Sometimes we can be the cause of our own frustration and recognising when we are doing that is one of the keys to finding increased peace and happiness. One of those ways is having the expectation that people (our former partners) will change or respond to situations more appropriately as time goes on.
For today let’s focus on change, because let’s face it, that’s what most of us wish the other person will do. The most essential element of personal change is that people will not change unless they are motivated to do so. That motivation also needs to be internal. While there can be encouragement and support from outside sources without strong internal motivation for change it will never happen. So while you can certainly suggest positive changes or encourage someone through change, don’t stress yourself out if they have no internal motivation to change.
Keep in mind that once someone does decide to change that it is a process, and sometimes a very long processes. There’s a whole theory around how people change you can find it here if you want to geek out like me, but I’ll try to explain it in as few words as possible. Simply put there is a time where someone isn’t even thinking about change. At this point they might not be aware that there is a problem or might not even want to change. At this stage you can kindly and tactfully suggest that there is a need for change. If you hit resistance here back away slowly and go to your happy place. There’s nothing more for you to do here.
If you’re lucky the person will think ‘Hey, you know what, maybe I should make a change.” If this is the case with your former partner, congratulations! Don’t get too excited though. Remember all of those New Year’s resolutions that you made and never, ever thought about again. Yeah. Well. It’s kinda like that. Lots of people get stuck in the phase where they are recognizing that there is a need for change, but either don’t have the motivation or resources to make it happen.
That brings us to the prep phase. This is where people are getting all the things that they need to make the change. If we revisit those New Year’s resolutions, imagine downloading that running app to your phone so you can track your runs. Maybe it’s writing out a weightlifting program or hiring a personal trainer, but that’s all part of getting all of the things together that you need to make a change. Here you can offer your help but if it’s rejected, again, don’t stress out. At least they’ve gotten this far.
After all of the resources are together people enter the action phase. This is where they are actively working on changing themselves. Offer encouragement, praise and assistance (if this change is really what you want to see). Again if any of these overtures are rejected, don’t stress, go back to your happy place and enjoy your time there. What you can’t do is allow someone else's lack of motivation drag you down. Hopefully they are successful in this stage and see the results that they want (same with your New Year’s resolutions).
That’s not the end though, there’s one more phase. Change only continues and is successful if it is maintained. You know, we have a tendency of falling back into bad habits. During the maintenance phase people are actively working to prevent relapse and making sure that they are continuing to reinforce the new habits. If you haven’t guessed by now if they do start showing the behaviors that you thought they had changed, don’t stress out, find your happy place.
Listen, I know it’s frustrating when your former partner is displaying behaviors that are detrimental to your ability to effectively co-parent. This post is just as much for your benefit as it is a reminder to myself to find my happy place. It’s hard but you have to remember that someone else’s change is not your responsibility and even beyond that it is not something that you can force. If you do get the change that you are seeking then that’s great and I’m really happy for you. However, if not, or they relapse frequently then it is in your best interest to find effective and efficient ways to work through difficult behaviors instead of taking them on as your burden. Life’s too short for that. Work within your circle of control, you’re future self will thank you for it.