After we break up with someone that couldn’t or wouldn’t commit, or even if they said they could, their emotional unavailability made their words rather hollow, there’s often anxiety that two-twos, they’ll ‘change’ for someone else. We fear that as soon as we stop hovering to see if they’re still The Same, as we lick our wounds and attribute their commitment resistance and emotional dodgeball to our flaws, they’ll spontaneously combust into The Perfect Partner TM.
If this sounds at all familiar to you, it’s time to check yourself.
Acknowledge their pattern of engagement. When did they seem emotionally available and willing to commit?
- In the beginning? Um, you didn’t know them in the early stages of dating, so they had no real stake in things. It’s intensity, not intimacy. If your perception of their availability is based on something they said in their dating profile, let that go. Given that people can manipulate their appearance with lighting and careful cropping, you can be assured they can do the same with what they tell you about themselves.
Which prospective romantic partner’s going to advertise themselves as ‘Prone to jumping into relationships really quickly and talking out of my bottom with big promises that you’ll then spend the next few years trying to get me to deliver on while I flip-flap about not being ready yet. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be ready, but I like to think I’ll be.‘?
- Was it when you looked/sounded serious about finishing the relationship or appeared to have moved on? Often when there’s a fear of losing the relationship or being out of control, an emotionally unavailable person, especially if they’re ‘the driver’ as opposed to ‘the passenger’ in the relationship, springs back to life with renewed interest. And then they return to the status quo when it becomes clear that you’re not going anywhere. After that, they treat you like basil–watering the relationship just as it’s starting to die out.
- Was it when they were trying to get back together? Of course they were going to woo you with change. How else were they going to convince you that they were worth a second (or one-hundredth) chance? The fact that you’re now wondering if they’ll change in future suggests they backtracked on whatever they promised or intimated.
- Was it in the moment, often right before they ripped the rug from under your feet or backtracked? Some people ‘love’ pushing themselves to the brink on something they’re scared of. Next thing, they do a u-turn on the relationship they promised. That’s why they might dump you within days of an amazing holiday. Or you’ll attend the wedding they insisted on bringing you to even though it seemed a bit early doors, only to be dumped within days. Or, yes, you’ll meet the parents, friends, co-workers or be told they’re falling for you. Next thing, they’re saying they’re not sure or feeling under pressure. Okeedokee.
To be clear: you’re not having these wonderings because you wish your ex well and want them to grow.
No, you’re worried that your ex will change, serving as confirmation that their commitment resistance and emotional unavailability were your fault. You fear that you were not worthy or pleasing ‘enough’. But pinning someone else’s longstanding emotional patterns on imagined and exaggerated faults is avoiding intimacy. It speaks to your own longstanding emotional pattern of assuming the blame and trying to convince people.
Relationships are a window into understanding our needs. Whatever frustrates us about someone else will highlight something in our own actions and thinking.
If you’re committed to someone who doesn’t want to commit, do you really want commitment? Are you afraid of being in the relationship you say that you need and want?
In the end, whether an ex will change after they weren’t the person for you isn’t what needs exploration. The bigger question is whether you will change.
The self-blame, the holding out in case they spontaneously combust into being able to commit—these are variations of habits you had in the relationship. Regardless of whether they change or not, you can’t keep settling for crumbs or putting your needs on others. When you commit to being more of who you really are and honouring your true needs and wants, you will not hang about in relationships that reinforce negative beliefs. Instead, you will choose love, care, trust and respect. You will choose yourself so that you can be open to a better relationship.
Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to “please” or protect yourself from others? My new book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (HarperCollins/Harper Horizon), is out now.