“He’ll Be Different Someday”: What Infidelity Can Teach Us about Change

“He’ll be different once he starts that new job.”

“She’ll change as soon as the baby is born.”

“Things will get better after we move in together.”

We’ve all been there. We pin our hopes on a partner’s improved behavior tied to a specific moment in time. We list the partner’s failings. He drinks too much. She isn’t particularly honest. We empathize with the struggles, as we wait for each crucial milestone — the engagement, the new job, the baby, another apartment, the midlife crisis — to compel change. But it rarely happens that way.

Are we naive? Or hopeful? Or in complete and utter denial?

Perhaps some of each. Jeffrey Kottler, Ph.D, Professor of Counseling at California State University Fullerton, writes, “It is indeed a mystery, a process so complex and multidimensional that it defies understanding.”

In our work at Infidelity Counseling Network, helping women heal from the trauma of infidelity, we see this same pattern. Many women exhibit tremendous hope even after their partners have betrayed them numerous times. They stand fast to the idea that “he didn’t mean it, he will be different next time” because that’s what their partner keeps saying. Because surely the new job or the different house, or the third child, or the tenth anniversary will make it better. They want to believe it. And wanting something is a pretty compelling reason to believe it.

But external situations do not change people. Change is “a process that begins with being aware. This may seem obvious, but it’s not. If you’re used to blaming everyone else for your problems, then you’re not aware,” writes Linda Sapadin, Ph.D, author and Fellow at the American Psychological Association.

We’ve all been there. We sing the same refrain, over and again. It’s entirely natural to hope our partner will change once something in our lives is different, but it’s not entirely rational.

Wanting change isn’t just about relationships either. For those who perhaps assumed that president-elect Donald Trump would “speak more respectfully once he’s on the campaign trail”, or would “understand the issues once he’s won the primary”, or will “be less self-centered once he’s in office” those changes did not and will not occur simply because his situation changed. For his cabinet members, change in behavior will not occur simply because they have new titles and new offices.

Real change requires awareness, accountability, and action. Let’s use these tools not just for our personal relationships but for our political leaders and all aspects of our society.

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