How Much Should You Try to Change Your Spouse or Partner?

Husband shouting at wife

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If you're head over heels in love with someone who has what you perceive as flaws, you might hope that your significant other will change for the better with time and those nagging doubts will magically slip away.

Many couples go into their relationships believing they can fix each others' flaws and that bad habits magically disappear once time goes by, but sadly this is rarely what happens.

You shouldn't assume your partner will change in order for the relationship to work out. Accepting them and loving who they are is important because their behavior probably won't be changing significantly anytime soon—if ever. As you likely know from your own experience, change can be very difficult.

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Things That Will Likely Not Change

There are certain things your partner does that may not be worth the effort in trying to change. If you're facing a conflict related to one of these problems, you may want to reconsider how much effort you put into sustaining the relationship.

Not Making You a Priority

A partner who doesn't make you a priority in the beginning, isn't likely to change later on. If you come in second to your partner's work, friendships, family, or hobbies, it's important to recognize that this is not likely going to change.

For most people, this will be a deal-breaker. If you can't rely on your partner to put you first in the same way that you put them first, this will have significant repercussions when it comes to negotiating time together and managing priorities as your lives evolve.

Abusive Behavior

If your partner is physically or emotionally abusive, it is critical that you recognize the problem and realize that it's not your fault, nor is it within your ability to fix the situation. Regardless of the cause of your partner's behavior, your safety is the most important consideration. Talk to someone you trust about the situation and what you can do to protect yourself.

Personality Differences

While it's true that opposites attract, it's also a lot easier to get along with someone who enjoys doing the same things as you. If there are large differences in your personality, such as one of you enjoying entertaining guests every weekend while the other prefers quiet time alone, this could spell trouble in the long term. Personality traits such as introversion and extroversion are inborn and aren't likely to change.

There is certainly common ground to be had if you and your partner don't seem like the most natural personality fit on paper. If you can find things you love to do together and find joy in each other's idiosyncracies, then personality differences are less likely to be a dealbreaker.

Coping Strategies 

Happy relationships rely heavily on personality compatibility. Irritating habits, interests, and behaviors of your partner can ultimately cause friction. If ignored for too long, resentment will strengthen and one day make you explode.

The good news is that with open and honest communication, there’s hope for your situation. Remember, nobody’s perfect, and you also probably have things that your partner would like to change about you.

Pick Your Battles Wisely

Your relationship is a package deal. Regardless of how perfect they may have seemed initially, your spouse will always have some habits that bother you. Learn to pick your battles and keep your arguments for the more significant issues. No relationship is entirely free of conflict. It's the way you handle the disagreements that makes all the difference.

In his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, researcher and relationship expert John Gottman, PhD, notes that 69% of relationship issues consist of unsolvable problems. These can include the tiny things about your partner that rub you the wrong way and lead to nitpicking.

All relationships have concerns that involve personality or temperamental traits and can cause constant conflict. These unsolvable problems are things you can learn to live with. Being overly critical or blaming your partner for the small stuff can lead to more significant issues and even divorce.

On the other hand, it shouldn't be a big deal for you to ask your partner to, for example, stop leaving the cabinets open every time they get something. Habits such as these are understandable as to why they're bothersome, and it doesn't take much effort to make small adjustments.

Additionally, it's essential to know the difference between healthy and harmful behavior. If your partner's behavior becomes abusive in any way, practice boundary setting and firmly state that certain behaviors are unacceptable.

Check-in With Yourself

Get to know yourself and take a look into your attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, expectations, concerns, triggers, and fears. Can you stay with this person if things don't improve? If you're feeling somewhat helpless about the situation, consider going to individual counseling. A counselor or a therapist can help you understand better what role you play in the situation.

Consider Your Values

If you and your spouse have entirely different values, the relationship might be in trouble. If you agree on the most important things, you can always help someone understand different perspectives. There's nothing wrong with a friendly debate. The important thing to remember is to have these conversations respectfully and assume that both parties have good intentions. 

Be Patient and Understanding

If your partner has been unwilling to make changes in the past, it may be time for a different approach. It's not easy trying to push someone into changed behavior; they'll just resent you and find ways of avoiding what you're asking them to do.

The key is patience and understanding that this isn't about being right or wrong but making sure everyone feels loved, respected, heard, cared for—all things we deserve from our partners.

Ask yourself if there are any behaviors that they have continued simply because you're putting up with it? If so, talk with them before assuming change will happen without you asking for it. Remember, your partner can't read your mind. They may not realize that something is bothering you unless you speak up.

Try Counseling

You and your partner may benefit from going to couples therapy to work through these issues together. Relationships are never easy, but you and your partner can move forward in a positive direction with time and effort.

Some Things Require Acceptance

Instead of scrutinizing your partner, remind yourself of all of the things you appreciate about them. Share a genuine interest in learning about why they see things the way they do or why they choose to do things differently than you. Be open to respecting what they have to say, and appreciate the uniqueness in both of you.

Of course, some things should never be tolerated in a relationship, like abuse or infidelity. These behaviors should be addressed directly with the help of a professional or by ending the relationship.

Making a Change

If you've decided that some aspects of your relationship are deal-breakers, or coping strategies are not helping the situation, then it may be time to end the relationship and make a change.

Acknowledge your feelings and allow yourself to feel them completely before you take action. Take time alone to reflect on the following questions: Why do I want to break up? What will it mean personally, socially, financially, and emotionally? Is this relationship making me more unhappy than happy?

Consider how others will feel. How does the breakup affect your family, friends, children, or co-workers? Is there anyone who might be hurt by this decision? Think about the way you want to break up with your partner and ask yourself if you are being fair. Discussing a breakup openly may help decrease tension or make it easier to make the final decision to go ahead.

A Word From Verywell

Expecting a partner to change is not a good way to start a relationship. It's important to bring problems into the open and work on resolving them together so that they don't fester. Lack of communication can lead to arguments, resentment, and a breakdown in trust. Instead of retreating when things get tough or feeling hurt by what you perceive as rejection when you're ignored, take responsibility for how you relate to your partner and be willing to express yourself more directly.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hudson NW, Fraley RC. Volitional personality trait change: Can people choose to change their personality traits? J Pers Soc Psychol. 2015 Sep;109(3):490-507. doi:10.1037/pspp0000021.

  2. Gottman J. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. The Gottman Institute.

  3. Ahluwalia H, Anand T, Suman LN. Marital and family therapy. Indian J Psychiatry. 2018 Feb;60(Suppl 4):S501-S505. doi:10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_19_18

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."