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- Jonathan Lockwood Huie (jlh @sail7.com)

The content of all my blogs/websites consists entirely of personal opinion.
See a medical professional for all issues of physical and emotional health.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

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Can You Make Them Change?

More than half of the requests for personal advice that I receive are very similar. So similar, in fact, that I am tempted to put the following form on my website for anyone seeking advice to fill out...

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Dear Mr. Huie,

My

1. Husband/Wife
2. Boyfriend/Girfriend
3. Relative/Friend

is

1. Alcoholic
2. Physically Abusive
3. Emotionally Abusive (Bully, Angry)
4. Manipulative
5. A Liar
6. A Cheater
7. A Compulsive Spender
8. Compulsively Jealous
9. Obsessively Dependent (Clingy, Demanding)

I can't leave them because of

1. Money
2. Children
3. I Love Him/Her

How can I make him/her change?

Thank you for your help.

Sincerely,
anonymous

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My answer is always the same. You can't "make" anyone else change. A person can make their own conscious choice to change, and if they have sufficient commitment, they can almost always eventually succeed. But if someone hasn't made their own decision that they must, absolutely must, change their own behavior, for their own benefit, you can't "make" them change. Actually, you can never "make" anyone else do anything.

Threats don't work. Even "I'll withhold sex," or "I'll leave you if you don't change," doesn't have any long-term effect.

Bribes don't work - even sex.

Does this mean that the situation is hopeless? No, not at all.

My first question is, "Do you have a strong enough commitment to fixing the problem that you are willing to accept the ways in which you contribute to the situation, and to take decisive action?" That is a really hard question, and many people prefer to cast blame, or just try to wish the problem away.

If someone is committed to taking action, these are some of the steps...

1. Recognize that the other person is not a "bad" person. Don't blame them, but do be clear that their actions are completely incompatible with your own happiness.

2. If, at any time, the other person fully acknowledges their addiction/obsession and seriously seeks help in the form of a 12-step program, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, or professional counseling, make every effort to stay with them and support them.

3. If the other person is unable to recognize their addiction/obsession, leave. Yes, leave them, right now. A home with an alcoholic or abusive parent is no place for a child. You will figure out how to survive financially. And what you think is love is more likely a dependency and fear of being alone. To the extent that you truly love the alcoholic (or abuser or whatever), the greatest act of love you can give them is to allow them to hit bottom, and perhaps recognize that they need to seek out help. "Enabler" and "co-dependent" are terms often used to describe someone whose well-intentioned actions prevent an alcoholic from facing the stark consequences of their behavior.

4. Get help for yourself. Join a support group or get professional counseling. Becoming a single parent, having financial worries, or feeling lonely, unloved, unwanted, and abused are each important reasons for seeking support. Being hit with all those issues at the same time can be overwhelming. Make the commitment to yourself to join your own 12-step program for co-dependents, or get other regular weekly support.

Further reading:

Alcoholism in a Relationship - When to Stay, When to Leave

Don't Stay in a Broken Marriage "For the Children"

Beyond the Grief of Divorce - 7 Steps Toward New Beginnings

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Visit these recovery websites by my friends and associates.

  • Change your thinking - untangle your life (www.untwist-your-thinking.com) - Information and help for all addictive behaviors - food, substances, gambling, codependency, shoplifting. Ask a question. Tell your story. Hypnosis MP3s.

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