Can You Change Them?

It’s a common situation: you’ve been dating for some time, and the sheen has worn off. A lot. And so you’re wondering, “Should I break up with them?”

But then again, you’ve been dating for so long, and starting over sucks, and you don’t really know if something better will come along anyway, so perhaps you should hang on and hope things will change for the better.

Or…

Maybe you can change them.

If you’ve been there, are there, know someone who is there, or don’t want to wind up there this is your post!

“Should i break up with them or could I change them?”

No one wonders this upon meeting someone they’re attracted to. Instead…


In the initial phase of a romantic attachment, you can’t imagine anything you would want to change.


They’re perfect!

That’s why you fell for them, right?

Actually, the reason you fell for them is because you found them attractive. And maybe witty, interesting, or intelligent. And perhaps because they like the same little-known indie band you do.

Oh, and you discovered they liked you back. (Believe or don’t, that’s all it takes for some people.)

However, the truth is, early on you hardly know them at all.

But that’s not how you feel.

Because you’re in love.

Or you think you might be.

It’s hard to tell, but whatever you’re feeling, you know you like it. And just like little Oliver Twist, “you’d like some more, please!”

Fact is, when you’re trippin’ on that romantic high (and make no mistake, infatuation is a high not very different from any other drug) the object of your affection seems perfect because you take what little you know about them (which is positive, perhaps even gloriously so) and you “fill in the gaps” to complete their profile: their profile of perfection.

You don’t do this consciously, of course. That would be stupid.

It happens without thought.

Actually, subconsciously everyone does this “fill in the gaps” thing in any new relationship: dating, friendship, school, work, neighborhood. Indeed, this is why first impressions are so important. You come off looking like a jerk on a first date, and Voilà! You’re someone to be avoided. Forever. (For a recounting of terrible, but hilarious first date impressions, check out this post: TOP 10 Signs You’re on a Bad First Date.)

But if things proceed as smoothly as they do in a Hollywood romance, normally-sane individuals find themselves saying completely irrational things like, “I only met them 36 minutes ago, but feel like I’ve known them my whole life.” However…


Unless you are literally dating Jesus, as you get to know the person who seemed so “perfect” at first, inevitably you discover truths which challenge your original analysis.


Hence your initial query: should i break up with them?

They might display annoying habits such as “whispering” inappropriate comments like “Do you think those guys are gay?” loud enough for everyone in the room to hear.

You might have frustrating recurring communication issues, that end something like this…

“Yes you are!”

“No I’m not!”

“Are TOO!”

“Am NOT!”

“ARE!”

“I know you are, but what am I?”

Or they may possess serious character defects like not keeping their word, holding grudges, or working for the mob.

Bottom line, when you take an honest look at your “The One” checklist they don’t quite “check all the boxes.”

But you love them, right?

And nobody’s perfect!

So what’s a lover to do?

How about we start by asking some deeper questions than the one-dimensional: should I break up with them?

Perhaps your standards are too high. That’s a fair question.

However, if your beloved is wanted for armed robbery in seven states and yet you still want them in your life because of the way they make you feel, perhaps the better question is, “Do you have the right standards?”

That’s a question few ever consider. Maybe you need to break up with one of your check boxes, more than you need to break up with this person.

Of course, I couldn’t comment without knowing you and your standards. So I encourage you to share your “The One” checklist with a couple folks who know you best and love you most and ask them for their honest opinion about your standards and your current significant other’s “missing check boxes.”

Another more essential question few consider is the one in the title of this post: can you change them?

If you’re a Type-A Controller or a Bleeding-Heart with a Savior complex you won’t bother asking. You’ll just take the proverbial bull by the metaphorical horns and try to “fix them” like Coldplay.

But for many it’s simply an unconscious impulse.  In fact, even the most timid conflict-avoiders will set about the auspicious task of “setting all aright” with their beloved, without even realizing what they’re doing. (Can you relate?)

This is why this seldom-thought-of question is so important:


Can you change them? Because if you could, there would be less reason to consider a break up.


The answer?

