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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and have lived in and around Palo Alto since 1969. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in Silicon Valley for 15 years before becoming a therapist. My background i...  (More)

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Neuroplasticity: Ask for a Change

Uploaded: Nov 11, 2013
I've been writing a lot recently about looking at ourselves and making changes in our own behavior (which is in our scope of influence ). I know some of you are wondering when I'm going to talk about changing HIM or HER. I know this because people call and email me every day asking how to change their spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend.

It's interesting because we have a myth in our culture that says we can't ask our partner to change, but we sure as hell expect him or her to do so! I'm sure you've heard a few of these: "People are who they are;" and "People don't really change much;" and "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." The truth is that we can ask, and people can change.

The term for this is neuroplasticity, meaning that our brain can change: " . . .changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behavior, environment . . ." per Wikipedia. Note the part about behavioral changes – yes, that is the part that is up to us.

There are jokes about how many so and sos does it take to change a light bulb; the therapist version ends: one; the light bulb has to want to change. So when we ask our beloved to change a behavior, hopefully s/he will want to change it – for the better of the relationship.

There are three entities in a marriage: you, your beloved, and your relationship. The two of you need to be working together to make your relationship healthier, stronger, happier. When we ask for a change, it's not for me, it's not to manipulate, it's not for gain or advantage; it has to be a clean request, for the relationship.
Okay, to the nitty-gritty of the ask:

1. You've looked at and worked (and are working on your part of whatever this is).
2. Honey (Love, Name), I want to talk with you about something that I believe will make our relationship better. Is this a good time?
3. When ________ happens, I feel __________. I wish _________. Example: When you come home from work and the kids are hungry and full of energy and I've been working all day, too, I feel frazzled and disconnected from you. I wish you would come and put your arms around me, look into my eyes, and say, "Hello, love." Then we can get on with the tasks of the evening.
4. Another good add-on: I've been thinking about my part in this, and it is ________.. Here's how I am working on that: __________. Example: I've been thinking about my part in this, and I realized I start ordering everyone around at this time of day, and that seems to make it worse all around. So I'm working on that by taking a few minutes to myself, changing out of my work clothes, having a glass of water, and taking a few deep breaths to change my pace before I talk to everyone.

I can promise you this works better than telling him/her "You always . . ." or "You never . . ."

So do ask, don't demand, and please do not assume that s/he knows what you want or need. S/he can't actually read your mind. Let me know how it goes.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by starting with the man in the mirror, a resident of Palo Alto High School,
on Nov 11, 2013 at 12:08 pm

What a great column. Thanks.

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