Why Do I Have To Change First?

by Aaron T. Beck, M.D., best-selling author of Love is Never Enough: How Couples Can Overcome Misunderstandings, Resolve Conflicts, and Solve Relationship Problems Through Cognitive Therapy

You may have automatic thoughts at this point, such as, “Why should I be the one to change?” To help you respond to them, I have provided some tentative answers that you can use to counter such ideas:

I won’t make an effort unless my partner does.” The answer to this thought is that both partners need not start at the same time. One of you needs to take the initiative to inject new life into the relationship or to arrest its downhill slide. Once the momentum is in the right direction, there is a reasonable chance that your partner will join in. Even if your partner does not actively participate, you may find that as you make changes, they will have a positive effect on your mate.

It’s not fair for me to have to do all the work.” By bringing the doctrine of fairness into consideration, you may be operating on an unrealistic or irrelevant premise. The most likely reason you may not be pulling together is that you differ in motivation, awareness of the problems, and ability to make changes. For example, you may be better qualified than your mate to take the initiative simply because you are more optimistic. Or you may be experiencing more pain, which motivates you more than your mate.

In either case, you will certainly benefit from any improvement your efforts bring. The hope would be that as the relationship improves, your partner, too, will assume a more active role. It is not absolutely necessary for both partners to work simultaneously on the relationship…In essence, the “it’s-not-fair” argument is counterproductive because it ignores the reality of differences between mates. One mate is almost always better prepared to initiate changes than is the other. If the prepared mate waited until the other was equally ready, the opportune moment might never arrive. It is far better to accept the “inequality” and get something accomplished than to cling to abstract doctrines of fairness and see the marriage continue to sputter.

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