Tiny Wisdom: The Relationships We Wish Would Improve

“When you stop trying to change others and work on changing yourself, your world changes for the better.” ~Unknown

There are certain relationships that we don’t want to end; we just want them to improve.

Sometimes it might seem like that will only happen if someone else starts acting differently—with more kindness, respect, thoughtfulness, compassion, understanding, or consideration.

Years ago, a therapist told me we can’t ever change other people; we can only change how we respond to them.

At the time, I found this incredibly frustrating because I didn’t know what I could do differently. I only knew I wanted to be treated better because I was tired of feeling bad.

But what do we do when we respond more calmly, or try to see things differently, but we still find ourselves getting hurt?

Sometimes we don't want to completely close a door, with a family member, for example; we just don't know how to keep it open without opening ourselves up to pain.

I've learned that changing our response to people means changing how we engage with them.

It can mean seeing someone less frequently, or avoiding certain topics, or knowing when to change the subject.

It might mean refusing to feel guilty or defensive, taking things less personally, or modeling the type of behavior we’d like to see in them.

It might also mean accepting that not all relationships need to be close and intimate.

As much as we might want someone to fill a certain role in our lives, they have to want to do it. And if they aren’t, it’s our job to recognize that so we don’t continually cause ourselves stress by trying to smash a square peg into a round hole.

Little in this world is more painful than wanting to be close with someone but knowing it’s a recipe for disaster. It’s harder when we think it could be so simple if that person could just realize how much we care and try, even if a little, to reciprocate it like we deserve.

But we generally don’t change when other people force us to do it; we change when we realize what we might lose if we don't, and recognize that the discomfort of doing things differently is better than the pain of that loss.

We can’t make someone else make an effort. But we can make smart decisions for our own well-being. This may inspire someone else to change; it might not. Either way, we’ve honored the most important relationship in our lives: the one we have with ourselves.

Photo by cloud2013

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 latest bookTiny Buddha's Gratitude Journal, which includes 15 coloring pages, is now available for purchase. For daily wisdom, follow Tiny Buddha on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram..

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  • I’ve been working on this for years – with my childhood family – but just could not be accepted, no matter how hard I tried to change into what they wanted. I’m the “black sheep” – the one that doesn’t look like them, the one that doesn’t live like them and the only one in the family that is an introvert.

    It’s been years in the making but I’ve realized that I’m not giving up on those people but rather I’m loving myself. It’s impossible to change into someone I’m not and, I’m willing to allow myself the peace of being accepted by me.

  • Maryanne Christiano-Mistretta

    Whoever loves me the most, I love them the most — it’s that simple 🙂

  • Great post!

  • Philip

    I’m trying my darndest to keep a relationship afloat, made harder since we’re 9000 miles apart. Best advice is not to try to change the other person but as you said—change yourself. It’s easier said than done but that’s the ultimate test and challenge for me. It’s worth it. 

  • Lv2terp

    Thank you Lori, this one I desperately needed in my life right now!  I really appreciate “As much as we might want someone to fill a certain role in our lives,
    they have to want to do it. And if they aren’t, it’s our job to
    recognize that so we don’t continually cause ourselves stress by trying
    to smash a square peg into a round hole.” !! Thank you very much for your sharing and wisdom!!!

  • Naomsalmanza

    I am glad I read this 🙂 truly has made me think thank you .

  • JamesSimon

    Shannon, I found this particular post very interesting as I am going through all of this as well. I know how you are feeling… you’re just you. You have the right outlook and we black black sheep have to continue on our path. Peace.

  • So Luis

    A volte è dura……

  • Nepalichic

    This is so so true! Every word of it. I have come to accept that there are certain people I can tolerate (umm accept) only in little doses. Those little doses are amazing, fun moments but I cannot expect this person to be a close friend – ever. And this realization brings me peace and saves me a lot of stress.

  • Krayrph

    Lori, I notice the chosen photo of a Buddha statue is of one with a swastika on his chest.  Please explain.

  • This really spoke to me and I’ve heard advice similar to this before but wow, really woke me this time. Thank you for writing. 

