. Ideally, we should have it all figured out but in reality, I don’t think we ever finish growing up:)


        • Couldn’t agree more HG!!!

          You are absolutely right, we should’t aim to change adults no matter how smart and subtle the maneuver is, Period!

          We can let them know of our disagreement with their habits or thoughts but that’s where it should end. We can’t be a prescriptive society. And I would be curious to know what people think of changing their adult sons or brothers as you have asked in your 2nd comment.

          Thanks for being honest and sharing your practical experience!


  3. Comment from DG being published here (as it is not a reply to the anawnimiss’ comment):

    Bottom line is, “People do not change because you want them to change, they change because their current behavior is no longer serving them.” There are more detriments than incentives to change only then change is initiated by an incumbent. Either incentives have to be too good or the detriments have to be too bad or else it serves to keep the status quo.

    A person should have a clear picture of what their “needs” and “wants” in a relationship are. What they will work with and what they will consider totally non negotiable.

    No matter how good or gem of a man he is treats DG well or like a princess she doesn’t care if he is not a healthy eater, exercises or takes care of his emotional health along with his relationships and finances. Is it too much to ask? DG is doing that for herself. One may say DG is seeking a DG for relationship, may be but the truth is you find what you seek.

    What if someone changes after we are in committed relationship?
    Change does not happen over night, you don’t gain weight overnight, one slip in healthy choices okay, two slips still acceptable by third slip person has to ask what is going on, is its pattern we are watching here? A paunch is not sexy and is not working for DG. Either you get your act together or we go to the doctor and figure it out what is going on within you.

    Power and control is inherent problem of unequal gender relations in this part of the world that is further nailed into the coffin by arranged marriages (love marriages are not much different). The spousal expectations are set by the families not couples so people have not learned the basics of “needs and wants” either are confused thus bar for negotiation is set so low, “there is no abuse so it should be fine…” Power and control is also an issue with toddlers who throw tantrum and control whole retinue of grown ups in the family so it is no different with adults. Routines, consistent communication that reinstates the consequences helps.

    These suggestions are good but one has to remember there two people and many non people in desi marriage/relationship. One can only do their part but should have supports structural and fluid for their safe exit if it isn’t working at a level or any level.

    Desi Girl


  4. SimblyBored, I also want to address the following questions of yours because they are valid questions –

    “Who decides what’s reasonable?”
    – only the people involved in the relationship or interaction and are directly impacted by it. My mother cannot tell my husband to travel less. But I can because it impacts my life.

    “Whose opinion takes precedence in deciding this?”
    – neither party’s opinion takes precedence. In an equal relationship, both parties sit down and amicably discuss their needs and resolve the issue in a win-win way. He can travel more if his job demands it provided I have some supports at home. Or he can schedule tasks before he leaves on these trips.

    “Perhaps the point you’re trying to make is that of asking someone to alter their behaviour vs their beliefs but in general, one follows the other.”
    – Yes, I’m making that distinction (behaviors vs beliefs) unequivocally. No, one does not follow the other. My son can listen to rap/soul/punk/new wave/whatever he likes. He can wear interesting clothing/do electric hair/whatever – I don’t want to change his tastes or influence his phases. But it is my home too and I live there so I have a right to a tolerable decibel level and a clean kitchen.


  5. I have read and actually taken in a lot of advice from this blog, but nothing like this! You are a star, to put down all these thoughts in one post..thankyou for this, it has come to me at a point in my life when its much needed.


    • Swathi, I’m glad this was helpful to you. I’m not a star – I’ve made mistakes and I continue to fumble. Hopefully we all learn a little more everyday. If you are comfortable, please share what it is you want to change of someone.


