Marge: Well, most women will tell you that you're a fool to think you can change a man, but those women are quitters!
Marge: When I first met your father, he was loud, crude, and piggish. But I worked hard on him, and now he's a whole new person.
Marge: He's a whole... New! Person! Lisa!Alice is a Love Martyr for Bob. The world can plainly see that Bob is an utter loser — he's selfish, greedy, and completely spineless — but not Alice. To her, Bob's faults are minor and no cause for concern, for she can Change Him. The power and strength of her love will send him through a metamorphosis that will remake him into her perfect man. You wait. You'll see. Of course, she's probably wrong. In cases where Alice does effect a change, then you have Love Redeems rather than this trope. In a long story arc it can zig-zag: first, I Can Change My Beloved, then switch to Love Redeems... and then, if the authors are cruel, switch back so that the redemption was just an act or a temporary phase. Poor Alice. While there are a lot of male examples, this trope is usually female, and one of the main reasons why All Girls Want Bad Boys. Usually Played for Drama. Sometimes played as a Fetish component in Bastard Boyfriend, or, hypothetically (but rarely seen), in its Distaff Counterpart Bastard Girlfriend. Compare Destructive Romance. Contrast Love Redeems and Reformed Rakes, where this mindset actually works. Also compare/contrast Draco in Leather Pants where this mindset works because the one who has the mentality is the author! If the specific point of the Love Interest that needs changing is their wardrobe, it's I Want My Beloved to Be Fashionable.
— The Simpsons, "Lisa's Date With Density"
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Anime and Manga
- Infamously used in the ending of the Hot Gimmick manga; the protagonist Hatsumi, despite all evidence to the contrary, decides to marry the Jerkass love interest Ryuuki because maybe she can change him once they're together. (This is true only for the manga: In the novelization, Hatsumi considers this trope, realizes it's bull, and goes for a slightly less awful love interest instead: Shinogu.)
- Kurumi Akino from Haou Airen thinks she can pull this in regards to Hakuron, the dude who practically kidnapped her and brought her to Hong Kong to be his mistress. (Then again the poor girl is trapped in the SAR and has no real way out, considering Hakuron is a high-ranked Triads leader.) In any way, it does NOT go well.
- In Code Geass, Shirley thinks it's her duty to reform Lelouch because he's a "failure as a person". Since she only sees the Brilliant, but Lazy Rich Idiot with No Day Job persona he maintains at school, and has no idea what a Magnificent Bastard Anti-Hero he is in his other life, this particular aspect to her romance is either Played for Laughs or for tragic Irony.
- A non-romantic (at least in canon) example in Naruto where the titular character insists that Sasuke is, at heart, a good person.
- According to Word of God from Bob Kane, the point behind the relationship between Batman and Catwoman is that Batman partly thinks he can reform her. And in some continuities (such as Earth-2 of Pre-Crisis), he's actually right. To a lesser extent, this is also true of his other big love, Talia Al Ghul. Though in that case, it can flip as to who's trying to change who.
- The BBC documentary The Human Animal proposes a reason this trope exists in simple biological terms. The short of it is that the dangerous aspects of the target are sexual advertisements. According to the documentary, on a biological level, women are looking for signs of protective prowess (a partner who will help protect and rear offspring). Displays of aggressive behaviour are then read as signs of this prowess (cultural signs of this vary greatly, but the intended messages are the same). Once partnered up, however, the female will actively work to prevent the male from displaying further (which is this trope), so as to prevent the male from gathering further attention from the opposite sex. There's a lot more to human courtship, of course, mostly because unlike other primates alive today, sex among humans lasts more than 8 seconds.
- In Revenge of the Sith Padme said that Anakin was a good man even though he killed sand people, and even after he had killed children, and even after he almost killed her. Her last words were that there was still good in him. She was right, but it took their son to bring it out of him.
- In Spy Kids 2, Carmen had a crush on the rival bad boy spy and at one point insisted she could change him. She appears to get over her crush on him at the end of the movie. There's still some Ship Tease between the two in the third film, but by then he's spent a while away from her and appears to have cooled off in the meantime.
- Subverted in Frozen. The song 'Fixer Upper' seems to be saying this at first, but the bridge makes it clear that the song is about accepting your partner's flaws rather than trying to change them. That's actually a pretty good message for Disney.
