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Tiny Wisdom: When Other People Won’t Change

“I’ve discovered that you can’t change people. They can change themselves.” ~Jim Rohn

We all want to be loved and accepted, just as we are. We want people to honor our interests, value our needs, and respect our choices in life.

So why, then, do we expect other people to sacrifice theirs for us?

Why do we hope people will change their goals, habits, and values to better align with ours when they haven’t given us any indication they’d be happier for doing it?

Sometimes we think we know what’s best for others, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll likely realize we want people to change when we simply don’t feel satisfied being in a relationship with them as they are.

I’m not talking about people who are violent, dangerous to themselves and others, or in any way abusive. No one should ever feel bound to an unhealthy situation by the ideas of unconditional love and acceptance.

I’m talking about the boyfriend who isn’t as open-minded as you. Or the girlfriend who doesn’t value fitness like you. Or the husband who isn’t as social as you. Or the wife who doesn’t take risks like you.

I spent most of my twenties dating people who were completely incompatible with me.

I got involved with stoic men hoping they’d become more sentimental. I pursued self-professed bachelors hoping I’d be the one to make them want to commit. I even dated men who said they never wanted kids, hoping they’d change their minds because I did.

And why? Because those were the men who were there, and it felt safer to be with the wrong men than leave and risk not finding the right one.

Relationships are all about compromise, and there’s no such thing as a perfect match.

But we owe it to ourselves to recognize what’s non-negotiable in relationships so we don’t end up resentfully sacrificing our needs while secretly hoping the people we’re with will make it worth our while.

The people we want to change—there are others out there who’d accept and even value them, just as they are. We can appreciate them for all their unique quirks, interests, and preferences. Or we can set them free and create the possibility of finding better matches.

We deserve to be happy in our relationships. That starts with choosing to be with people we’d never want to change.

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About Lori Deschene

Lori Deschene is the founder of Tiny Buddha and Recreate Your Life Story, an online course that helps you let go of the past and live a life you love. Her new book, Tiny Buddha's 365 Tiny Love Challenges, launches on October 6. Pre-order now and you'll instantly receive $300+ in free bonus gifts. For inspiring posts and wisdom quotes, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter & Facebook.

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  • Glori | Crazy Introvert

    I think this doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships.

    Sometimes, we have family members who we want to change.

    We want them to be more responsible, kinder, to work harder. I guess this is where the difficulty comes in, because unlike boyfriends we can leave behind, our family is, well, forever.

    We can’t just find anybody to replace them.

    Admittedly, until now, I’m still hoping to change the way certain family of mine are. But I also realized that to change them, I have to change myself first.

    I’m not perfect, but I can set an example.

    Then, again, easy to say, hard to do. It’s a work in progress.

  • Danny

    I agree that we need to accept others for “how they are” rather than trying to mold them to suit our needs–perceived or real–which usually breeds distrust and resentment on both sides.  I find that it helps in all my relationships to focus on the things that I “appreciate” about people, rather than the things that may annoy me.   In short, I try to let go of trying to change or control others.   In romantic relationships, I refer to this as “losing” love control, and “finding” romance and intimacy.


  • TB at BlueCollarWorkman

    There’s a podcast I listen to about dating/relationships by Dan Savage and one thing he mentions a lot is what he calls “price of admission.” Which is to say, these are the things that you absolutely require from a partner or the things a partner absolutely requires from you to have a relationship. Everything else is compromise-able. I think that is the same concept as: “But we owe it to ourselves to recognize what’s non-negotiable in relationships so we don’t end up resentfully sacrificing our needs.” It’s very important to know your own “price of admission” or those things that are non-negotiable, and after that, relax and love each other for who we all are.

  • Tshadi Mokoena

    This is what I need to hear, but not happy to accept.

  • JamesSimon

    Not only can people change themselves, but they have to WANT to change themselves.

  • Mantagirl

    I think we spend way too much time trying to change other people and not enough time understanding where they are coming from and accepting them for who they are.  It’s hard enough to change ourselves.

    My mother is fond of saying that as we age we don’t change we simply become more of what we already are. 

    So if you are hoping for someone to change…think again.  And as you say, Lori, perhaps it’s better to simply let go and move on.

