You cannot make another person change

I was disappointed in the advice you gave to the woman who is married to a man who has been a tyrant and refuses to listen to anyone. You told her to get counseling for herself. But there’s nothing wrong with her. He is an impossible person. Why doesn’t she tell him that unless he changes his ways, she will leave him. That will bring him to his senses.


It is obvious that this woman, at least at this point, does not want to divorce. You never make a threat unless you’re ready to keep it. An empty threat backfires.

She is still looking for ways to get him to change, and that is a mistake. You cannot make another person change. A person will change only when he feels he should, and obviously, this man doesn’t feel there is anything wrong with him, so no one can make him change, not her crying, not his Rav, not a therapist,  nor any pressure she may bring. As long as her focus is trying to change him, she is wasting her energy and getting increasingly frustrated. If she accepts the fact that she cannot make him change, she will stop her futile efforts and will not be as frustrated.

Once she gives up trying to change him, she will be in a position to consider her options. If she decides to stay in the marriage, she needs help in learning how to live with a “control freak.” If she decides to leave the marriage, she will need help in  dealing with the many issues of a divorce.  If she says she will leave and then finds that she cannot support herself or that he is a powerful person with connections and will fight to get custody of the children, and she then backs down, she will be in worse trouble. Again, since it is evident that she cannot get him to change, her focus must be on what she can do for herself. The recommendation that she seek counseling is not because there is anything wrong with her, but because she should not try to handle so difficult a situation without help.

People are always trying to change others. Husbands try to change wives, wives try to change husbands, parents try to change children. It can’t be done! The only person you can change is yourself.

People shlepp others to therapists or to rabbanim to get them to change. At the very best, they may comply for a brief time, then go back to what they were.

The Talmud gives several examples of people who made radical turnarounds, but each case was where a crisis brought the person to his senses and made him realize that he should change. Sometimes it is possible to act in a way that will make a person realize that he/she is wrong. That is what often happens when the spouse of an alcoholic goes to Al-anon Family Group meetings. But external pressure won’t do it.

The problem is that we usually don’t see it that way, so we try to exert pressure on someone to change. It just doesn’t work.

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