Don’t fall for “potential.”

Have you ever gone out with someone who told you things like…”I’m selfish, I’m depressed; I’m mixed up; I talk to my mother at least three times a day,” and some little something churned in your gut, but you ignored it? Did you rationalize away, or diminish what they said? Or maybe you thought that once you were together, you could change them. Well, guess what? You can’t! Another person changes only if they want to change, and no amount of helping, badgering, nagging, cajoling, or threatening can force the change to happen. So what can you do? You can say how you feel, say what you want, but whether or not they heed your call is entirely up to them.

Given this, it’s not very wise to get into a serious relationship with someone who tells you something about them that you can’t live with because they have “potential.” Down the line, being with a selfish person, for example, won’t be a fun ride. You’ll be giving, giving, giving; they’ll be taking, taking, taking. And after a while, you’ll end up worn out and resentful; your resentment will come out either directly or indirectly; they will feel it; and your relationship will be in trouble.

So when someone tells you something about them, or their actions show you something about them, BELIEVE IT, then ask yourself if this is something you want to live with. Because if it isn’t, you are not going to change them. Does this mean that you’re doomed if you’ve already ignored your gut and are in a relationship that is less than jolly? No. Change is possible. The way to change another is to change yourself. A relationship is a system, and when one part of the system changes, the other part has to change. What this means is that if you change, your partner has to change in some way. It may not be in the way you want, but your change will create movement, which is a good beginning. You won’t stay stuck in same old, same old.

Here’s an example: Joe is controlling. Mary is passive, doesn’t stand up for herself, which allows Joe to be controlling. Mary starts to assert herself…say what she thinks, what she wants, say how she feels. Joe is startled, resists Mary’s new behavior by becoming even more controlling. Mary sticks to her guns, and says (and means) that if things don’t change, their relationship (and her love) will diminish, and she will leave. Joe loosens his grip because he doesn’t want to lose Mary, and also secretely admires her for standing up to him. Changing another person means changing how you respond to that person. A different response from you elicits a different response in them. There’s a lot of hope in that.

Check out my book, The Affair: From Breakdown to Breakthrough, A Therapist’s Real-life Journey, for more tips and insights about how to improve your relationship. You can read a synopsis of the book on my website, and buy it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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