Advice Columns and Relationship Counseling Don’t Change Anyone

Relationships & More


Reading advice columns can be an interesting exercise in observing human behavior. It is quite fascinating when you realize that most of the people seeking advice are hoping to change another person. It doesn’t work. Likewise, participating in relationship counseling does not change people either. Counseling can help, but people only change by making a willful decision to do so.

Human beings are wonderful, intelligent creatures. We can think and behave in ways that other species cannot. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks to our intelligence is a tendency to mistakenly believe that we can change other people. We also tend to falsely believe that other people should be just like us.

You could write to your favorite advice columnist with questions about how to change your spouse. You and your spouse can participate in marriage counseling at Relationships & More, a Westchester County, New York counseling clinic. But your spouse is only going to change when they make the decision to do so.

Assuming Others Need to Change

There is another fastening aspects to advice columns and relationship counseling: the reality that so many people just assume the need for someone else to change. For example, imagine a couple in marriage counseling. Most of their communication revolves around arguments.

The wife perceives that they cannot communicate because her husband will not tell her how he really feels about anything. He has to change in order for the problem to be resolved. On the other hand, the husband says they cannot communicate because his wife never says what she means. He insists that the only path to resolution is her changing the way she speaks.

Who is right and who is wrong? Maybe neither. Maybe both of their perceptions are completely wrong. Or perhaps there is some validity to both of their claims. Either way, it is not productive to assume that the other person needs to change. The couple will never learn to communicate if they continue to lay the blame at one another’s feet.

Manipulating One Another

The danger in all of this is falling into a pattern of manipulation. Advice columns often point this out without even trying to. For example, a letter writer might get a question that goes something like, “What can I say or do to get my husband/wife to see what’s going on?”

The columnist might respond with something like, “you can try X, Y, and Z.” In essence, the advice columnist is recommending that the writer manipulate their spouse. If the writer tries X, perhaps the spouse will change. If not, the writer can move on to Y and Z.

The truth is that manipulating one another is a bad idea. Not only does it not work, but it also only exacerbates existing problems. If you need proof, just ask any mental health practitioner who specializes in addiction intervention.

Experts in intervention routinely warn against manipulating addicts. If an addict is to recover, they must make a willful choice to do so. It is fine to present an addict with their choices and force them to make a decision, but that’s far different than manipulating through passive-aggressive behavior, laying on the guilt, and so forth.

Change Has to Be Willful

The conclusion of all of this is that change has to be willful. You are not perfect. If changes are necessary in your life, they will only occur when you willfully decide to make it happen. The same goes for your spouse, your kids, and everyone else in your life. Advice columns and counseling can help identify problems, but they don’t change people.

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