  • Andrea

    Good post, good reminder; though it can occur that one’s spelled out ‘non-negotiable’ becomes reneged on or disrespected by the other…disappointing then. 

  • Been There, Done That

    “I’m not talking about people who are violent, dangerous to themselves and others, or in any way abusive.”  Oh, I think that these situations need to be included as well.  You still can’t change them.   

  • Lori Deschene

    I love what you wrote here: “I’m not perfect, but I can set an example.” It’s somewhat like Gandhi’s, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” There have definitely been times when I’ve wanted family members to change. It helps me to remember how *I* respond when other people tell me how to be. I’m generally less responsive than when they model it themselves.

  • Lori Deschene

    Good point! My intention was to express that there are certain things we may not want to accept in relationships. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should always leave people when they’re struggling–but we shouldn’t feel like we need to stay in unhealthy situations because we’re giving unconditional love.

  • Lori Deschene

    I see what you mean. We inevitably grow in relationships, and sometimes what we want changes. I’ve known people who originally both wanted to start a family, or quit their jobs and travel the world, only to find one of them changed their minds. That’s a tough situation, because ultimately we need to decide what we’re willing and able to sacrifice and what we’re not.

  • Lori Deschene

    That’s so true what you wrote–about how hard it is to change ourselves. Change isn’t easy when we want to do it; why do we expect to change other people when they don’t? I love your mother’s saying. She sounds like a wise woman!

  • Lori Deschene

    I love that concept of “the price of admission.” It really puts into perspective which things matter, and which things aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things.

  • Lori Deschene

    Beautiful Danny! I think appreciation is one of the most fundamental building blocks of healthy, happy relationships. I know when I take the time to honor all the things I value about my boyfriend, I’m less likely to fixate on little things that might bug me. I also appreciate it when he lets me know he appreciates me!

  • Mark B Hoover

    “So why, then, do we expect other people to sacrifice theirs for us?”

    Because we did it, in turn or first, for them. It’s amazing how radically we can change on a whim of love, thinking we are doing it to be a part of something greater…the relationship, the entity created by two.

    Many of us fall into the old trap of thinking that two halves (persons) create a whole. Not so. Laboring under that misconception, we mold ourselves into another hoping to create something complete. If you find yourself giving up or taking on more than you would individually, then you may be entering into co-dependency. If you do, indeed, succeed in changing another, that becomes your responsibility…not the other’s. As the adage goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

  • Sandra / Always Well Within

    Accepting yourself and others is a fine art!   I appreciate your reminder of how much energy is wasted trying to change others.  A first is to  *see* who people really are; often that itself is obscured by all our own hopes and fears.

  • Vineeta M

    Well what if I want to change my friend who flirts and get physical with every other girl.. Flirting is fine but physical thing? He can sleep with any girl of any shape and size and colour and Im in love with my best friend.. I really wish he changes this habit.. I don’t think thats bad.. Is it.?
    I never asked him to change but I pray for it..

  • Sydney

    Vineeta.. sounds like you are not really accepting your friend for who he is really is. You may want to ask yourself, why do I want to be with someone who doesn’t embody values similar to mine? Unrequited love comes to mind. Chasing after a dream is safer than finding someone you can have a real relationship with. He may not be ready to commit to anyone or want a serious relationship. No matter what his behavior… why focus on changing another… why not look for someone who has what you are looking for? Are you afraid of a man who would be ready to love you?

  • Connie

    I’ve since learned when people show you who they are…believe them. Gone are the days of staying with an ex because the sex was mind blowing, meanwhile he was into his own needs, gone are the one sided relationships that left me feeling empty and wondering, gone are the days of trying to change a man when I know deep down he is fine with himself, gone are the days of expecting my family to change.

    The good news is I have changed, changed my expectations, fine tuned my communication and listening skills, have stopped trying to change people who don’t want to be changed. No longer a, I hanging on to the hope of whether the person will change or not. I realized life is way to short to be with people who don’t fit into my world nor appreciate it.

    I’m much happier with the revelation or AHA moment. I’m at peace with ky decisions and wish no harm on any individual who has been in my life but Iife is about growth and continued growth it is not to be stagnant.

  • Connie

    Hi Lori,

    I meant and have been meaning to ask you how you’re doing. Are you healing well and feeling better?

