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Are you waiting for your partner to change?

Updated: May 16

In my years of practice, I've seen countless couples grappling with the same fundamental issue: the expectation that their partner will change.

If there was one thing I could tell couples, it would be that you can't expect your partner to change.

I know that sounds really harsh. Shouldn't you expect to go to therapy and your partner change. I mean, what else does a couples therapist do besides helping couples change?

Shifting Perspectives in Couples Counseling

Picture this: a couple walks into therapy, each harboring a laundry list of grievances against the other. "If only he would stop being so controlling," she moans, while the other wishes "she's got to learn to control her anger."

Couple angry with each other.

Beneath these complaints lies a common thread — the belief that everything would be better if only their partner would change.

In the realm of couples counseling, however, the focus must shift inward. Rather than fixating on what our partner should do differently, we must ask ourselves a more empowering question: assuming our partner won't change, what can we control?

Sure, if our partner stopped attacking us, it would be easier to respond well. But if we're depending on someone else to for us to change, ultimately this leaves us powerless.

This shift in perspective is transformative. It places the locus of control back in our hands, empowering us to make choices that serve our well-being. It means when confronted with unkindness or controlling behavior, we learn to set boundaries and manage our own reactions.

But What About Abuse in Couples Counseling?

Please hear this, if your partner is being abusive. It's not okay.

It's a big problem.

Even in those situations I think it's a mistake to wait for our partner to change. If your partner is spewing constant hate and meanness at you, and you're waiting for them to change you'll be waiting a long time.

One of the things about abusive people is they take your power. By focusing on what you can change you're reclaiming your power. And the world needs you to be powerful.

Personal Growth and Couples Counseling

For those of us not in abusive relationships, which tends to be the majority of my clients, focusing on what you can control also opens the door to true, radical change, even inside of your relationship.

By examining our own triggers and emotional needs, in the presence of our partners we embark on a journey of self-discovery and healing. As we address our own insecurities and wounds, our relationships with our partner inevitably changes.

How could it not.

If you were calmer when your partner attacked you, you'd have a different relationship.

Make experiencing spiritual growth.

If you were more present when you partner was stressed and flew into a panic, you'd have a different relationship.

If you were more patient when your partner was controlling, you'd have a different relationship.

It's a paradoxical truth: by relinquishing the expectation of our partner's change, we gain agency over our own lives and relationships. We cease to be passive bystanders, waiting for others to change our circumstances, and instead become active participants in shaping our own destinies.

The Only Guaranteed Way to Change in Couples Counseling

It can sound like I'm saying, "Your partner is going to act crazy and you just have to take it."

That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying if we wait for our partner to change, maybe our relationship changes. May not.

But, if we focus on our options and what we can do, then we can guarantee change happens.

Whether it's finding the courage to leave an abusive situation, setting boundaries, or embarking on a journey of self-discovery, the power to transform our lives ultimately resides within us.

So, the next time you find yourself yearning for your partner to change in couples counseling, pause and ask yourself: What can I control?

In that simple yet profound question lies the key to unlocking a future of growth, resilience, and maybe even authentic connection in your relationship.

Sketch of a happy black couple.


Jordan (the counselor)



Dr. Jordan Harris is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists who works in the Northwest Arkansas area, servicing Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville. With over 10 years of experience, he's worked in various fields from addictions, to kids, to psychiatric wards. Currently his specialty is working with couples with young children.

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