“Jane” came to therapy because she didn’t know how to deal with her partner. She complained of feeling devalued, unappreciated, unloved. She felt frustrated and angry about her partner’s lack of responsiveness to her unhappiness. She described what sounds like a pretty unsatisfactory relationship with a partner who had no interest in participating in therapy, who made no attempt to change despite all of the arguments and pleading to do so. She didn’t want to lose her relationship and hoped to figure out both what’s wrong with her partner and how she can make her partner change.
“Jane” is a fictitious person representing an all too uncommon scenario in my therapy practice. The question is, what can be done here?
The answer, on a superficial level, is very simple. Jane needs to make a decision about whether to stay in or leave the relationship. If Jane chooses to stay, and her partner won’t change, then she has to change.
On a deeper level, the issues of staying, leaving, and changing are more complex. Staying or leaving a committed relationship depends on each individual’s values, emotional feelings towards the other person, practical matters such as children or finances, unmet needs from childhood which often play a part in what we think should be supplied to us in a relationship, fears of being alone.
Changing can seem horribly unfair when the person who comes to therapy is the person with the least amount of changing to do. After all, they at least can see there’s a problem! Change is also often difficult and frightening. But while change can’t always be made externally in one’s environment, change can be made in one’s self.
A therapeutic environment can help you sort out your expectations and feelings, perhaps ultimately determining whether you want to stay in or leave the relationship. It is a decision only you can make. It can also help you make changes leading to your own personal growth, which will be helpful no matter what decision you ultimately make about your relationship.