- Also averted in Beauty and the Beast, despite its reputation for "promoting" this attitude. While it is a Love Redeems story, Belle never tries to change the Beast, not does she fall in love with him until after he changes.
- In A Brother's Price, Jerin's grandfather Alannon apparently succeeded in changing his wives, but they were just a little rough around the edges to begin with, and he mainly taught them proper diction, table manners and so on. And he wasn't delusional enough to do it voluntarily, he was kidnapped by them, they wanted a husband and did everything in their power to make him comfortable. Averted with Jerin himself, who, when considering the prospect of having to marry the Brindle sisters, thinks that he might be able to make some changes to their home to make himself more comfortable, but that he'll still have to live with their personalities.
- In the Sherlock Holmes story Valley of Fear, Ettie falls prey to this. More justified than usual; her beloved starts out as a relatively decent guy with a Dark and Troubled Past (certainly better than the brutish Romantic False Lead she started with), and she fights the influence of the criminals that own their town when they start sucking him in. It actually works out for her, but only because he was a deep-cover agent the whole time.
- In The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Helen enters into her marriage with Arthur looking forward to changing and redeeming him, only to find that it's not that easy. She ends up thoroughly miserable, and in fact leaves him (an unspeakable move at the time) to rescue their son from his influence. This is also played straight in the same book: her friend is miserable in her marriage, but her husband is willing to change, and with a few points from both his wife and Helen, he shapes up into a very considerate partner.
- Parodied in Which Witch?: After witnessing some truly horrible magic (it involved animals eating each other alive), the dark wizard Arriman decides that the witch who did it wins the contest for his hand in marriage, and says to his servant something like "She won't do that again once we're married, will she? Then there will be only my kind of magic, don't you think?" The servant doesn't agree, and resolves to quit his job if that witch becomes his new employer, as he doesn't want to be killed in a horrible way. As the witch in question is a Black Widow, the servant is probably correct, the marriage never happens, but it's strongly implied Arriman would have been killed by her. He eventually marries the hero, Belladonna, who is a white witch, but he doesn't care, he loves her just as she is.
- In P. G. Wodehouse's Hot Water, Beatrice thinks she can turn Packy into a man of culture. A common trait of certain Wodehouse fiancees — who always turn out to be the wrong woman. Bertie Wooster's Aunt Dahlia, on the other hand, explicitly notes at one point that the reason her marriage to Tom Travers works so well is that she makes absolutely no effort to mold him.
- Diana Ladris attempts this in PLAGUE (book four of the GONE series). And fails miserably, finally giving up and giving Caine the middle finger.
- J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, finds this sort of thing (which usually leads into Draco in Leather Pants) a bit disturbing and unhealthy (source):
It amuses me. It honestly amuses me. People have been waxing lyrical [in letters] about Draco Malfoy, and I think that's the only time when it stopped amusing me and started almost worrying me. I'm trying to clearly distinguish between Tom Felton, who is a good looking young boy, and Draco, who, whatever he looks like, is not a nice man. It's a romantic, but unhealthy, and unfortunately all too common delusion of — delusion, there you go — of girls, and you [nods to Melissa] will know this, that they are going to change someone. And that persists through many women's lives, till their death bed, and it is uncomfortable and unhealthy and it actually worried me a little bit, to see young girls swearing undying devotion to this really imperfect character, because there must be an element in there, that "I'd be the one who [changes him]." I mean, I understand the psychology of it, but it is pretty unhealthy. So, a couple of times I have written back, possibly quite sharply, saying [Laughter], "You want to rethink your priorities here."
- Ben Skywalker tries to reform Vestara Khai in the Fate of the Jedi series. It does not go well.
- Fifty Shades of Grey has shades of this, though most notably in the Fifty Shades Darker. Anastasia has instances where she's thinking that, if she has a 'regular' relationship with Christian, he will eventually denounce his BDSM ways and wanting nothing more than 'vanilla sex', as he called it.
Live Action TV
- Elena in regards to both of the Salvatore brothers on The Vampire Diaries.
- When Charlie's mother met his first serious Love Interest on Two and a Half Men, they squared off like a confrontation was about to take place. Instead, the mother simply asked desperately, "Can you fix him?" Exasperated, the girl confirmed, "I'm trying." True to her word, the entire episode was about her forcing Charlie to give up smoking and drinking, eat healthier, and incorporate exercise into his lifestyle. His Stalker with a Crush tells him that she would never try to change him because she actually loves him. The scenario backfires when Charlie finally takes a stand against his girlfriend- he puts his foot down in a fancy restaurant, getting the male clientele (similarly browbeaten) to back him up. The issue is dropped from then on.
