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Stop Trying to Change the People You Love

Stop Trying to Change the People You Love

We don’t talk about prudent people much these days. A prudent person is someone who understands life is connected; that today’s decisions have implications for tomorrow’s reality. Prudent people understand that what we do today is a good indication of how we will behave tomorrow. The prudent person knows the best indicator of her future behavior is her past behavior.

You know the future direction of a thing by connecting the dots of where said thing has been. The future is always potential. The past is measurable and observable. The past makes the future predictable. If you want to know where someone is going, look at where he has been.

Prudent people, wise men and women, put very little stock in promises. Instead, they look carefully at the trajectory of their lives and the lives of those around them. If you want to know where you’re headed, all you have to do is look back to see where you’ve been. If you want to know where your “Mr.” or “Ms. Right” is headed, just take a look at where he or she has been. Discount the promises, but pay attention to the dots, the patterns. The paths people choose trump the commitments they make. The past is a better indicator than a promise.

I believe that people change. But I don’t believe that people change people. And I don’t believe that people change for people. People change themselves. People change themselves when they get sick and tired of themselves; when the pain of staying the same is too great to bear or there’s a goal so enticing that it draws them away from what and who they used to be.

Think for a minute about the biggest positive change you’ve made in your life. What is something you are proud of accomplishing because it represents a major stride forward for you?

Next, think about your greatest regret—regret that involved a decision or series of decisions you made. Chances are someone else was involved. Perhaps a group of people. People you liked. People you trusted. Our greatest regrets often do.

Now reflect on the change that made the greatest positive impact in your life to date. What contributed most to that positive change? You may have been encouraged by others. You may have found inspiration in the stories of others. Perhaps someone you respected and loved believed in you and spoke to your potential. But at the end of the day, wasn’t it your decision to act, to engage, to move forward, that brought about the change you celebrate? You came to the point where you knew you had to change and you decided that no matter what it took, things were going to be different. You chose your way forward. The change came about because of something you did for you.

Here’s my point: Nobody changed you. You changed you. If you’re a Christian, God is certainly the one who works a change in you. But when all was said and done, the change that occurred took place because you made up your mind to change. Nobody changes without meaning to.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who is depending on you to help him or her change, it’s not going to happen. That is beyond your ability. You can’t change another person for the better any more than that person can change you. People will change when they decide to change.

If you’re in a relationship because you believe your “Mr.” or “Ms. Right” is going to help you change, you’re wasting your time and your life. Your “right person” can’t change you. You are expecting him or her to do the impossible. You will change when you decide to change. Change requires fierce independence that should eventually lead to inter-dependence with other healthy people.

So yes, people change. They change direction; they get healthier; they break habits, overcome addictions. But until they do, they will be unable to keep their promises and follow through on their vows. Yes, it’s a hassle to sit on the sidelines and wait while someone you care about gets his or her life together, but the prudent person recognizes it’s worth the hassle.

Taken from ‘The New Rules for Love, Sex & Dating’ by Andy Stanley Copyright © 2014 by Andy Stanley. Used by permission of Zondervan.

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