  6. I thought about this, and I feel ALL of us try to change the people around us either consciously or unknowingly. And there is absolutely nothing wrong in changing due to an external element or you yourself trying to change some other person. I feel the problems arise when this change is forced upon. When the person is asked to change unwillingly.
    Also, I do think it is OK for adults to try and change each other’s belief system (things that you categorize as “wrong zone” situations). I know my belief system has undergone a change after I met my husband and I know his has too. Even as basic and core as our belief systems, of what we see as right and wrong..all that evolves over time, I think. A good example is what feminism means to me has changed after reading this blog and after being married to my husband. Also, I think a lot of things which I thought of as “wrong” earlier, I feel as “right”. And that has changed because of external influences. However, what is wrong is “forcing” a person either directly or indirectly (through emotional blackmail) to change their belief systems.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was using the word ‘wrong’ to refer to person A changing person B’s thoughts and opinions (and not person B undergoing the change himself, willingly). But what you are saying is this is okay if it’s not done through force, but through an exchange of ideas, through exposure to different perspectives? That is certainly a very interesting thought. Now when I think about what you said, I realize that some of my beliefs have been changed by other people, as well. This is so true, especially when you are in a close relationship with someone, some osmosis definitely happens. As you said, how it happens makes all the difference in the world.

      If we didn’t let ourselves be touched by the people and experiences around us, we will always be the same, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. I suppose challenging our own belief systems is healthy, and fosters growth … but how can that happen without someone questioning our thought processes in the first place? A very important point you bring up Mypunchingbag.


      • I brought this point up because my husband and I have had a LOT of discussions about this in the past years.. What defines “self”. And if there is indeed such a thing. We talk about individuality and “I am what I am” kind of ideas… And even though I have not yet found the ultimate answer (and probably never will), I sometimes feel there is nothing like a true self. We are in small and big parts a result of the people, the things around us. And if this is the case, is there really anything like “self” ? Something that is true you..something untouched by anything or anybody?
        And hence, I feel it is absolutely OK for person A changing person B. Unless of course it is done by obvious or subtle force/blackmail. Because like it or not, you are continuously changing, knowingly or unknowingly due to the people around you.


        • So true @mypunchingbag…
          In fact just yesterday my husband and I were having this discussion. But it is also because of this same reason i.e. not being able to identify true self or rather the non existence of a true self that I vehemently disagree changing someone be it in anything because when I myself am not sure of my true self and my choices keep changing then how can I change someone? How fair is it to ask or expect someone to change when I am not sure if tomorrow I will like the same thing. And then as far as values and core beliefs are concerned there is no way anyone will change those so easily. So I have now started making friends with people with whom I share the same value and belief system, because other things like interests keep changing but I believe that the core values do not change.


        • I do feel strongly that there exists a ‘self’, whatever that is. We are products of our own inner nature and our external environments. There are things that uniquely define us, which are next to impossible to alter – the way we react/think/act in certain situations. And then there are all those ideas, influences, and ideologies that we absorb from the books and people around us. Even with the absorption, we tend to take in “our version” of the ideas, we look at them through our eyes, our lens, and adapt them to our lives in our own unique ways. This is how we preserve the ‘self’ inside us.

          I think this internal compass allows us to be open to input and new ideas but also monitors those ideas and is able to determine the impact of the influx of those ideas on our own well-being. Thus, it can serve as an instinctual armor to protect ourselves.


        • But HG, I’m confused because you seem to be agreeing with Mypunchingbag here.
          You and Mypunchingbag are saying very different things. You feel
          1) person A in a relationship should not change person B at all
          2) even if one tried, it is not possible to change someone.
          Mypunchingbag is saying that
          1) not only is it okay to change person B (provided there’s no coercion)
          2) but also that B changing in response to A is unconscious/natural/inevitable in an intimate relationship
          These are 2 very different viewpoints.


  7. It sounds good on paper but there are very very few equal relationship,…. For a moment forget husband wife relationships ! If after all the talking people don’t stick to their end or their commitment, what to do ? If you tell them again and again, it feels like nagging to them!
    I have repeatedly told my sisters to take care of parents or help me to do that ! But they sit in america and do nothing ! Repeated point blank requests nothing works ! Those who don’t want to help or do their share don’t ! And such blood relationships you can’t really cut off completely !
    The only thing I could do is stop talking with them but that doesn’t help me practically !


    • Grown up siblings’ relationships are always tricky. I’m close to my sis and we both look out for our parents. By brother on the other hand is sort of in his own world, dealing with his own issues. Neither my sister nor I have confronted him on this, we’ve sort of managed between the 2 of us. Not really sure what is the best approach here, as we see him only once a year and end up keeping relations pleasant. If you are the only one managing, it is certainly difficult.