  • Marc s.

    Personally,I think that the people that I see eye to eye with,have consentually agreeable ideas,things in common with,become my close friends,and everyone else becomes acquaintances. I try not to change those people(knowing full well that I can’t),and I distance myself somewhat from them. I find it easieer to not change others when I dont know as much about them…..

  • DEcho

    The swastika originally, and in many cultures, still symbolizes and means health, life, and good luck. It was Nazi Germany that changed the original intent of this symbol.

  • pam

     Little doses…I like that ! Thank you!

  • Tamista

    Very well said! I’ve been struggling with this for a few years now… Babysteps.

  • Reminds me of the Broadway play, “I Love You. You’re Perfect. Now Change!”

    Only if both want the change is it going to happen…with careful stewardship from both sides.

    If you don’t like the way something or somebody looks, look at them differently.

    And…If that doesn’t work, walk away.

    Lots of “ifs”, one eventuality.

    ~ Mark

  • Karlymcg

    This is something I recently started working on.  I have one rule that I have found is very simple to follow.. Treat others the way you want to be treated.  

  • breeze

    In so many ways this post summarizes the struggles I’ve faced in the last year or so of my life.

       My partner has suffered a great trauma(we all did, but his was path was especially difficult) and for a long time refused help, then demanded it, then refused to accept it and chose instead to leave our family to find meaning in his life else where. It was a painful pattern to watch, one which I hadn’t seen in him for many years, since before we were partners and I desperately wanted him to be patient and hear the lessons laid before him with an open mind, but it was not my choice to make. He shut out anyone who suggestions  lead to staying with us any longer, and then he left.I chose to focus on my journey, learn my lessons and let go of my expectations for our future. I chose to work with our children(mine by birth, his by choice for most of their lives) to support them on their path as they learn to cope with the loss of the man who was once such a supportive and loving part of their lives. Since he left, his choices have continued to devalue our relationships with him and it has come to the point where we all have chosen to limit(or in the case of two of the children refuse) contact because it’s so painful.I hope that some day he gets and accepts the help that he so desperately needs to find the happiness he deserves, but I know he may still not return to us when he does.At the same time, only by nurturing our best selves will we be strong enough and healthy enough to support ourselves and him on our journey together if he chooses to continue that.

  • Nerisha

    Brilliant these words are truly key to open many doors of happiness and bliss:-)

  • It seems to come down to the I’m okay, your okay thing.  I’ve found that as I change the ideas I have about who I am, I experience others differently.  Love has always been the answer for me…and I think your quote at the beginning says it all Lori…let’s keep the focus on changing ourselves and our world changes for the better.  *love* that

  • You must have used my father and me as a basis for this one!  It’s taken years of work to get over the guilt of not engaging him as much as I want because it’s simply not a healthy relationship.  But when it’s someone as close as your “dad” you feel compelled.

    I’ve definitely had to change how I respond to him and it’s made the relationship tolerable but it took a long time to get there… There is a great deal to be learned by making that change.

    Great post!

  • maynardo

    Its funny but I find animals love me the most, and admittedly its cause I love them the most! Are we black sheep for a reason? 🙂

  • Pamela Jorrick

    This is so true- and sometimes the harder we try- even if it’s just to get someone to change their minds and understand our point of view- the worse things get. Finding those boundaries for ourselves and knowing what we need to let go of are very difficult things indeed.

  • Guest123

    I have been working on this recently with my mom. She is unfortunately quite  depressed person and no one really realizes it including her. My dad who used to be quite joyful and sociable has been isolated from his friends and she has created tensions between him and his only family in the country. My younger sisters have suffered all sorts of stress related ailments and one of them developed an eating disorder. When I left the house when I was 19, I felt things might be better for them only to realize 10 years later that my mom is just a really unhappy person. I rarely call home because speaking with her is not an enjoyable experience for me however, I am working to change my attitude towards her so I stop being reactive. It is an uphill battle but I have no intentions of giving up on it. I hope she can learn to love herself just like we love her.

  • Thanks so much!

