You know that old joke. How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change. Yep. It’s true.
People talk about this a lot. I hear conversations and debates every so often on this topic and found myself in one just this week. Most people say that people don’t really change. Not really. At least not the core parts of themselves. Part of me agrees with that. But a bigger part of me has to disagree with that. I couldn’t be a therapist if I didn’t believe people could change. My biggest argument is always Tim. He changed significantly at the end of his life. It was facing a terminal illness that rocked our worlds, but he (we) definitely changed.
When it comes to being a significant other, I always thought it would be a really great honor to be the catalyst for someone else’s changes for the better. Have you ever heard people testify about how their partner’s patient love eventually broke through? I think I can think of some examples of couples I’ve helped changed for the better as a professional. That’s pretty humbling and amazing to witness. But as for the personal relationships? I’ve not experienced that one yet in my life.
I met a guy who knew himself pretty well and was very honest about what he was looking for. You do your thing, I will do mine. We can hang out. But no close relationship. Not interested, don’t expect it. I knew if I chose to date him, I would have no one to blame but myself if I got my heart broken. I did fall for him. I did get my heart broken, but it was a very short encounter. We stayed friends and we would have a drink and chat every once in a while. We would have the same kind of conversation about his philosophy of life and relationships. Two weeks after one such talk, I received a text that he was “officially with another.” We talked and he told me he fell hard for someone. Got swept off his feet. I had to admit, ouch! Someone broke through. It wasn’t me, but he changed.
I met another guy who was also reserved and doubtful of ever being able to trust again. I was skeptical that his marriage was all he claimed it to be, but eventually when I met his family, they confirmed what a loving husband he had been for many years. His abrupt divorce was traumatic for him and he just never recovered. He changed. So could love open him up again? Change him back? I don’t know. I know that I wasn’t that person in his life. We also have remained friends and he has been dating someone new. His heart doesn’t seem to have melted though. Not such a big ouch, but still sad.
A couple of weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my friend’s boyfriend. Really nice guy. He told me that after his last significant loss, he developed a mindset of not wanting to be close to anyone again. He was going to be selfish, just do the things he wanted to do, not answer to anyone, blah, blah, blah. Then he met my friend. He told me without any embarrassment that she stripped that all away without even trying to. He loves her and she has changed his life. He changed. My friend is a great woman so he is absolutely right about her. I wonder how it makes her feel to be that kind of positive catalyst in someone’s life. I can only imagine how deeply satisfying that probably feels.
Now most men would say that is about power and control. Most men resist being influenced by women because their sense of independence is crucial to them. It’s brought up over and over again in the therapy room. In my opinion, it’s one of the biggest misunderstandings between genders of all time. Most women are not motivated by power or control. We just want connection. Intimacy. We love to see the men we love happy. There is nothing better than being the one that can put a smile on your lover’s face. Nothing. It is NOT about controlling their time, energy or finances. It is about being loved. Wanted. Chosen. CHOSEN. Desired.
I will continue to be proud of the work I do helping other couples. I don’t know if I will ever experience that kind of thing in my personal life. It may just not be what is meant to be for me. Maybe it’s just not my path. But I will keep looking for light bulbs that want to change and put my energy there (no pun intended). When I do that, I end up being the one that is changed for the better!