      • My parents stay in india too and i stay in us my brother decided to move back to india to be with my parents, they are independent but old and he chooses to stay with them. I dont want to move back , i have offered to sponsor them here to stay with me, they dont want to. my mom occasionally uses emotions to try get me back , I tell my brother, i can be present for them to talk and offer monentary support i can also get them here for 6 months or more if they desire but beyond that theres not much i can do. now if he was here i think they would have moved, not sure. traditionally if you per taking care of parents deal, the parents move to where the kids are sinc ethey dont work etc., but since they dont want to i cant leave my family and career and move back , i dont want to. so i do the best i can. from here. i can hire help , spend money and even bring them here but then again it’s per their desire.
        @cosette, – i dont know your situation, but maybe your sisters cannot come back and take care or perhaps dont want to move back. .


        • Consciously or unconsciously, your parents will end up learning on your brother and his family for day to day work and also emotionally !
          I don’t understand how can a person be emotionally available as closely through phone or Skype but that’s me !
          My father don’t want them to return but be available and be involved ! Since,they are so aloof and non caring,my father will not even ask for financial help if he requires !So that also goes down in drain !
          I resent that they are not doing enough and neither they are there physically to help ! Maids and other help are not so great that everything can be left to them and they will give substitute care without supervision in India !
          They are not emotionally available to me too so that doesn’t help as well !
          Its neglect, nothing else because they can neglect ,sitting in america !


        • I understand your point, yes the burden of care falls on the one staying close, but that’s a choice. I don’t know about your case much, but in mine, I choose to stay away. This is the best thing for my family. I have given them the tips of moving near me. It’s a choice they should make. Sure I can’t be there 100%on skype etc. but I cannot give up my family either. I’m not saying this is what your siblings are going through, just another point of view. If was my brothers decision to move near them. He has paid a heavy price girl that choice, but if was his choice. Good or bad.

          You should openly ask your siblings to contribute momentarily for your parents care. Irrespective of your dads choices, if you are spending you are entitled yo their help. Emotionally being involved is many things to many people. I call my mil week
          Y, my mom couple times a month, m dad weekly and FIL never. It’s my comfort level. Not everyone can become involved, even if it’s duty to ones parents.
          I support my brother in any way he wants. I can give him a break. But if they choose not to come here, he simply goes on vacation 2times a yr, once I go stay and the other time they r on their own. They are healthy, of sound mind and health. Such is life.


        • That’s the moot point here – even after civilised talking people ignore and give excuses like – ‘ I can do only so much, take it or leave it’ ,….there is nothing more to tell adults ! Its obvious they are selfish !
          My father doesn’t want to ask for money neither do I ! I have made up my mind to do whatever I can !
          But they have lost my respect and they should do their bit without much and repeated asking – why ? Because they are adults !
          And that’s why cutting relationship with them completely is the only thing I can do !
          If they can slave for their husbands and be timid for in-laws they can certainly do as much for their surviving parent if not more !


  8. I agree that it’s not right to change one’s preferences, tastes, outlook in life..etc. Else how will we learn to respect and see life at different angles without seeing and experiencing different kinds of people, interests, beliefs..etc?

    But I also believe too that you can change someone if their habits/behavior is considered harmful to themselves or others. And no, it cannot be through insulting, making uncalled for remarks, tearing the person down, but having the person aware of the consequences and perhaps see the benefits of the change by having them go through a positive experience of what it feels to change the habit or try something new. (Putting them in a negative environment will send them the opposite direction, , even at times have them go back to the habit if they are already trying to change it). Personal example-my dad and his smoking..was able to see the positives of quit smoking (and its consequences) after being stubborn to quit for decades and was successful for a couple of months, even wanted to use the money he saved up for cigarettes to sponser a child lol-until tragedy came where my grandma sadly passed and he reverted back to smoking :(-(can see why he did ). Hope we can get him to quit again (am thinking of stealing his cigarettes lol).


