If you’ve ever stayed in a relationship long past its sell by date, you’ll have worried about what you’ve ‘put in’ and become focused on getting a return on investment. Instead of thinking about who they consistently are and the present, you think about the good ‘ole days and wish they’d change back. Or you look to the future and practically squeeze your eyes shut and cross your fingers and toes that they’ll realise the potential you’ve envisioned for them and the relationship.
These thoughts and images rattle around in your head trapping you in indecision and when you think about leaving you’re seized by that perennial fear that could keep you awake at night and even worse, caught in a bad romance – What if they become a better person in a better relationship?
Potential in relationships is about consistently having or showing (via actions) the capacity to become or develop into something more serious – commitment and a shared future.
Capacities are individual and independent of one another – you can’t make them have a capacity they don’t possess anyway. It doesn’t come from the intensity of your feelings or your hopes, prayers, or even demands for them to change.
If you’ve read this blog for long enough and my ebook Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl, you’ll know I’ve warned of the perils of Betting On Potential which is essentially gambling at the relationship casino, only you’re an inexperienced gambler that hangs at the wrong tables, has no exit strategy and will go for broke before taking a hint. You don’t know when to fold.
You think that if they do ‘improve’, that it must mean that the problem wasn’t anything to do with them or the relationship; it was about you. That’s why so many women in particular get stuck on ‘Why her and not me?‘ and ‘Is he giving her the relationship that I wanted?’.
This is tied to low self-esteem because you internalise your experiences – when people piss you off, overstep your boundaries, or relationships don’t work out, it cuts to the heart of that niggling fear that it’s something that you’ve ‘done’ and that you’re not good enough to ‘make’ them become someone else. For you.
I get it; relationships take investment of energy, effort, and emotion plus as a result, there is a passage of time, but this doesn’t mean that you can stage a sit-in with an IOU especially when you invest in someone that has a limited capacity to yield a healthy, mutually fulfilling relationship.
Give yourself healthier odds of yielding a mutually, fulfilling co-piloted relationship with a joint agenda, by investing energy, effort, and emotion in appropriate relationships and recognising when to opt out.
If you get too hung up on ‘time’ once it goes beyond a certain point, you reason that you’ve started so you’ll finish. You’ll be frightened of being only minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months away from the ‘better them’ and that if they change, you won’t be around to reap the benefits.
Unfortunately while you keep yourself awake at night and avoid taking necessary action, whether that’s both of you addressing the areas of concern or recognising that only one of you wants this to happen or that you’re incompatible (see why relationships don’t always work out), you’re actually locking yourself in a prison of your own making.
When you worry about them being a better person in a better relationship with someone else, you rob yourself of the opportunity to be your best you in a better relationship.
This isn’t as good as it gets and they’re not your last chance saloon. By treating them like they’re your ‘property’ and that you own the right to their progression or their stagnation, you actually erode your confidence making it even harder to do what’s right for you, this relationship and them.
You don’t recognise when to put the relationship defibrillator down and stop saying CHARGE! In fact, you might have given up and are now holding onto the corpse of your dead relationship and refusing to let it go for fear of the grief that comes with it and what you’ll need to do.
You’re living in the past.
Somewhere along the way, you convinced yourself that this person and the relationship on offer was worth a punt and whatever has happened during that time, this relationship has stopped (or maybe never did) delivering what you expected. You’ve got ‘stuck’ on the potential and all the things you think you’ve done that justify you digging your heels in, but you’ve missed the bigger picture in this:
In acknowledging that you fear them becoming a better person, it’s time to acknowledge that comparatively they’re less than a better person now and what that means to your relationship now.
In order to truly be emotionally available, honest, and authentic, you must be able to admit when you make mistakes and errors in judgement, or where something isn’t working for you because if you don’t, the mistake, error in judgement, and it not working actually get bigger and create more pain. They rob you of better opportunities, personal growth and to ultimately feel something beyond disappointment and guarded hope.
You are human, you love, you want to be loved, and sometimes, you make mistakes.
Relationships serve to teach you about yourself and the pain lessens and the lessons stop repeating themselves when you heed them. You can’t learn those lessons if you’re living in the past, Betting On Potential, and clinging to a relationship for fear of them being better somewhere else. That’s not love; it’s control.
If you stay in a relationship long past its sell by date out of fear of what they might become elsewhere, the lesson you ultimately end up learning is that it’s not relationships that waste your time; it’s the reluctance to be honest and accept your mistakes along with living in fear.
Last year when I wrote about fear means it’s not happening yet and how we get hijacked by our fears and react to stuff that’s not happening and ultimately they’re not a better person in a better relationship – they’re who they are. You’re reacting to the possibility of it happening by blowing smoke up their arse and putting them on a pedestal and imagining the realisation of this fear.
That’s not good for you or for them. If your happiness and the relationship is reliant on them becoming something that they’re not now, your relationship is screwed.
You’re trying to control the uncontrollable – you don’t own them.
Waiting around to be 100% certain that they won’t become a better person means there is no limit to when you’ll opt out because if you’ll wait for that certainty, you’ll put yourself through a lot of pain to get there.
Love isn’t about having the power to change someone and requires acceptance and respect. I appreciate that you have put in time, effort, energy, and emotion, but they’re what make it difficult to leave the relationship but they’re not reasons to stay in a relationship that’s not working.
If your relationship isn’t working, it’s not because you’re not ‘worthwhile’ enough to get them to change into someone else to pay you back your investment and give you the relationship you want. Either both address the reasons it’s not working or accept you’ve become incompatible.
If you stay in a relationship, it’s because you’re both co-pilots working on a joint agenda. You’re not keeping score about your investment and tallying up what you think you’re owed and the decision to work at it is based on mutual love, care, trust, respect, and acceptance.
When you stop worrying about what they may or may not do on your watch, you realise you’ve been trapped in an open prison of your own making. You’re free to get up and leave and ultimately be your best you in a better relationship.
Image Source SXC