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The secret to changing someones behavior
In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim explains the secret to encouraging other people to want to change themselves. - photo by Kim Giles
Question 1:

How do I deal with my husband who expects me and our children to clean up all the things he leaves around the house? I am trying to teach our children to clean up after themselves, but when it comes to the things my husband uses however, he expects us to take care of them. How can I get him to pick up after himself?

Question 2:

My spouse is not treating me the way I wish she would. She seems to care a lot more about the children than she does about me. I feel like Im the last thing on her list. I think she doesnt even really like me. How can I get her to change and treat me better? Is there any way to get my wife to be more loving towards me?


(This article is for people who have common, garden variety complaints about people. I am not talking about abusive, toxic people or those with infidelity issues. I have addressed those in other articles.)

I put these two questions together, because both of you are trying to change your spouses behavior. This is a tricky thing to do, because you cant really change other people. You might be able to threaten, nag, control or bribe them into temporary change, but real lasting change has to come from them. They have to change themselves.

Having said that, there are some things you can do that will encourage them to want to change themselves, and sooner. There are also some important things you must avoid doing or they will never want to change.

In order to understand these dos and donts, you must understand a couple principles of human behavior.

Principle 1: People want to be accepted for who they are right now. If they catch you trying to change them, they will feel rejected. If they feel rejected, they will resist changing. If they feel unconditionally loved and accepted they will feel safe, and from this place they are more motivated to change themselves.

Principle 2: If a person feels you are disappointed in them, this doesnt motivate them to change. Disappointment makes them want to pull back and protect themselves. It makes them passive aggressive and more motivated to spite you than please you. The more you complain about what they do wrong, the less they will want to change.

The things you must not do are: nag, silent treatment, criticize, shame, make snarky remarks (especially in front of people), tease, be sarcastic, or snap at them in anger.

The more you act taken from, mistreated, insulted and like a victim, the less this person will respect you and want to please you. If you get angry, snap or criticize they will also start to see you as the enemy, behave badly to spite you, and pull away. These behaviors in you are also immature and unattractive.

Here is the real secret to changing another persons behavior:

Step 1: Work on you

It would be nice if we could fix this person, make them more mature, responsible and get them to love you more, but the truth is, this relationship is your classroom too. You are on this planet to learn and grow. This person is currently providing you a beautiful opportunity to stretch and become better.

You must stop reacting from fear, feeling taken from, mistreated, disappointed, needy or insulted. I know that is a tall order, but if you come from a victim place of being wounded by this person, you are not going to motivate change, and on top of that, being a.victim is not attractive at all.

The more you act like a victim, the less this person is going to want to please you. No one changes themselves because they feel sorry for you. If you are constantly feeling offended, you may need to hire a life coach to help you work on being more bulletproof and strong. You must get offended less often and show up less needy.

Being needy, wounded, bothered or disappointed is sucking the love out of the relationship, because you cant be in fear and love at the same time. If you consistently show up in fear, worried about not getting what you want, you are not being loving to them.

If you change your behavior (and change your reactions to this persons behavior) I promise they will feel differently towards you and treat you better. In my book, "Choosing Clarity," I teach you exactly how to stop feeling taken from and insulted. I teach you how to feel safe all the time and show up with more love. I highly recommend you read it.

You must stop being so disappointed in this person and work to accept them as they are. You must see them as your perfect teacher and your relationship as your perfect classroom. You must let them be who and where they are. You must do this if you want them to change. I know its counter-intuitive but its truth. They must feel accepted as they are in order for this change technique to work.

Step 2: Build up this person

You must validate, reassure and build up this person as much as you can. This means complimenting every small thing they do right. You must praise them and tell them how wonderful, amazing and good they are. You must do this because people are more motivated to change when we show them their light than when we show them their faults.

People who feel good about themselves are more motivated, loving, positive and giving towards you than those who feel terrible about themselves.

The question is which are you creating in this relationship? Are you creating a person who feels wonderful or one who feels like a failure? Do you do more building up or tearing down?

Make this person feel appreciated, respected, admired and wanted every day. Tell them how lucky you are to be married to such an amazing person and I promise, they will adore you.

They will also be more motivated to please you.

Step 3: Tell them they are behaving the way you want them to

  • Write down on paper exactly how you wish they would behave.
  • Write down how you would treat them and what you would say to them, if they behaved this way.
Example: "Babe, you are the best wife in the world, you make me feel so loved and appreciated. I know how busy you are with the kids, but you always make me feel like your number one. Thanks for being the best, most loving wife in the world."

  • Start saying those things right now, even though they aren't behaving this way yet.
If your wife does anything loving at all, jump right on it and tell her how wonderful, loving and affectionate she is. (Focus on the kind of person you want her to think she is, not the specific behavior.) You are doing this to show her who she really can be. She has this goodness in her, she just doesn't know it yet.

When you see the highest best in someone you literally push them in that direction. We call this the Encouragement Technique because you are encouraging them to rise into their best self.

For the husband who doesnt pick up his things, catch him picking something up (even once) and tell him what a wonderful father he is. Tell him how he is teaching your children by example, which is so cool, because kids do what they see us do, not what we say. Tell him what an awesome father he is, because he is demonstrating instead of ordering.

It may feel like lying, but it isn't its seeing the good character in him ahead of time.

This works because people want to live up to your highest opinion of them. If you think they are responsible, loving, affectionate, smart and good, they will want to be that. It's just human nature.

This technique works great on kids, co-workers, friends and parents too. Its the only way to motivate people to change themselves in a real lasting way. Force, control, anger and manipulation work in the short term, but they arent real change. Love and encouragement create the real deal.

You can do this.
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