    • People change only when they want to or if they get a life altering epiphany ! Smoking is nasty habit which is difficult to leave ! I have a friend who keeps smoking like a chimney,….he has tried leaving the habit for more than 15 years ! He has stretches of smoke free months and any stupid stress is enough for him to start smoking !
      Worst is he knows its bad for him and he still keeps smoking !
      Just like diabetics know simple sugars are bad for them, junk food is bad still people keep eating !
      Its an addiction !


    • That’s a slippery slope. For instance, my ex-husband found my nightly ritual of taking a shower before bedtime highly problematic.

      He had been raised in a highly religious and ritual-obsessed family and believed that it was inauspicious to bathe at night, no matter how sweaty and smelly one got.

      He insisted that my showering at night was a grave insult to his religious beliefs, and insisted that I stop. Unfortunately, I could not sleep a wink without showering before bed-time.

      It played havoc with my day-time productivity because I’d be tired and sleep-deprived.

      I believe that it’s not fair on anyone’s part to demand changes to somebody’s personal habits, unless they cause physical or emotional harm.

      Similarly, my oldest aunt doesn’t let anyone in her family cut their hair on a Tuesday, no matter what. I feel that such excursions into other people’s privacy are unfair and unwarranted.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Neha, your shower was neither impacting your health nor his. It’s not the same as smoking. Your ex-husband’s problem arose from a superstition, whereas we have scientific evidence that smoking causes cancer. I think when one spouse is superstitious and the other is rational, there is a fundamental difference in their view of the world and the relationship is not going to work.

        Smoking is a sensitive zone. You can’t really GET someone to quit unless they themselves are willing to. You can help them get help and supports in trying to quit if they are willing. It is also hard to ignore completely and say, “it’s your choice” because it does destroy the other’s health. This is one of those situations where there is no good answer.


        • Sadly I’ve seen smokers (in certain parts of US) pass on second hand smoke to their families, who then tend to develop asthma. I’ve seen people smoking in front of children and babies, this stunts their immature immune system before it has a chance to develop fully. I love California because most public places are smoke free zones.


  9. @ abhi, I couldn’t reply to your comment up there so doing it down here.
    What would you do in the following situation – you and your wife decided to spend x% of your earnings and save y%. In the beginning, this worked. A few years later, your wife began to spend more. She then began to dip into your savings, something you both agreed upon to never touch, except in case of emergencies. Then you had kids, and the need to save became even more imperative. What do you do?
    – Your first option would be talk to her and make her see reason
    – If she is open to reason, she actually needs to work on altering her spending habits
    – You need to help her come up with a plan and you both need to execute it together
    – If all of the above fails, and she continues to spend recklessly, your marriage is probably headed toward more conflict and stress.
    This is what actually happened with my brother and sil. They’re resolved it now, and without bitterness. My sil is not a bad person but this was definitely a problem behavior that needed to be addressed (by no one else other than the 2 of them).
    I don’t know if you are single or married. But if you are in a long term committed relationship, there will be those inevitable conflicts – no two people are alike or aligned on everything. Without being able to see the other’s point of view or without communicating a different point of view when needed, without give and take of ideas, it is impossible for 2 people to make a committed relationship work.


    • Thanks for your response Priya. In the interest of full disclosure, I am not married but have been in long term relationships for a many years. My current partner is a fiercely independent woman and we manage our own finances. For example, we live in a house that I own and I pay all the bills. She pays her own bills such as her phone, visits to the doctor etc. We pay our own insurances and we buy gifts for each other so we haven’t combined things as you have described in the scenario. So I can’t imagine us going through that but if we were to go through it, as you said, we would sit and talk about it and if she doesn’t agree, we will part our ways. My goodness, I am scared of the idea of marriage now, if this is what it entails!

      I appreciate the idea that no two people are aligned on everything and that there is a give and take in relationships but personal habits and finances are very personal and individual things in my mind. I can’t get into a marriage and then try and change my partner to suit my needs. That’s my limited point.

      Now indulge me for a moment and let me play Devil’s Advocate. I would turn the situation into something different and would ask you for your reaction. I know it’s hypothetical and it may also sound absurd but all I have done is stretched your argument to repeat a question that I had earlier asked.