- An episode of the Adam West Batman series has The Penguin fool a wealthy woman into falling in love with him just so he can earn her trust then rob her. After his scheme is exposed she is still in love and insists if she were to marry him she could reform him into a perfect man. Penguin's response? "Take me to prison!"
- In Degrassi there are the good girls, "cause girl" Emma and the Christian Darcy who only like bad boys so that they can make them good.
- Although the Official Couple of Robin Hood was (obviously) Robin and Marian, Marian struck up a friendship with Guy of Gisborne and would often encourage him to break ties with the evil Sheriff, stop killing innocent people, and become a better man. It was subverted throughout the show considering Guy would always be on his best behaviour around Marian whilst continuing to terrorize the peasants as soon as she was out of sight, but genuinely fell in love with her over the course of the first two seasons. However, when Marian makes it clear as to where she stands, telling him that it's either the Sheriff or her, Guy picks the Sheriff and murders her.
- Played with on The Big Bang Theory. Priya tries to change Leonard not because he's a "bad boy", (since he's the farthest thing from it), but because he's a geek. She makes him dress cooler, insists he get contacts (despite the fact they keep causing him physical harm), stop hanging put with his ex girl friend, and partake in more "normal" activities (i.e. watching baseball vs World of Warcraft). We see the story unfold from Leonard and Penny's perspective, not Priya's, where her changes are shown as being somewhat controlling and unnecessary. Of course, once Priya moves back to India, Leonard starts hanging out with Penny again and goes back to his trademark hoodies, while he never stopped indulging in his geeky activities to begin with.
- In Once Upon a Time, Belle insists on staying with Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin not because she doesn't believe he's a monster, but because she knows he is but believes that he can be better and can bring out his good qualities. Also, without her presence and influence to curb his more extreme tendencies, he tends to be a lot worse. In the midseason finale of Season 4, she finds out that he's been lying to her for months and plotting murder and various evilness. She realizes that he won't change for her and that he never intended to do so, and ends the relationship and forces him to leave town (which also strips him of his magical powers).
- Dexter: Dexter Morgan starts having marriage trouble with Rita shortly after tying the knot. When a marriage counselor asks why Rita never brought up the issues she was having with Dexter before they got married, her excuse is she thought she could change him. Considering Dexter is husband number three, with the previous one being abusive, it's clear Rita has not learned anything.
- Becky Conner and her bad-boy husband Mark Healy on Roseanne. Mark is actually very similar to Becky's father Dan in his own youth (i.e., sometimes aggressive and delinquent, but never vicious and only rarely mean-spirited) and, while she and Mark occasionally clash over his "bad boy" behavior, the real sticking point is Mark's lack of intellectual achievement and intelligence overall, which is usually played for laughs. Becky first pressures Mark into enrolling in college, but fails. He finally agrees to enter a trade school, despite his preference to remain a mechanic (a job at which all the characters on the show agree he excels). She becomes distraught when he flunks out, leading her to contemplate divorce, even though she had always known he never was and never wanted to be the intellectual type she seemed to want to turn him into. Roseanne, who had always been against their marriage and was the source of most of the jabs at Mark's lack of intelligence, helps Becky to realize that her efforts to "change" Mark are both unrealistic and selfish and cause Mark to feel inadequate.
- Ironically, Roseanne frequently mentioned doing this with Dan. In an early episode, when talking with her girlfriends, she says, "A guy is a lump like a doughnut. So, first (picks off sprinkles) you gotta get rid of all the stuff his mom did to him. And then (rips it in half) you gotta get rid of all that macho crap that they pick up from beer commercials. And then there's my personal favorite, the male ego (takes off another chunk and eats it)." Any time someone asks how she got a great guy like Dan, she always said she didn't, she put a lot of work into him to get him there.
- Any of dozens of women on How I Met Your Mother who thought they could change Barney.
