If your partner did something and it resulted in hurting you, they should surely apologize. They should try to make amends and do their best not to make the same mistake again. However, if they say, “I promise, I’ll change,” then you should be suspicious and proceed cautiously because promising to change is not a declaration of personal growth. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Saying “I promise, I’ll change,” boarders telling a lie. At minimum it’s negligence on behalf of the offender. Reason being the statement is generally made to prevent your reacting negatively, like leaving or ending the relationship.
So many of us want to be a better person. However, there’s a flaw in our conduct. It’s called ‘Circular Reasoning’, also known as ‘Logical Fallacy’: “I did a selfish thing, therefore I must be a selfish person. I am a selfish person, therefore I do selfish things.” It may seem like it makes sense, but it’s a copout for the person dishing out the hurt because it conveniently provides no evidence for one statement, except the other statement, and therein lies the problem.
Your partner could say, “I won’t do that thing that upset you,” but instead they say, “I Promise, I’ll Change”. Honestly, which of those statements do you believe is more likely to happen?
Promising to change indicates that the only way someone’s behavior will ever change is if they become a different person, and months later when your partner continues to exhibit the same hurtful behavior, and says, “You know I’m trying to change,” now you’re suddenly the bad-person for not understanding how hard it is for them.
Promising to change after hurting someone is based on one part of some circular reasoning. It assumes that the only way to change behavior is to change one’s personality. It turns change from a short-term process into a long-term struggle, and it makes the issue all about the person who’s causing the hurt.
Another problem with saying “I promise, I’ll change” is it’s selfish. By your partner stating so, will cast your feelings aside and makes it all about them. “I promise, I’ll change” is code for “I behave this way because that’s the kind of person I am, so let’s not talk about your feelings, let’s talk about me instead.”
It’s not going to help you or your partner if you tell them they need to change the person they are. That’s just buying into the idea that they have some kind of fundamental flaw that’s causing their behavior. What’s causing their behavior is they’re human, and that’s not something they’re going to be able to change. So don’t tell them that they need to change, and don’t go along with them if they promise to do so. Instead, explain what you want them to do differently. Avoid telling them what you don’t want. “Don’t be selfish” leads straight back to “I’m a selfish person”. Be clear about what kind of behavior you want to see in the future. You also can offer to help. While you can’t ever change another person, you can certainly give them some reinforcement for changed behavior. How they behave is their responsibility of course, but if they’re doing things that make you happier, wouldn’t you want to support them?
So if your partner has upset you and promises to change, tell them that they don’t need to change, they messed up because they’re human. Avoid discussions about the kind of person they’re going to be and talk about what they’re going to do in the future.
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