  • Pamela Jorrick

    Awesome post Lori! Knowing what is really non negotiable and what is just a matter of preference or opinion is key, and can take a lot of thought to figure out. If more people understood this at a younger age, it would probably prevent so much heartache.

  • Steve

    Wow… I needed that today too… Thanks… :)

  • Nicole/TheMadlabPost

    The first sentence in your comment ( …”believe them”) is priceless! — just like Lori’s post.

  • Teresamaria

    Thank you for reminding me something that i know.I also believe that most times we actually doing the other partner a favour by ending the relationship,as i am sure they are also unhappy and like us,still hold on.I believe that one os us has to have the courage to say:We need to move on,we are causing each other a lot of damage by staying where we are.I believe that i am in that situation right now.All this”believes”believed,i am still here.Trying very hard to justify the reason,but deep down i think that once again,it all about being scared of the unknown,also knowing that it could be better.Thank you for your messages,they are one of the “highs”in my day.

  • Ar

    Completely needed this reality check, thank you. I wanted to hold onto someone hoping for change, but know deep down even though it is scary that letting go is for the best.

  • jagar

    I have read this many times over the last day and wish with all my heart I could share it with my sister who is the perfect target audience for the topic.  Not to point out her flaws with a wagging finger and a “you’re doing it wrong” but gently and as a gift to her.

    I fear it would fall on deaf ears and she would build further resentment towards me for having such audacity as to suggest she is doing herself a disservice by sacrificing her needs and non-negotiables in the interest of proving everyone wrong and making a go of an ill-fitting (mis)match.

    I can’t change her, I accept that, and I have no expectations, but I cling to the hope that she will want change for herself at some point. :)

  • Lori Deschene

    I was actually just thinking about that Oprah quote the other day. I love what you wrote about changing yourself. It reminded me of something a therapist once told me: “You can’t change other people, but you can change how you respond to them.” This was huge for me, as it pertained to some people in my family. When I stopped trying to change people, accepted them for who they were, and then changed my response, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders!

  • Lori Deschene

    You bring up some great points Mark. I think it comes from the Jerry Maguire line of thinking: “You complete me.” At first, it can sound like a beautiful, romantic idea, but it’s actually a recipe for two people to always feel incomplete–two halves of a whole, neither full in their own right.

  • Lori Deschene

    I understand. It’s not something I was happy to accept when it was most relevant either.

  • Lori Deschene

    I understand what you mean. I have a friend who is in a similar boat. She’s asked me for advice many times over, and in those times I’ve said something similar to what I wrote. But I know it’s not something she’s ever really able to hear. So I stopped telling her these things, and instead I wrote about it–in case it can reach someone who *is* able to hear and benefit from it!

    I hope your friend (and mine) want to make that change at some point. They both deserve to feel happy in their relationships!

  • Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome. I’m glad this was helpful to you!

  • Lori Deschene

    I am doing much better–thank you! I’m feeling mostly like my old self again, though I have a bit of a cold today. I’m thrilled I can exercise again–and go on rides! My boyfriend and I are huge Disney fans, so we’re definitely going next week!

  • Lori Deschene

    Thanks Pamela! I think a lot of it comes down to self-confidence. I know for me, when I sacrificed the non-negotiable things, it was because I didn’t fully believe I could attract someone who could provide everything I wanted in a relationship. For that reason, I always let the wrong men walk away from me. I clung to them until they finally broke it off, and then wondered why I didn’t find the strength to walk away first.

    Ironically, it was just weeks after I walked away from a guy who was wrong for me that I met my current boyfriend (who is a wonderful match!). It was almost as though I needed to find that inner strength before the right man could find me. At least I like to think of it that way. =)

  • Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome!

  • Lori Deschene

    You’re most welcome Teresa. You brought up a great point–about doing the other person a favor. All it takes is for one person to be strong, and sometimes both are grateful for it, if not immediately, at some point down the line.

  • Mark B Hoover

    Thank you, Lori. I have learned that a beautiful and romantic relationship is what two caring and growing individuals create together. If one or the other becomes reticent or static the relationship “entity” itself lists and consequently sinks.