  • You’re most welcome! 

  • Wow I did not notice that! I also didn’t know it originally had a
    positive meaning. I swapped the photo out in case other people see it
    and also don’t know. Thanks for bringing this to my attention! 

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

  • That’s great that you don’t try to change people Marc. I know it’s
    tempting to do this, as I’ve been there before! I find when I accept
    people and respond to reality as it is (not how I want it to be) life
    gets much easier.

  • I hear you Tamista. I take baby steps as well…one day at a time!

  • Yes, exactly! (I loved that show…) I love this: “If you don’t like the
    way something or somebody looks, look at them differently.” 

  • I’m a black sheep, as well Shannon–and I’m really inspired by what you wrote. I think self-acceptance is never easy, but it’s even more challenging when we get the sense there’s something wrong with us for being different. There’s beauty in different.

  • You’re most welcome! I’m glad this helped!

  • I know what you  mean Philip; it’s always more easily said than done. It sounds like you have a great attitude about your situation!

  • I’ve had a similar experience with a family member. For a long time, I agonized, trying to force things to be different. Loosening my grip made a huge difference, and even led to some positive change (over many years).

    I’m glad you’ve also seen improvements in your relationship, even if there’s still room for more!

  • I think that’s a great way to live! A friend once told me another good approach is to treat people how *they* want to be treated. I’d never thought of this before, but it made me look a little more closely at people to understand our differences and what they might actually want (which is often different from what I would want!)

  • I like that as well! Some relationships work well as close and intimate, and some are better with more distance.

  • My heart goes out to your mom (and your sisters). I know it must be difficult minimizing your calls, but it sounds like you’re doing the right thing for your own well-being. I hope your family is able to heal and find peace.

  • I’m glad you found this helpful Nerisha!

  • That’s beautiful Elle…that love is the answer. =)

  • MM

    A great post Lori! I 100% agree and also with family; in my case my step mother has been a challenge and figured out a light friendly relationship from a distance is best ~ we tried forcing a closer bond and it did not work. Accepting that you can’t be close with everyone you would like to be can feel sad like you’re missing out on the potential of something special. In some cases I have had to cut ties which feels very sad to be honest; but the pain of the square peg was greater so relief came from letting go, and your posts helped with this 😉

  • Thank you so much, James. It is always nice to know we are not alone in the world. It’s such a huge space that, sometimes, we feel invisible.

  • Yes, I couldn’t agree more, Lori. There’s most certainly beauty in being different. Why would we ever want to be someone else? 🙂

  • It has been 18 months since I decided to cut ties/communication with my mother (calmly and in a way that wasn’t lashing out/attacking back) and it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. I have started to see myself and my life without her filter over it. That said, it has also been incredibly hard because I second guess myself all the time, and have experienced a fair amount of guilt over it. I keep thinking, “how can I change to make this better? what can I do to fix it?” Lately I have realized that all I have to do right now is be confident that my decision was the right one. Tomorrow I can revisit it. This post reinforces that I did my best when I made this decision, even though there are times when I question myself.

  • Basketbeth613

    This article really hit home with me. I have an 18 yr old daughter we adopted at 3 1/2. She left my home after pushing me against a wall and tackled me to the floor holding me down with great force. I am 55 yrs old and the bruising mentally and physically is devastating. Four years earlier, she was arrested, charged and jailed in a juvenile facility for 8 days. That time after an intense argument where she threw my computer and smashed it, verbal assaults and a broken door, she tried to slap me and cut me under the eye and other scraps and bruises. Long story short, she choose verbal and physical abuse to handle stress and frustration. My issue is I want her in my life, and struggle every day how she could treat me this way and take no responsability for her actions. She has not shown us respect for many years, but respects others. I want to heal, I practice yoga, meditation, Kirtan and crystal work. I am not healing, I want everything to be right in our world together. At times we were very close. Will I be able to heal my wounds?

  • Beth

    I question myself daily. I broke ties with my daughter after being verbally and physically assaulted, I am heartbroken on many levels but this post reinforces I made the right decision to cut all communication. I have moments of despare and moments of calm. I understand how you feel, your post made a desperate moment turn calmer.

