How much time did you waste in your last relationship, just hoping that your partner would change?
And how much time did you waste complaining about the situation – but doing nothing about it?
Perhaps you stayed with your ex for far longer than you should have done, just willing things to get better. Perhaps you’re angry with yourself, now, for the lost years you spent waiting around for the situation to improve.
Perhaps, deep down, you’re still waiting – and it’s stopping you from moving on.
Humans are irrational optimists. We tell ourselves all sorts of fairytales about the future. We desperately want to believe that things will fix themselves.
We’re really, really bad at realising that the only person we can rely on to make our lives better is ourselves.
And, ultimately, there are only two things we can do we can make a tough situation better.
We can learn to accept those things that we just can’t change – and stop trying to change them.
And we can change the things that are within our control.
Accepting what you can’t change doesn’t mean throwing in the towel and deciding that you’re doomed to a life of misery. It means being realistic about what you can live with, and what you can’t.
Take Jessica and Steve.
Jessica knows that Steve is the last person in the world to do something spontaneous. Left to his own devices, he’d happily while away every Sunday in the garden with a beer.
Jessica can’t understand it – when she makes plans on their behalf, he might grumble a bit, but they always have a great time. Yet despite her hints (and the fights), he never, ever, makes the effort to suggest something himself.
Frustrated and hurt, Jessica has decided to force him to change by not making plans and waiting around until he cracks and takes matters into his own hands. In the meantime, she bitterly complains to her friends, non-stop. All she wants him to do is to start taking the initiative. Why can’t he just try?
But of course, Steve is not going to change. He’s a passive guy. He probably won’t even notice what she’s doing and, if he does, he won’t respond in the way she hopes. It’s against his nature. She’ll wind up more and more bitter, and both of them will be miserable.
So what can Jessica do?
First, she has to admit to herself that Steve won’t change. She has to accept that this is who he is. If she wants to spend her weekends doing fun things together, she’ll have to organise them. Or she can leave him to his own device and spend her weekends with fun, spontaneous friends.If she can live with that, great: if she’s genuinely willing to end her struggle against the situation and stop complaining about it, she can start to feel content with how things are.
But what if this isn’t good enough for Jessica?
Unlike Steve’s personality, Jessica’s situation is within her control. She can end the relationship and try to find someone more spontaneous. She can end the relationship so she can be more spontaneous without a partner.
I know what you’re thinking: as if it just that easy.
Of course it’s not easy. It’s the hardest thing in the world. That’s why we ignore the problem and cling to the hope that our partner will magically become the person we want them to be, even though they are the one factor that we absolutely can’t change.
A partner who loves routine will never become adventurous. A partner who is a risk-taker will never become cautious. A partner who is cruel will never be kind.
And if we don’t come to terms with that, it haunts us even after we break up. It keeps us in the agonising purgatory of wondering: what if?
It keeps us going back to people who are wrong for us. It stops us moving on. It stops us healing.
And it means that, next time we find ourselves in the same situation, we repeat our mistakes over and over again.
I can’t tell you whether you should accept a relationship with unchangeable flaws, or change a situation that’s become unacceptable to you. But I can tell you: for your own sake, you have to choose.
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