    I have always ascribed to Kahlil Gibran’s “On Marriage” (pardon the length, I feel it quite important to include it in toto):”You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.You shall be
    together when the white wings of death scatter your days.Ay, you shall be
    together even in the silent memory of God.But let there be spaces in your
    togetherness,And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
    Love one another, but make not a bond of love:Let it rather be a
    moving sea between the shores of your souls.Fill each other’s cup but drink
    not from one cup.Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same
    loafSing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be
    alone,Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the
    same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s
    keeping.For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.And stand
    together yet not too near together:For the pillars of the temple stand
    apart,And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”

    ~ Mark

  • Dhammadog

    To find obstacles in your own enlightenment, only lifts you higher,,Pratice loving kindness & compassion,,,,,,for all beings

  • Dhammadog

    Drop your clutter, That which you are seeking is seeking U,,,,

  • Dhammadog

     Seriously ,Do you know what Buddha taught? Keep it Pure,,,,,Don’t be a Poser,,,,,,,

  • Mark B Hoover

    So true! In my last long-term relationship we often talked about selling our houses and travelling as soon as the last of the kids left the nest. The youngest wouldn’t leave the nest (too comfy) years after her graduation and the oldest had the first of three grandchildren. My ex put her roots in fresh concrete and our future [grow old together] spun on a dime. Of course, I was free to go. So I did.

    I had been investing growth dollars in a static stone.

    ~ Mark

  • Bobbie

    This is so true, in my language we have a saying : “Min jitwieled tond ma jmutx kwadru” which means who is born square will not die circle. I truly believe this, and believe that every person can be accepted as they are when surrounded by the right people. A friend tells me she is a difficult person, but to me, she is just blunt and honest, which is better than being passive aggressive. It all depends on interaction with the right people :)

  • Lori Deschene

    Your friend is fortunate to have you in her life! I think that’s the kind of friends we all need…people who value us, just as we are. =)

  • Mark B Hoover

    “This is a relationship’s real purpose: to serve the mutual growth & soulful expression of each individual. @marieforleo “

    This is just too appropriate not to share. Marie tweeted it this morning.

    Caused me to think of this conversation…so I posted it [in retrospect].

    ~ Mark

  • Halina Goldstein

    I appreciate your perspective, Lori.

    And – we don’t always get to choose. And that can be a good thing, sometimes:

    One of the most efficient lessons in unconditional love was when I was taking care of my dying mother. There was so much in the situation that I would love to change at the time (including her, by all means :-)), or at least get away from. It was just not possible. There was just her and me. So I had to be with it, like it or not. And the only way I could be with it, and her, without going nuts over all kinds of annoying small stuff, was by embracing it, by letting it all flow through me: the impatience, the anger, the sadness, the loss, the love – everything. It became a door that I have appreciated ever since…

  • Lori Deschene

    What an amazing lesson Halina. I think being with our experience, and not judging it or trying to escape it, is generally the healthiest thing we can do. I’m sorry for the loss of your mother. Thank you for sharing your experience here.

  • Lori Deschene

    That’s beautiful Mark!

  • halinagold

    I couldn’t agree more!
    My mother passed away almost 20 years ago and I’m completely at peace with that  — I really appreciate your kind words.

  • Mark B Hoover


    I researched the quote and it is from Marie’s “Make Every Man Want You”  (which is not really the crux of the book, it’s just a title). “Relationships are a spiritual opportunity for personal evolution. There is no greater arena for discovering your capacity for love, forgiveness, compassion, personal greatness and full self-expression. Nowhere else will you meet the grandest and smallest parts of yourself. Nowhere else will you confront your self-imposed limits to intimacy. Nowhere else can you forgive so deeply or love so purely. That is relationship’s real purpose: to serve the mutual growth and soulful expression of each individual.”

    I find it most appropriate here.

    ~ Mark

  • CarlsbadVillageOrthodontist

    I guess that’s how age tempers our minds and our choices after being encumbered with past mistakes. It would be a great gift when we choose to have a partner, that he/she would be a match to our personality.

  • Faisal R

    Those are some wise words by Khalil! Thank You for sharing!

  • Dove

    I started reading this article for guidance about my *parents* who won’t change. I’ll be with them for a few more months before I’m off to college, but whenever I’ll see them in the future, they’ll still frustrate me then. If there’s someone I can’t shake, like my loving parents, then how should I accept them?