  • I’m so sorry to learn about your daughter. I can’t even imagine what kind of affect this has had on you. It sounds like you’re putting a lot of effort into healing, which tells me that you can. Until (or unless) your daughter sees the error of her ways and makes an effort, it may always sting a little to think about what’s transpired. But it will get easier in time. All things do. I’m sending lots of love your way!

  • I’m glad this helped MM. =)

  • syk1004

    I really liked this perspective and the
    realities of How no matter how much we want
    Someone we love to change sometimes
    They won’t. often times we realize too late
    When the relationship has long expired, that
    We change in ways the past person wanted us
    To change. I guess that’s how we live & learn.

  • Beth

    Thank you so much Lori, I need positive energy and love, thank you, thank you, thank you. I have your book on IBook and in print, but I love your emails and site most of all, bless you.

  • Barbara

    Your statement is the best of the best…….I can & do relate.  Thanks

  • Barbara

    I have a bio daughter that chooses to be rude & disrespectful.  It is most hurtful but in my case distance is a good thing; although, I will always love her I have some major Trust issues.  Trying to heal my wounds.

  • Philip

    Karen…like yourself I decided to move out from my mother’s apartment after staying with her for just over two years (I moved in with her after walking out of an abusive relationship and finally divorced my ex) It just wasn’t working out with my mom…feeling this negative chi emanating from her every day made me quite sick and we had nothing much in common to talk about; different wavelengths. I’ve been staying alone in my new apartment for two weeks now and relish the quietude and peace that will allow me to heal. I wish you well; it isn’t easy but it’ll get better with time. Take care of yourself, Karen.

  • Philip

    Needless to say, I bought both your books, Lori…and they’ve certainly been a great help! <3

  • Philip…YES! My mother is very negative and seems to thrive on conflict. Once I grew up and was a way from her for a while I started to see that life didn’t have to be that way. But I allowed myself to be drawn into her drama for years anyway. Until I cut ties. It’s all good. You take care too!

  • Yem1971

    Great article* Little did I know at the time, two years today I embarked on a journey to find myself. I met a man with teenage children, gave up everything to be with him and then proceeded to try to change him and his children(lol). Little did I know at the time, I would be the one that would change. Luckily one year ago almost to the day, there was a crisis in my relationship and I woke up to realize that I was the one that needed to change. Today I’m a work in progress, but I realize now that his beautiful sons and the man I live with aren’t a burden to me, they are a gift, a blessing and they are my teachers. They have changed my whole life..including my family life with my siblings for the better. When I changed the way I saw everyone, everyone changed..but I don’t think they changed at all. I just changed… I no longer resent them when they throw their socks down, or don’t clean up after themselves. They are doing the best they can and it’s my meditation now to clean up after them. I enjoy it. Everyone we live with, work with, interact with are all mirrors, what we don’t like about them we don’t like about ourselves. I’m finding there is less and less that I don’t like about other people and my heart is filled with so much love for everyone.

  • That’s wonderful you’ve made this positive change and improved your relationships. What an inspiring story. =)

  • Julie

    Great post! I’m bracing for an uncomfortable Father’s Day celebration, and this is a good reminder that I’m far from alone in having a shaky family situation, along with some good coping techniques. Thank you.

  • Barbara

    Julie, my coping tech’s are good; however, I have to be ready for anything.  My step-son can go down just about any road.  So I am ready to cope……OMG.  You just hang in there & cope, cope & cope….. 

  • Thanks so much. I think sometimes we resist change when someone else pushes us, because we have to truly want ourselves in order to really work for it. 

  • You’re most welcome Julie. You are definitely not alone there!

  • avao

    Thank you so much. This was so great to read. I really needed this right now!

  • You’re most welcome Avao. I’m glad it helped!

  • Nadeja

    I love your article on decisions!!! Thank you so much for this reminder!!! Blessings to you.