      What would you do in the following situation – you and your son decided that he would not listen to loud music while he is living with you, in your house. In the beginning, this worked. A few years later, your son starts to rebel and plays loud music in his room all the time. What do you do?

      You would perhaps follow the steps that you indicated earlier while describing the situation with me and my wife. The only difference, however, is that your son never got the opportunity to decide, agree or disagree to your expectation of him not playing loud music in your house! He didn’t chose to be born as your son and he couldn’t ask if he would be able to play loud music, while being your son. Perhaps, if he had the opportunity, he would have selected a home/parent who would let him play loud music (just imagining this situation). I know it sounds absurd but you chose to bring him into this world and now you want to dictate terms of his life. Isn’t that something to be thought about?

      Would you try and change your son when he is an adult and would be use the same means that you use to change things about your husband? How about your brother, would you go to the same extent as you would with your husband in terms of trying to change or recommend that he changes?

      Thanks again.


      • Abhi, you are a great one to argue with!:) Here goes –
        Finances – yes, my hubby and I lived together before we got married and did our own finances. After we got married, we had to agree on some common ground. Then kids, then more issues come up. At first we disagreed, then had to find middle ground. People don’t stay the same people all their lives. Their ideas change. Accepting certain changes, rejecting some, and working around some are necessary in a long term relationship. Even if you never get married, you both will not be the same people n your 40s or 50s. This is why some people separate after so many years, when change can no longer be managed and it is healthier to separate.

        My son – in his case, I think he’s very reasonable (at least for a teenager!) because we’ve always nurtured an environment of acceptance in our home. I take his input on lots of things. He has lots of choices in his everyday life. My husband and I are strict vegetarians. My son has chosen to eat meat, and that’s fine with us, because it doesn’t impact us (we don’t cook it at home) but he can eat when we go out as a family, as well as daily at the school cafeteria. He can also pick up (when we choose to pick up food and bring home on sat nights). He can choose his field of study, his career. It’s his choice if he wants to get married or not or whom he dates. We don’t care what culture/race/background the woman he chooses will be from. He can make choices that don’t impact others. Here in the US, we have a law against disturbing the neighbors. If the music is loud enough for the neighbors to hear you can call the cops on someone. Why do you think they have that law in the land of individuality and freedom? Because it impinges on another’s rights. I think the job of parents is to love and nurture kids as well teach them to be responsible and sensitive to other’s needs and respect others’ rights.

        I would not tell him my son what to do as an adult because how he plays his music in his house won’t impact me. That’s something for him and his gf/wife to figure out. Where did you get this idea? Neither would I tell my brother. His house, his rules. Yes, i would tell my husband if something bothered me or took away my rights. I already said in my post and several comments that only the people in the relationship and sharing space can engender change and everyone else needs to stay out of it.


        • Hey Priya,

          I think your system works for you. We on the other hand are very independent people and that’s one of the reasons, why we have kept our finances separate. I would agree that it’s a trade off when you are in a contractual relationship such as marriage. And if the exchange is not good for you, you can always part ways and end the contract. One should discuss and agree on things before they get into the marriage. Not saying that things can’t change on the way but finances is one thing, changing one’s behavior is another. What I see around is women marrying guys knowing their traits and then trying to change them to something different. I see this a lot amongst my Desi friends, although other cultures are impacted too. This is not limited to ‘arranged marriages’ only but is also prevalent in so called ‘love marriages’. I guess we can blame am sure there are marriages where men try and change their wives too but I haven’t been a party to a lot of them so perhaps my view is skewed. I am sure you would have heard the sociological phenomena of women falling for ‘bad boys’ and then trying to ‘train’, ‘save’, or ‘change’ them for better. It has always intrigued me.

          And then there is this expectation from some people that their partners should change with them. To quote an isolated incident here, I have this friend or rather a ‘couple friend’ that I have come to know for some time. We were lounging around and chit chatting and my friend shared some of his plight. When they were dating, the girl used to love partying, drinking and smoking and that they are married, she doesn’t like those things anymore (under the influence of a certain Baba).  What’s of concern is that she also doesn’t like him doing those things and is pushing him to change. Do you think that’s a change she should pursue? My point is that the guy entered into the marriage with a certain expectation based on how the girl was during the time they dated and now all of it has changed. The greater shock is that she wants him to comply with that change too.

