Monday, 24 December 2012

A New Year's Resolution - NOT to Improve Your Partner

A New Year's Resolution - NOT to Improve Your Partner

By Dr. Benna Sherman

I propose a resolution that can be recycled and used every year. It never goes out of style and is never beyond your means.

This year resolve NOT to improve your partner.

This is a one-size-fits-all resolution. It doesn't depend on what kind of partner you have or how long you've had your partner. It does recognize that it is not your job, nor your privilege, nor your responsibility to improve your partner.

Only your partner can take responsibility for his or her own improvement. Any attempt on your part to take that responsibility will inevitably register as disrespectful and unloving. Even if you could be successful at improving your partner, you'd be simultaneously damaging your relationship -- a poor exchange.

It's different when your partner explicitly requests your assistance with some self-improvement. For instance, perhaps you have a partner who has a history of failure to attend an exercise class. His or her new plan is to go to the gym every Wednesday evening at 7 p.m. IF your partner requests that you offer a reminder every Wednesday night, THEN you may feel free to do so (if you wish to be a participant in this way). In this kind of situation, it is your partner who has undertaken the self-improvement; you're just technical assistance, as it were. The essence of being technical assistance here is to fulfill your job as basically an alarm clock. It is NOT to launch into a lecture reminding your partner of why this new plan is important, what the costs are of not fulfilling the plan, etc. By doing so you would become disrespectful and domineering. You might get a healthier partner (though, has this sort of nagging or lecturing behavior EVER worked before?), but you'll also get a weaker relationship.

There's an old therapist joke - how many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the bulb has to want to change.

So here's the relationship version -- How many people in a relationship does it take to change a partner? Only one - the partner.

If you still feel that you must improve somebody, you can always undertake your own SELF-improvement. It's okay to have two New Year's resolutions.

Dr. Benna Sherman has been a Licensed Psychologist in private practice in Severna Park, Maryland, for over 20 years. She has a specialty in Marriage/Relationship Counseling and writes a biweekly newspaper column on relationships. Her book, "How to Get and Give Love - Relationship Maps", is now available on in both paperback and Kindle. Learn more about Dr. Sherman, subscribe to her free newsletter, and read more of her articles at

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