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Why Keep Asking Why People Won’t Change?


Why questions can be helpful in understanding yourself and others. “Why do I think I need to eat watching TV?” and “Honey, why don’t you like historical novels?” are fine questions which will likely give you fruitful information But some “why” questions aren’t meant to seek new information and have a purpose which you’re probably not aware of. 

“Why won’t they change?” may be the most frequent question I’m asked. What drives it is usually not avid curiosity and it may not even be a quest for new information. When you ask, “Why hasn’t he changed when I’ve asked him a million times not to talk about my weight?” or “Why hasn’t she changed when I’ve begged her not to hurl questions at me the minute I walk in the door from work?” what you really might be wanting to know is: am I worth someone doing things differently, don’t they love me enough, don’t my opinions or feelings matter, and don’t they care that they’re hurting me? 

My hunch when you ask why someone won’t do this or that is not that you’re looking for deep psychological enlightenment for why they maintain the status quo but are seeking validation about yourself. I know this because I’m no stranger to having asked the “why won’t they” question far too often in the first half of my life. You ask because you think someone ought to love or care for you more, see you as more valuable, take your wants more seriously, feel that you’re worth changing for, and not want to hurt or upset you.

Moreover, are you really looking for an answer to the question or is the query actually a statement of “I want you to change”? Maybe you hope if you ask often enough times that someone will hear you and correct their behavior. Maybe you ask because you don’t want to tell them to stop doing something. Your underlying wish is likely that they would  ponder your question and modify their words or actions because they better understand themselves, want to be different, and desire to make you happy. 

That’s not usually what happens when you keep posing the “why won’t you” question, though, is it? Instead, the person often gets angry that you keep nagging them and you get frustrated that you haven’t gotten your answer. So, here it is: they want to stay the same more than they want to change. Sure, there are genetic, childhood, cultural, situational, and temperamental reasons they act as they do; most were who they are long before they met you. 

If you want someone to change, stop asking why they won’t. Tell them the behavior you want them to do, ask if they’re willing to do it and what would get them to do it. That’s it. And stop asking yourself why someone won’t change. It’s a waste of time and energy.