Looking at my late husband sleeping in the bed at a Mexican cancer treatment center, I had a huge insight that crushed me:
I had been trying to change him for the majority of our marriage.
When we met he was very clear about who he was but I always believed that I could change him into who I wanted him to be. I had an idealized image in my head of who my partner should be and what love was (and the subconscious hope was that this ideal would keep me from having to reexperience old pain from growing up) and my ideal didn't always match with reality.
This epiphany hit me like a ton of bricks.
I felt so much grief for all the years I wasted trying to manipulate and control him and not enjoying him as he was.
Can Anyone relate to trying to change your partner?
In my experience as a relationship and intimacy coach, I have found this same pattern in almost all of my clients: a desperate desire to get the partner to fulfill their unmet needs from childhood (while equally and subconsciously trying to keep the familiar and comfortable pain of the unmet need alive at the same time). This was a major dilemma and conflict that hid from me for years, until that moment, when there wasn’t much time left.
Many of the discordant issues in my partnership with my late husband stemmed from this pattern of not really seeing and appreciating him for who he was and by being disappointed for who he wasn’t. I was replaying patterns of not feeling secure in my childhood and of projecting my wounds onto him (this was particularly related to my father wounds). I also had to take responsibility and admit that I found comfort and familiarity in this pattern of not having what I desperately yearned for and that's one of the reasons the unhealthy patterns just continued.
And now, at the moment where we didn’t know how long he had left to live, I could clearly see his authentic “isness”, apart from my projections, and realized that trying to change him into what I needed, based on my subconscious wounding, kept us from true intimacy and from from relating to each other in the present, in reality.
This epiphany forced me to look deeply at myself and the key decisions I made about romance, love, and partnership and my unacknowledged unmet needs.
As a responsible adult, if I didn’t like how he was showing up, I could communicate that, ask for my needs to be met, request a behavior change and if they couldn't be met, make a decision to stay together and work on it or not. But my fear of abandonment, of not truly being honest with my needs and the unrelenting disappointment and frustration that he wasn’t someone else (the person I needed in my head) created acrimony and distance.
Like all couples, you find ways to bridge the gap, to stay in it for the children and to hobble along in the relationship, cultivating the parts that DO work even though the whole thing could be so much richer and more fulfilling,
From that day forward, I made a conscious commitment to truly appreciate him for who he was, to receive him in what he did provide and to drop attempts to cloud our relating with control and manipulation, to allow him to be who he was and not try to push him to be an unconscious version of my ideal. I vowed to be honest with what my needs were and to communicate that to him. So sacred.
Allowing your partner to be who they are and seeing them as they are is finally meeting them in reality and not in projections. Presence is the only place where powerful change can take place. And once awake and truly seeing your partner , if you know that they may never change and that your relationship as it is truly won’t work for you, then you can begin to have that conversation together and decide on what you want to do.
You are both free to make choices. It’s all happening for you, not to you. Intimacy, real intimacy begins when you wake up to your unconscious and unmet needs and address them.
Partnership is one of the most powerful crucibles of learning and with know-how and tools, it can be one of the most fulfilling, heartfelt and sexy wild rides of your life.