          About the scenario we discussed, I think perhaps, I didn’t put my question clearly. My point was since your son didn’t get an opportunity to decide whether he wants to live in a house where he can’t play loud music or where he can’t cook meat. He was born into this family and wasn’t given a choice to decide whether he would want some other family/parents where he can do the things he likes. So it’s like he is being forced to change for something that he didn’t know was in store. The other question is more about people living in families. Do we force changes on our brothers, sisters or adult sons/daughters or only on our spouses? How would this change if this scenario played out in an undivided Indian family?

          About the law in the US against disturbing the neighbors, I agree that my rights end where I start impinging on others’ rights. But surely there is no law about leaving your parent’s kitchen unclean after cooking or cooking meat in their kitchen. I am by no means suggesting that you son would do it but if we talk of rights, he would have a valid case against you not allowing him to cook meat in your kitchen.  What say? I am not aware of any such law that protects either party in this case. Perhaps our society hasn’t evolved that much yet! I get your point that we all pay a price (by giving up on some of our freedoms and liberties) when we sign up to live in a civilization and in return the civilization (governments or societies) protect us or let us enjoy some of the niceties. But most of these exchanges are codified by law and enforced by governments. When it comes to personal freedom, I would rather not be changed unless I see it for myself. I am in agreement that human being evolve as they age.

          Lastly, since you did complement me as being someone worth arguing with, I would like to offer my 2 cents on men-women or spousal relationships and the dynamics of change within that. I do not intend to change my partner(s) and I expect the same courtesy from her. I have no beef against her living in a certain way and she shouldn’t meddle with my habits that do not harm her directly. If they do harm her in anyway, she should bring it up and if we can’t agree, we can part our ways. I am with her as I like her company, in addition to biological reasons off course. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are unique human being with our likes and dislikes who choose to spend a few hours of their days together as long as they like each other’s company. 


        • Abhi, I agree with paragraphs 1, 2, and 5 and we have nothing to argue here. These are not the fundamental changes that I was referring to. If my husband suddenly became religious, I don’t think our marriage would work anymore because we have a foundation of rationality in our relationship. My husband and I have very different interests (he loves watching sports, I like reading, he is a social drinker, I don’t drink period, he has a large circle of pleasant buddies, I have a few deep friendships) – we have room in our relationship for those differences. I’m talking about behaviors that impact other people’s rights, not belief systems – and everyone engages in them – and everyone drives each other up the wall now and then – and communication can resolve these annoyances. I feel my attempt to make this distinction in this post was unsuccessful with half the readers. I don’t know how else to communicate this, so I’m going to let this rest.

          Paragraph 3 and 4 – I don’t think you understand the dynamics in my house at all (I don’t blame you for this because when I give an example, I can’t write a book about my parenting philosophy and their entire childhood 🙂 and you are forced to operate without context, as we often are on the internet). There is a feeling of open dialogue in my house. We know we can resolve things thru communication. “Let’s talk about this.” is a favorite phrase that even my kids are beginning to use now. There may not be laws in the constitution regarding the rules in a home but it’s mostly common sense and concern for each other’s well being. Personal relationships operate on understanding and consensus. Do you see that allowing loud music and meat cooking takes away MY tastes and preferences? Is that ok? There is a conflict of interest here that can only be resolved through compromise. I sat down with my son and talked about what we can do so he can eat meat and I don’t have to cook it. It was he who came up with 3 ways to do this and he is happy with the result because he was part of the solution. Most parents I know do not allow for democratic discussions. They tell children, ‘my house, my rules’ and you do what you want when you are an adult. Last summer, I took my son to Cleveland, the rock music capital, and we visited the Rock and Roll hall of fame – it was awesome to see the thrill on his face when I told him where we were going in the summer. He jumped up and down and hugged me. We had a blast in Cleveland together. It is possibly very hard to explain this on the internet – but we have been able find a way to work through differences without giving up either of our needs.

          And yes, it’s been great discussing this with you, even if we disagree:)


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