In relationships, there’s an interplay of mutual growth and understanding. Partners can inspire each other to evolve, learn, and adapt in various ways.

However, a pervasive misconception exists within the framework of a romantic relationship that a woman has the power or responsibility to fundamentally rewrite or reshape a man’s inherent nature. This notion undermines the autonomy and individuality of both parties and can set the stage for unrealistic expectations and potential disappointments.

“A lot of women try to change a man’s behaviors because they seek to feel worthy and loved” said Abigail Makepeace, MFT. “If a man behaves in an undesirable manner, a woman will often receive it as a reflection of her own self-worth.”

“Many women believe the way to feel more worthy is to have the person who’s seemingly taken their worth away return it by changing their behaviors to demonstrate that she is ‘worth it,’ she continued.

Makepeace is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She specializes in anxiety, depression, and trauma, works with individuals and couples, and is licensed in California and Texas. She spoke with 21Ninety to dissect why some women believe they can change their man’s behavior.

A ‘Pick Me Girl’

The “pick me” syndrome exemplifies this ideology. It’s where a person goes to extreme lengths to prove they’re the ideal partner. It’s an unfortunate consequence of equating one’s worth with a partner’s fidelity. The”pick me” approach won’t magically instill loyalty if a man has a history of cheating.

“A partner’s desire to be chosen for a relationship reflects a yearning to receive love through external validation,” explained Makepeace. “For some women, not being picked can feel like annihilation.”

“This is because they feel that not being selected means they are insignificant and certainly not special enough to receive love from another,” she added.

Consider the scenario where a woman degrades her partner’s ex-girlfriend, believing she can stop his wandering eye. This stems from the false notion that the ex was deficient, so the man strayed. The belief that “I can be better; he won’t cheat on me” can be harmful—disrespecting the ex-girlfriend and placing undue pressure on the woman to be the “perfect” partner. This approach rarely results in genuine change.

“There is a danger with this, as it gives so much power to others who are simply on a different path,” said Makepeace.

“[Some] women believe that if a man hasn’t changed or fully committed to a partner, it’s because he hasn’t found someone whom he deems “worth it.” If you are seeking approval…to feel chosen or special, there is an allure in being the one that he finds desirable enough to finally settle down with,” she added.

Makepeace noted that others would view a “pick-me” girl’s antics as cruel, but deep down, she’s insecure and vying for her partner’s love.

Society’s Views on Changing A Man

Traditionally, societal norms often place the burden on women to “reform” or “tame” their male partners.

“Where it gets tricky is examining how we are taught to be loyal to a partner,” said Makepeace. Many women are praised for being loyal and believe loyalty is staying with a man through all his failings…including cheating,”

These expectations emerged from traditional gender roles, where women were the caregivers and nurturers, responsible for imparting moral values and maintaining relationship harmony. Such beliefs implied men who were inherently flawed or wild needed women’s guiding touch to achieve refinement.

Over time, these perceptions perpetuated the stereotype that women must shoulder the emotional labor in relationships, adjusting men’s behaviors and aligning them with societal standards. This skewed dynamic places stress on women and deprives men of agency and self-responsibility.

It’s Not Your Job to Change A Man

For a healthy relationship, both partners must contribute equally, free from outdated and limiting gender expectations. But women must be honest with themselves and not intentionally seek men they want to change.

“You have to be really honest with yourself and look at your history to see patterns in relationships,” stated Makepeace.

“Also, what do you tell yourself about the relationship when you are alone? Is it the same way you feel in public? It’s important to note that you can hope that someone’s behaviors will change without excusing those behaviors,” she continued.

Relationships thrive on mutual respect, understanding, and equality. Each individual is responsible for their personal growth and actions. True, lasting change comes from within and cannot be externally imposed.

Makepeace shared that she believes individuals can change; however, hoping someone will change won’t change them. She wants women to be honest with themselves – do you seem more committed to your partner’s change than them? And can you stay if he never changes? If not, then it is OK to walk away.