- On Cheers, Sam and Diane have this attitude toward each other. Sam is a Dumb Jock who dropped out of high school and former Major League baseball star, Diane is a pretentious intellectual studying to get a wide variety of degrees. Being on opposite extremes, Sam is constantly trying to get Diane to loosen up and be more open toward blue-collar activities, Diane is insisting that Sam be more intellectual and take interests in classic literature. The tragic part of the relationship is both of them make decent efforts to please the other (Diane will take part in the bar's sports talks to an extent, Sam at one point binge-read all of War And Peace in five days just so he and Diane could have something to talk about), but neither of them are ever satisfied and demand more. Their inability to accept each others' differences one of the biggest problems in their relationship.
- Miley Cyrus complains about this in "Can't Be Tamed". She claims that every man has tried to change her before realising he can't.
- "Under My Thumb" by The Rolling Stones. The narrator is bragging about how as their relationship grew, his girlfriend (who had been something of a Tsundere) changed into someone much more submissive and sweet.
- Discussed in Doctor Demento's "Highly Illogical". The alien vocalist (Leonard Nimoy) at one point observes how after a man and a woman gets married, she sets about changing all his bad habits... and then complains that he's "not the man she married anymore".
- "If Mr. Keuner loved someone" by Bertolt Brecht:
Questioner: What do you do when you love someone?Mr. Keuner: I make a sketch of the person, and make sure that one comes to resemble the other.Questioner: Which, the sketch?Mr. Keuner: No, the person.
- The song "Marry the Man Today" ("and change his ways tomorrow!") from Guys and Dolls is all about this, and indeed it seems to work out well enough for Sarah.
- This is the whole point of The Taming of the Shrew. Though successful, whether the changes are actually for the better is up for debate.
- Appears in Neverwinter Nights 2 during the abortive romance arc with Neeshka, who develops quite a lot due to the player character's trust and love.
- A variant happens in Back to the Future: An alternate-timeline Emmett Brown is convinced to help restore the original timeline after his wife — a ruthless dictator of Hill Valley — attempts to brainwash him. However he finds himself having a change of heart when he learns that the original timeline had her as a bitter spinster. He then blames himself for influencing her behaviour and believes that he can change her retroactively through time travel by completely discouraging his younger self's scientific interests.
- Astrid and Makalov's paired ending in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn states that she spent a lot of their marriage trying to tame his lazy, sleazy ways. She never succeeded.
- In The Order of the Stick, villainous shapeshifter Sabine got over it, describing an inversion of All Girls Want Bad Boys:
Sabine: Sure, women like me swoon for a hero, but that's only because deep down, we think we can change them. But me, I'm done with that now. I want a nice, safe, reliable mass-murderer that I can depend on.
- It's implied that this is why the Commander once dated Tank in Manly Guys Doing Manly Things. Tank's comment doesn't help:
" It makes a lot of sense when you remember I'm about as close as people get to being project cars."
- In the first season of The Guild, Zaboo tries to pull this on the protagonist. (When it doesn't work out he instead tries to change himself, but that's a different story.)
- The Whateley Universe has Loophole getting warned by her advisor that Kodiak isn't going to be susceptible to being changed by her love, and most bad boys aren't. She eventually doesn't try it.
- Shows up in a big way on The Nostalgia Chick's top ten list of the hottest animated guys (drawn from the opinions of her fans), which posits that a guy you can change is in and of itself something attractive, related to the All Girls Want Bad Boys archetype. ("What do we like more than a big masculine crusader for justice? A project!" ) It got so bad that her poll turned out The Hunchback of Notre Dame villain Frollo as the tenth hottest animated guy, due almost entirely to the appeal of this trope.
- She has also railed against the Beauty and the Beast interquels for this: they make it so that Belle is trying to change the Beast, while she notes that in the original, she wouldn't give him the time of day until he took the initiative to start changing himself. It should be noted though that The Enchanted Christmas explicitly takes place during this timeframe, after he had saved her life, which may make Belle's actions a little more rational.
- In Red vs. Blue, the Director of Project Freelancer is absolutely obsessed with his AI experiments. His goal? Bring back his long departed wife, Allison. Only, his desire to bring her back means doing horrible, horrible things to her AI replica, Texas, in the hopes of "bringing her back right". This also means ignoring his daughter, Agent Carolina, and not telling her that Tex is an echo of her mother.
- In The Veronica Exclusive, Veronica initially stays with J.D. even after realizing she's a murderous psychopath because she thinks she can "help" her. She eventually realizes that J.D. either can't or doesn't want to reform, and dumps her. J.D. doesn't take this well.
