Something plenty of us are or have been guilty of is taking it personally when someone lacks the ability or desire to commit. Hell, we have a pesky habit of internalising other people’s feelings and behaviour in general! As a result, when people disappoint or mistreat us, we regard it as a failure to please and perform. Personalising other people’s feelings, behaviour, or ability or willingness to commit, though, lead to living in fear of them changing. It’s almost as if we need reassurance that they’re miserable and getting their comeuppance, not giving someone else what we couldn’t get.

Whether it’s months, years or decades later, though, people are allowed to change.

Even though we might feel as if we gave our all, accepted crumbs, tolerated the unacceptable, and invested our time, emotions, effort, etc., we’re not owed someone else’s change. We’re also not owed their suffering until the end of time as compensation. So if they move on, it isn’t further confirmation of our unworthiness. Our ex will experience the consequences of their habits on their timeline, not ours.

One of the traps we fall into is conflating a person changing with return on investment. We see our willingness to, for instance, to become what we think our romantic partner wants as an ‘investment’. In turn, we regard their willingness and ability to do what we want in return as ‘profit’. Keep in mind, of course, that what we want, might require them to do an about-turn on their typical character. For example, commitment, communicating instead of avoiding, or for them to stop mistreating us,

Here’s the thing: A person ‘changing’ and becoming emotionally available and commitment-ready isn’t a ‘return on investment’. It isn’t.

How can it be if we have to break ourselves to ‘get the relationship’?

If anything, the ‘return on investment’ is letting go and raising our standards so that we treat and regard ourselves with love, care, trust and respect. This shake-up will only lead to better relationships and experiences. 

Let’s also acknowledge that people can pretend that they’ve changed or that they want to. Hello, Future Faking and Fast Forwarding. This is why we can wind up boomeranging back and forth with an ex for years or even decades. It’s also why a relationship can drag on long past its sell-by-date. Our partner keeps telling us what we think we want to hear in those inevitable crunch talks. You know, those ones where the relationship’s future is on the line and we think it’s over this time. Then our partner gradually slides back to the status quo of their typical behaviour. Side note: so do we!

When we conflate what someone else does with how much we’ve pleased and performed, we enter into a vicious cycle.

If we actually believe that we ‘made’ someone change, we’ll believe we have more influence than we do.

We’ll also find ourselves wedded to the pattern of people pleasing. Why? Because we think it’s the only way to make this person stay how they are or to meet our needs and wants. e.g. We believe our romantic partner says they want to be with us because of all of the people-pleasing efforts. When they don’t feel and behave as we need, want or expect, we’ll assume that the solution is to please and try harder. But, also, when we consider breathing out and relaxing into being more of who we really are, it will be too scary. We’ll fear being out of control and exposing ourselves to hurt, disappointment and rejection. And so round and round we go.

Something we forget when we’re trying to be whatever we think will ‘get’ commitment is that it changes us into someone we’re not.

If we want genuine commitment within a mutually fulfilling relationship, it must be based on being authentically ourselves. Unfortunately, when we believe it’s our fault that someone isn’t emotionally available or commitment-ready, we invariably wind up hiding our needs. We don’t want to be ‘too much’ lest it makes the possibility of change even less likely.

Of course, in these modern times where we can get a window into each other’s lives, we can monitor exes.

It’s a bit like cashing out of an underperforming/rock-bottom stock but keeping an eye on its performance. Any seeming upward tick will freak us out. We might forget that we didn’t have anything left to give without bankrupting ourselves. That, and we also have the option of bettering our lives in a variety of ways, not just that one stock or person.

It’s easy to look at an ex’s (or whoever’s) Facebook, Instagram, etc., and draw the conclusion that they’re now “amazing”. Or maybe we hear on the grapevine that our ex, who couldn’t commit to dinner back in the day, settled down.

How much do we really know about how someone has changed just by judging them through our social media stalking and what we think we ‘know’ about their current life?

That doesn’t mean that they might not have changed. Even so, why is that a bad thing? Many factors contribute to why somebody evolves and changes. Rest assured that falling in love with a Perfect Person isn’t one of them. It’s a culmination of events, not one person ‘making’ the other spontaneously combust into a Better/Perfect Person. Also, somebody appearing to be in a committed relationship doesn’t mean they’re emotionally available or that they’ve changed.

If you’re blaming yourself for why someone couldn’t or wouldn’t commit, halt. Have an honest conversation with yourself. Were you truly ready for commitment? 

Associating whether someone will or should commit with how much you try, please and perform–efforting–creates this sense that you earned a commitment from your ex and are still owed it. Hence why months/years/decades later, you’re wondering if they’re going to change and whether they’ll be a better person in a better relationship with someone else.

  • Did you seek commitment with a commitment-resistant person because you subconsciously knew it wasn’t going to happen?
  • Was/is it your pattern to associate your desire for commitment with efforting?

Either way, it leads to suffering and turmoil, not a commitment of the healthy, loving, conscious kind. 

Wanting commitment because you’re in a mutual relationship is totally different from wanting it because you’re trying to be rewarded for your efforts.

Also, what do you think you did to get the relationship, the love, the commitment? This will offer clues not just about what you think a relationship involves but where you overrode your boundaries. You will see clear indications of where you sacrificed your needs. 

This belief that something about you, so your lack of worthiness, attractiveness, not being or trying enough–something–‘made’ someone else unable to meet your needs, wants, and expectations erodes your self-esteem.

Someone else’s emotional unavailability or commitment resistance isn’t your fault. It only becomes your problem as such if you turn yourself into a performing seal and emotional airbag. Or if you hold onto the relationship not working out and internalise it as a sign of your unworthiness.

We all have our baggage, including our habits around emotional availability, intimacy and commitment. That baggage doesn’t just disappear because the Right Person came along. It will still need to be unpacked, decluttered and reclaimed. And ultimately, some relationships are better for that than others. You need to be in relationships where you can evolve out of old patterns, not stay in them.

If you still believe that an ex’s lack of ability or willingness to commit was your fault, it’s further proof that they weren’t the one for you. A loving relationship doesn’t require you to compromise yourself or ‘make’ your partner change; it requires intimacy, which comes from honesty and boundaries. When you’re willing to let go of the blame, you can truly become available for a genuinely loving and committed relationship.

The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon/HarperCollins) is out now and available in bookshops on and offline. Listen to the first chapter.
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