Dealing With a Partner Who Doesn't Want Change

Does your spouse complain about not feeling well but won't see a doctor? Does your partner make plans for a romantic evening or getaway with you and then ruin it by being too tired or not feeling well? Does your partner make promises that aren't kept? Does your spouse acknowledge that there are problems in your relationship but refuses to change behaviors or see a marriage counselor with you?

If your answer is "yes" to all or most of these questions, it sounds like you have a spouse or partner who either refuses or is not motivated to change.

Issues That Damage a Marriage

The frustration of your spouse's lack of follow-through on good intentions, or saying one thing and then doing another, or breaking promises can slowly erode both the emotional and physical intimacy in your marriage. This frustration can be heightened if your spouse refuses to seek marriage counseling with you.

What can you do when faced with a spouse who has a serious problem or troubling behavior? Here are some examples of a spouse's behavior that may destroy or cause major friction in your marriage:

  • Doesn't make time for the children or you
  • Emotionally or physically abusive
  • Frequently unfaithful
  • Gambling
  • Getting drunk often or drinking too much
  • Having a very negative attitude
  • Not able to hold down a job
  • Spending too much money

If your spouse won't change, isn't willing to work on improving your marriage, or won't seek help, you may be on the path to divorce. Although it isn't easy to cope with this type of situation, here's some guidance on how you can deal with a difficult marriage when only one of you wants to change.

There are no easy answers when your spouse can see no reason for a change. Some situations can be dealt with and other situations are deal-breakers. Only you know what you can tolerate and still be emotionally healthy yourself.

You Can't Change Your Spouse

It's important to accept that you can't change your spouse. You can only change yourself and your own reactions. Changing your own behavior may trigger your spouse to want to make changes.

Try responding differently to difficult situations. If you've had the same argument over and over, state that you will not rehash the issue and leave the room. If you've not expressed your feelings previously, share how you feel with your spouse. Never endanger yourself or your children by remaining in an abusive situation.

Know Yourself

Get to know yourself and look at your own attitudes, behaviors, expectations, hopes, dreams, memories, concerns, behavior triggers, fears, etc. Ask yourself how long you think you can stay in your marriage if things don't improve.

Consider individual counseling to prevent feeling depressed or helpless, to understand your role in the conflict in your marriage, and to clarify your plans for your future.

Decide which of your spouse's negative behaviors you can live with and which ones are deal-breakers. Decide if you are able to adjust to the irritating and hurtful situations in your marriage or not.

Face The Issues

Your spouse may not be as frustrated and unhappy as you are. When sharing your love for your spouse, express your concerns and fears about the future of your marriage. If you are having doubts about your love, make a list of what you love about your partner.

Don't postpone having a conversation with your spouse to identify the behaviors and face the issues that are creating problems in your marriage.

Strategies for Difficult Conversations 

  • Agree to set a time frame to re-evaluate how things are going.
  • Be warm and not confrontational.
  • Brainstorm and discuss solutions to the problem. Bring up the possibility of marriage counseling.
  • Choose a time when neither of you is tired.
  • Clarify how the problem is impacting your marriage.
  • Don't lecture.
  • Identify the problem.
  • Pick a location for the conversation that is free of distractions.
  • Stay on the topic.
  • Talk about what you want in your relationship, not about what you don't want. Explain what makes you both happy and fulfilled.
  • Try saying something like this: "We disagree a lot and it's causing a disconnection between us. That's why I would like for us to go to seek couples therapy." or "I love you and I care about us. I need some help in learning how to communicate with you better. I would like to try counseling with you."

Re-Evaluate

If things are not going well when the two of you are ready to re-evaluate your marriage issues, think about these questions:

  • Is this a temporary crisis or the end of your marriage?
  • What is the best thing that could happen if you stay together?
  • What is the best thing that could happen if you divorce?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if you stay together?
  • What is the worst thing that could happen if you divorce?

A Word From Verywell 

There are no easy answers when only one of you is willing to address your marriage issues. There are things that you can do that may help improve your ability to cope with the situation, but ending the relationship is also an option. Only you can decide what is right for you. 

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Article Sources
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  1. Resources for Families Coping with Mental and Substance Use Disorders. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Updated October 10, 2019.

  2. Helping a Loved One Cope With a Mental Illness. American Psychiatric Association.

  3. Karney BR. Keeping Marriages Healthy, and Why It's So Difficult. Psychological Science Agenda. Published February 2010.