- On Archer, Lana has this attitude towards Sterling. A case of All Girls Want Bad Boys, Lana is very sexually-attracted to Archer despite the fact that he ranges from Jerkass to PsychopathicManchild. While she finds nearly everything about his personality revolting, she keeps going back to trying to force him to be more the way she wants him to be, including using The Baby Trap to make him more responsible, and not coincidentally more focused on her (and not necessarily their child).
- Parodied on Family Guy in the episode "The Former Life of Brian". Brian tries to impress a recently-widowed mother (only referred to as "Jared's Mom") by putting on a magic show for her son, only to find out that she already has a boyfriend, Paul. They plan to base their whole relationship on this trope:
Paul: ...I'm a great guy! I'm unemployed, but that makes her feel useful in the relationship.Jared's Mom: I'm gonna fix him!Paul: Our relationship will do fine on that basis.Jared's Mom: If he had his life together, I wouldn't be into it.Paul: But I don't!Brian: (exasperated) God, I am so sick of this crap!
- In the episode "Screams of Silence: The story of Brenda Q" The neighborhood has an intervention in order to convince Quagmire's sister Brenda to leave her abusive boyfriend. Meg's speech is basically a suggestion that if he likes her, she could change him. Joe is not amused.
Meg: I feel like if he likes you, maybe you can change him.Joe: OK! Maybe she wasn't the one to start with.
- Inverted in Futurama. Romanticorp tested pickup lines on women using test dummies. One of the dummies used the line "My two favorite things are commitment and changing myself." The woman in the test chamber immediately started making out with the dummy.
- The Simpsons:
Lisa: Well read, and just a little wild. Ohh, if only someone could tame him.Bart: You're right Lisa, love isn't about fixing someone. I'm just gonna give her up cold-turkey. Thanks for the advice.Lisa: (non-committal noises)
- Marge did this with Homer, and insists it worked. See Page Quote. Lisa's response is to just pretend to agree with her.
- An earlier episode ("Bart's Girlfriend"), had Bart briefly thinking he could try this with Jessica Lovejoy. Lisa calls him on it... only to immediately admit she's got a crush on the boy who works in the library.
- In a much later episode, when asked why, after so long, Lisa still has a thing for Nelson, she begins by insisting she doesn't... to gushing out how dark and mysterious he is, to insisting that only she can change him.
- Deconstructed in 'Bonfire of The Manatees' were Marge finally realises that she hasn't changed Homer at all and leaves the house, eventually coming across a handsome Manatee biologist named Caleb. Caleb helps Marge to see that Homer is still the man she fell in love with. The problem is that she still expects him to change.
- In Adventure Time Finn finds out to his dismay that his new love interest, Flame Princess, is evil due to coming from an Always Chaotic Evil race of flame people. He discusses the situation with her father, who concedes that if a really good guy (like Finn) liked her then she could possibly be changed to good (although she'd suffer penalties to her EXP for acting out of alignment). Of course, Flame Princess doesn't really ACT evil, she's just temperamental, naive and has traces of Blue and Orange Morality about when it is and isn't appropriate to burn things.
- Gender Flipped in Lloyd in Space. He dates Cindy, an alien girl with two heads. One head is nice, the other one is a complete bitch. He decides he'll try to change the mean head but when that doesn't work, he snaps and yells at both of them. Realising his own mistake, he apologises. Cindy's mean head still seems a bit like a jerk in subsequent episodes but she actually does mellow out a small bit.
- An interesting bit of trivia regarding Miraculous Ladybug is that Adrien was changed from the aloof "bad boy" that he was in the anime sizzle reel to the Dogged Nice Guy that he's in the cartoon out of a decision from the creators that they didn't wanted to have Marinette spousing this belief as a part of her relationship with him (and having kids learn this belief, citing it as unrealistic).
- Trying this trope in real life can have disastrous results. Building a relationship with someone you do not see as "good enough" leads to turmoil and resistance from the partner. It can also lead to accepting abuse, whereas if you think you can change an abusive partner, you don't leave and free yourself from the situation. For examples of how badly trying this can go, just consult your nearest advice column.
- Mae West was not fond of this trope. As she put it, "Don't marry a man to reform him. That's what reform schools are for."