  • Erica

    Agreed, but the MOST important relationship we will have here on this with Heavenly Father. He will help us to see ourselves the way he would want us to and the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way to change a persons heart. It is true that the Gospel of Jesus Christ changes behavior more than the study of behavior itself. I know this because I have lived it in my life and I know this is true! I am so happy that I have the gospel in my life because I continue to change each and every day, having the right spirit of Jesus Christ which is of purity, virtue, and true charity. This is the best way to change. The best person we could ever be in this life is to live our lives after the example of Jesus Christ and we will leave no room for comparing ourselves to others, or to be jealous or envious. I am so grateful for this knowledge. I know that it is true because I feel peace everyday of my life that money cannot buy. When I strive to be like Jesus Christ, I feel the happiest I have ever been. I know that this is true because the spirit testifies to me that it is. Read the Book of Mormon! Yay! 🙂

  • Naaz Charania

    I have been wronged by someone. Their attitude has totally changed and things are not like before, I did not do anything bad according to my knowledge. Perhaps I should leave them alone for some time.

  • Egghead Einstein

    Scapegoated here also and dealt with it in silence up until my brother was devalued too and he shortly thereafter had a fatal heart attack at 44 in 2011. The lack of empathy and the fact they were obviously intent on burying me too by making me scream by invalidating the smallest and largest of things, i went no-contact. They chased me for months using tricks and manipulation, and I had to punch my 73 years old father for the first time, but I’m much better off. Go watch narcissistic abuse videos on YouTube.. plenty of vloggers like we are telling their stories.

  • Egghead Einstein

    i don’t actually think we are different.. only that was the message drilled into our heads since childhood. I am a computer programmer, worked 9-5 at many corporation… my older brother was a stand-up comedian never holding a job, never making much money… Yet i was the black sheep. I wasn’t different, I was just second born and not gonna take their positioning of me without a fight. So i fought. In their mind that was me bleeting.

  • Egghead Einstein

    I’ve just finished with a girl who is schizoid and had no interest in a relationship, I actually did manage to fit her into the round hole.. for maybe an hour at a time but she popped right out again. Schizoids are extremely challenging but an amazing lesson in psychological phenom.

  • Egghead Einstein

    I don’t know if I go humping a black sheep that thing will not turn out worse than they already are. But I’ll give her a shot. What her farm number and what kind of wine does she prefer? 🙂

  • Egghead Einstein

    Good thing we did. My friend lost her job, moved in with her mom, committed suicide within months. Its the damned baby boomers.. they suck.

  • Egghead Einstein

    Me too. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I began two years ago researching psychopath after working for an ex-phone scammer for a boss, then i reached narcissistic personality disorder because the girl i met was so selfish. I ended up instead discovering my parents were narcissists, I’m borderline, but she was schizoid. All very similar, but my girlfriend ended up being the least malignant of the bunch. At least now I know why i attracted those types in my life… i felt comfortable with abuse.

  • Egghead Einstein

    I try and I’m getting better, but when someone is pissing in your face can you really offer them a drink? i guess it is possible.

  • Egghead Einstein

    I wouldn’t worry all that much to be honest. At eighteen I wouldn’t expect an adopted kid to do anything but be very angry. She’ll be back when the real world hits her and she realizes is wasn’t you.

  • Egghead Einstein

    That sounds like the ex I just learned so much from when she FINALLY told me she thinks she’s schizoid. She told me after the breakup too! Look into it, it is totally my ex, could be yours.

  • Egghead Einstein

    Check schizoid personality disorder, it took me for a serious spin but answered my question on why my ex talked the talk but couldn’t walk the walk. When she hurt me, she had no remorse.

  • Egghead Einstein

    Somehow i don’t think my grandparents who’s entirely family was perished would feel the same way. But you should be glad I cannot find a symbol for good luck that is a man raping a woman up the rear. 🙂 Seriously I wouldn’t look at it now because if I get angry I’ll post it and you’ll be destroyed on the web. Ok I’m gonna look hold on..hmmm. .. I don’t see it. Good for all of us! 🙂

  • disqus_sslYDueKOl

    “Beauty in different”. Yes. 🙂 Ty