Sometime back I wrote a post titled Change vs. the Process of Change. I discussed the fact that change is the place we want to be while the process of change is the road to reaching that place. It is encompasses all of the movement forward, backwards and sideways along the way. My thoughts were based on the experience of someone making the changes.
But of course there is another perspective. It is from the person watching…and wanting…change in another person. I see this everyday, particularly with couples. Both individuals are often looking for change in the other. There are many reasons we may want another person to change. It may be to simply support their desire for growth. It can be based in our desire for positive things to happen to them. We may also want change because it impacts the relationship they have with us. Those and other reasons are well intentioned and based in care and concern.
So when that change process starts we get excited. We want to see the person we care about end up in a healthier, happier place. And when we believe the other person has committed to the change we believe it will happen. But the next time a situation arises we don’t see the change. They didn’t do what they were “supposed” to do…they didn’t implement the change. And we get hurt/disappointed/angry/frustrated…insert your word of choice.
The problem is that sometimes we don’t pay attention to the process of change. And when we do that we think of change as a pass/fail situation. Pass means they implemented the complete change in the perfect way. Fail is anything less than that…we believe that they “didn’t change.” And if it is about something important we often tell them just that.
But the truth is that they don’t automatically or magically change. They go through the process of change. And the process of change isn’t clean. And when we use the pass/fail method of measuring success what we don’t ask is “did they do it differently?” The process of change begins with doing it differently. Not doing them perfectly or even well. But doing them differently.
And when we inaccurately accuse someone of not changing what we do is undermine their efforts to navigate the process of change. We can make them feel that their efforts are wasted and the risk of trying to change not worthwhile. But when we recognize and praise their movements along the road then we encourage them to keep trying, to keep moving in the direction of change.
The next time you are watching, wanting and hoping for change in someone else don’t let yourself fall into the trap of pass or fail. Instead ask yourself…and ask them..”did they do it differently?”
Hi Jay, I agree that couples can often get discouraged when they don’t see change happening as quickly as they’d like in their partner. Part of what needs to happen, as you say, is for one partner to appreciate and encourage the other’s small steps. But my sense is that often we are a bit threatened by change in our partner because it takes us away from the familiar and may even mean we also need to look at changes ourselves!
Patrick, excellent point. I absolutely agree. Systemically change in one person means change for the other.