Maybe, but not like you hope.

If you just want to change someone’s behavior for a short period of time, then YES! YOU CAN CHANGE THEM! EUREKA! No need to break up!!

However, a person’s behavior can change overnight to accommodate any new relationship, whether it be with a lover, a boss, or a parole officer. Happens all the time. Especially in romantic relationships.

But what about long term? Do those behavior changes last?

Sadly, not. In fact, sometimes their behavior can revert back as quickly as it changed in the beginning. And then you’re back to that original question: “Should I break up with them?”

Worse: if it takes you too long to discover their behavior changes were temporary you might be asking a different question: “Should we get divorced?” Indeed, you’ll not read a sadder example of this reality than this true-life cautionary tale: Stop Heartbreak before it Starts. Fact is…


Long-term behavior change requires an actual change in character.


Behavior is just what you do: how you act, how you respond, what you say. It’s external, and therefore can be more easily motivated, manipulated or controlled by external forces.

In contrast, character is who you are: your identity, your passions, your sense of calling, your values, your convictions, and your commitments. All of these things are internal, but they actually steer the ship of your outward behavior. And they direct the behavior of your current significant other as well.

So can you change their character?

Hopefully you already sense the logical answer to this question, but in case you don’t, I’ll make it real simple: NO! (see snazzy infographic)

Though our character is certainly molded by the important people in our lives, this happens over many years through the intersection of multiple relationships. To think that you alone will successfully rewire the character your boy/girlfriend has developed from decades of relating to their parents, family, teachers, coaches, and mentors is a tad naïve (or narcissistic).

Unless you’re a therapist. (And if that’s the case, you shouldn’t be dating your patient. Break up with them now and get your own therapist.)

Even in those instances where the soul of the person you’re dating is so empty they will willingly attempt to reorient their identity around you and your desires, BEWARE! You’re not going to like where that relationship winds up. In fact, we have a name for this relational mindset. We call it Identity Theft and we present it in the LoveEd video below from our Love Assassins series.

So what does this mean for you if you find yourself dating someone you sort of wish were someone else now?

It means you’re blessed to realize the reality of your situation before you did something rash like marry them!


Regrettably, most intelligent, well-adjusted, likeable people do not discover they’re attached to someone they wish they could change, until they’re married to them.


But, marriage vows cannot vow to change anyone. They’re not a magic incantation. They’re a holy covenant. They’re powerful in what they promise, but you and your betrothed have to be the ones who deliver on the promise.

So, returning to that question at the start of the post: does this mean you need to break up?

Honestly? I don’t know you, nor do I know this person you thought was perfect until you found out they were only human like yourself. Maybe even subhuman. (Actually, if they are subhuman, yes you should break up.)

But seriously, if you haven’t gotten enough direction from this post yet, to make a clear decision, I urge you to take your questions and concerns to a couple of older and wiser folks who do know you and ask them for their honest assessment on this break up issue. If you’ve found this post particularly insightful, have them read it as well, so your conversation will have a common starting point.

And for further insight into what makes for healthy relationships, check out the Hot Topic page dedicated to relationships.

Date Night Advice (DNA) series: What Marriage Vows Cannot Vow
Part 11: Marriage Vows Cannot Vow to Change Them
Click here for the next post in the series.





DNA: It’s What’s For Dating

Dug this weekend’s DNA? Be a good friend and share with your friends on the social media platform of choice: Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, or Twitter.

The LoveEd discipleship series, Beyond Sex & Salvation, will empower you to prepare for relational success when it counts: BEFORE you fall in love!

It’s NOT for couples, but for any wise individual who thinks they might want to get married sometime before they die. And would like to learn how to better build healthy relationships in the meantime.

Check out all three study guides in our store. You can walk through them on your own, but it’s more fun with friends (that and it kinda makes sense to grow in relational success in actual relationships with others), so consider putting together an FMU LoveEd small group study.

Even better?  And ask a rock star married couple you respect to lead it!

Categories: MARRIAGE, Marriage Cannot Change Them, What Marriage Vows Cannot Vow