Are You Unrealistically Hoping Your Partner Will Change?

Is there someone in your life whom you love and whom you keep hoping will change if you love them enough?

One of the main reasons people stay too long in a relationship is that they unrealistically hope that, miraculously, their partner will change. This is the situation Marisa describes:

"I've been investing my entire heart in a narcissistic man over the past ten months. During this time, I've had the life sucked out of me - I've not been tending to myself and instead have abandoned myself to try to make him feel better in the hopes he'll change, care for and respect me right back. Deeply depressed of late he refuses to seek psychiatric or therapeutic help. I couldn't stand by watching him drown and finally two weeks ago said he should call me when he finds outside help and is feeling better. It's been so relaxing not to be insulted, criticized or bullied or be walking on eggs constantly. I miss him even so and am shocked and hurt that I've not heard from him to date. I accept that I was so busy rescuing him that I abandoned myself in doing so. If he contacts me, I'd like to try putting myself first. I’m probably kidding myself, but should I even contemplate giving him another chance? A narcissist is never wrong and is always right as you know. I'm miserable in the meantime."

Of course Marisa hopes her former partner will change. Narcissists are often charismatic, exciting and can make you feel very special for those few moments when they connect with you. This is likely what Marisa misses. However, her misery is less about missing her partner than about abandoning herself. Even the fact that she is contemplating giving him another chance is making her inner child miserable. If she really wants to put herself first, then she needs to let go of the hope that he will change.

Do you hope that by abandoning yourself and tending to your partner you can get him or her to change?

The irony of this is that even the hope of getting another to change through your caretaking is itself narcissistic thinking. The wounded self often believes that "my love is so wonderful that I can have control over getting someone else to 'care for and respect me.'" I know this one well – I did it for years in my marriage. For 30 years I tried everything to get my husband to change. I completely gave myself up, becoming what I thought he wanted me to be, and all that did was reinforce his neediness and narcissism. When I finally did learn to take loving care of myself, he was so angry at me for no longer caretaking him that the relationship ended.

People change when they want to change – not because you want them to.

The sad truth is that narcissists rarely want to change or even think that they need to change. They generally believe that the problems are their partner's fault and if only their partner would change, everything would be fine.

Marisa needs to let go of believing that getting back together and putting herself first will change anything. She needs to fully accept that she has no control over her partner's narcissism. She needs to accept her complete helplessness over his choices. The fact that she is "shocked and hurt that I've not heard from him to date" indicates that she isn't fully accepting who he has chosen to be. She isn't accepting that he will just move on to find another woman to fulfill his narcissistic needs. She isn't accepting that he is not capable of truly caring about her, no matter how loving or wonderful she is. Once she accepts this, then she can move on and learn to take loving care of herself. Once she stops abandoning herself and learns to love herself, then she will no longer be attracted to rescuing a narcissistic partner.


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