By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC
Not long ago I wrote about how to spot an immature person, in order to help you to hone your abilities of discernment so you could reduce your chances of getting in deep with an immature person. But, I realize that for many of you, you’re already there. (I know, you didn’t have my article back then, I say facetiously.) I don’t believe that means that you are just stuck, so I want to provide some guidelines to help you to navigate this challenge and to hopefully help your significant other to change.
Let’s start with some don’ts.
- Don’t go to War.
What I mean is that if you just go after their immaturity directly and fight and argue and lecture and berate them for their behaviors that you just won’t get anywhere. Maybe it will lead to ending things between you, but it won’t bring about positive change.
- Don’t Give In.
Another common approach is to wilt. You end up just adjusting to their immaturity and catering to them; doing everything for them and making excuses for them to others and maybe yourself as well. Maybe you even rationalize that you are accepting them as they are? But let’s not kid ourselves. That is not love and it won’t bring satisfaction, and it’s not healthy.
- Don’t Give Up.
When someone ends the war and gives up on rescuing them, they usually give up on the relationship entirely, because it seems they are out of options. This can mean severing the relationship and moving on, or sometimes can mean staying in the relationship, but just doing life separately, living like roommates. Ending it may be a viable option at some point, but let me encourage you to not throw in the towel before you have made a strategic effort in the direction that I am going to recommend.
Now it’s time for the Do’s.
- Evaluate Your Goals
Okay, you need to adjust your goals and your methods because, well, frankly, the ones you have aren’t being realized and aren’t working. Making some adjustments to your goals will get you on a healthier path and one that has more potential for success. The adjustments I’m referring to have a lot to do with your mindset and expectations. Up to now, you have been expecting that your partner would decide or want to become more mature and responsible. You probably need to let go of that one. Or you may have been thinking that you would be able to bring about the changes you want to see in them – by talking to him/her, appealing to their heart, convincing him/her, or maybe by, you know, kindly manipulating them or coercing them for his own good. What you likely have learned through these attempts is that even when it seems you have made progress that you are worn out, and that you are going to have to keep it up, otherwise it will fade away. Meaning it is all on you and it never did stick. Guess what that means; compliance is not the same as change or growth.
- New Goals
So, when you embrace that your goals and methodology are faulty, you are ready for something new. So, here it is… change what you can change. Maybe that doesn’t sound so powerful, so hang with me. Changing what you can change is a big shift and a big deal. First, you won’t get burned out, and second you won’t feel powerless when you focus on changing what is under your influence and control. The only people under our direct control would be our young children (and even that can seem to be gone by the time they are walking, am I right?!) But the one person you always are in charge of and responsible for is you.
- Be the Change
See, this shift is all about your ability to discover that you are a part of the dysfunction that you are so frustrated with. I don’t mean that you are immature like your partner. I mean that the ways that you respond and the ways that you have tried to get them to change have not just been faulty methods; they have been perpetuating the problem. Some of the things you do feed resentment in your partner, making them unwilling to take responsibility. Some of the approaches you use undermine their autonomy and self respect and so they don’t learn to feel confident and good about developing their own responsibility. Some of the things you do shame them, which demotivates people. And some of the thing you do rescue them and so teach them that they don’t have to become more responsible. When you understand how the things you do are negatively contributing to your partner’s mindset and preventing their personal growth, you will be motivated to adopt new goals and a new approach.
- New Approaches
After identifying some of your approaches that are undermining your own goals to bring about growth in your partner, you need to let go of those approaches and strategies and replace them with alternatives that will fit your goals better. Your goal is to see your partner develop more maturity and responsibility. So, step one to help achieve that goal is to begin to chose to believe that they can be mature and responsible. After being in relationship with them over time, you have likely lost this belief and you will need to get it back. Once you believe that they are capable of being more mature, you now begin to treat them as if maturity and responsibility are the realistic and expected behaviors that they are; that they are a given. And that means that when the behaviors and attitudes that you expect do not happen, you will not do what you used to do. Rather you will either allow natural consequences to occur and not rescue them, or you will impose appropriate consequences of your own. This is not about revenge or punishment. If you go into this with seething anger, it will not be productive. It is instead simply an opportunity for you to express your personal boundaries – meaning that the immature behavior is not acceptable to you.
- Be Courageous
I know that making changes can be scary and hard. There is a reason that you do things the same way you always have. But I know you are also tired of things remaining the same and scared of things not changing. So, what this means is that you need to embrace the notion that change in my environment and change in my partner will not occur without changes in me.
As I wrap this up, let me encourage you that the efforts you make really have value – for your sake – even if your partner doesn’t change.
What do you know; this was never just about someone else’s growth – !
If you would like to see me for a counseling appointment, call our office at 407-647-7005.
For more articles visit my blog at www.counselingmatters.org
Come visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/counselingmatters
Matt Sandford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has been counseling for 8 years. Previously he worked in student ministry for 14 years, including two years in China. He has been married for 21 years and he and his wife are raising twins.