Oh if I had a nickel for every time I have been asked by a client about whether or not the person they are involved with has the potential to be what they want them to be! I mean, most of us have been influenced to some degree by the idea that relationships are supposed to be forever. You know “’til death do us part” type of thinking.
How many times have we stayed in relationships that just weren’t making us happy or meeting our needs? How long do people generally stay, do you suppose, before they give up on the hopes that their partner will “become” more than they are and will offer up more than they do? It amazes me how we tend to cling to certain people and relationships, regardless of how we feel.
Personally, I have struggled immensely with understanding relationship dynamics, my role in them, and how to have the relationships I wanted (and needed). And in my recent growth, I finally realized that in general, people tend to cling to the potential that they think their partner has, hoping and waiting… praying. We seem to think, especially those of us who see what my friend calls the “gentle goodness” that is in all living things that this “gentle goodness” is going to magically transform who our partner is and what they have to offer us.
Yes, everyone has a “gentle goodness” to them that is sweet, loving, pure and kind. Maybe that is the Divine in them, guiding them towards growth and love. Maybe that is what inspires even the abusive person to have moments of so-called clarity and remorse. Yet not everyone is living in their potential, or acting from their potential…even if others see that potential. Think for a minute, are you living out all of your potential? No, you’re probably not, at least not yet (although we love to think that we are, don’t we?). So what makes us think, if we aren’t in all of our gentle-goodness, that our partner is going to blossom before our eyes into theirs?
Your relationship history is telling you something. And the sooner you see and accept what that history shows you, the sooner you can let go of waiting for someone’s potential to be realized.
We really do see what we want to see, and we believe what we want to see. We tend to overlook things that bother us, hurt us or leave us empty, lonely and passionless. We ignore how we feel in light of telling ourselves that we are loved and we make excuses for how people treat us.
I think that people in general like the comfort of the familiar…it is often easier to stay with someone you know than to venture out all on your own and try again with someone new. So maybe, just maybe, if you are patient enough, if you give enough, or if you try harder, then your partner will love you more and treat you the way you want to be treated. Then maybe your partner will magically develop certain personality traits that you’d like them to possess.
Many new-agers talk about living in the moment, being present and accepting “what is” as a way to peace and abundance. Part of what that means is being honest with yourself about your relationships; what they offer you, how you feel about them, and what your needs are. This also means potentially letting go of the idea that romantic relationships are destined to be forever, because most of those relationships, unless we are in unique circumstances with a unique set of matching criteria, are generally stepping stones to the better and more loving relationships.
We live for potential in others partly because we are taught to forgive, to not give up and to “suck it up” and make it work.
“Be happy, no matter what happens” is what I was taught. It took me years to realize that if someone slaps me in the face, and it hurts, I not only have the right to be unhappy about it but also an obligation to my own well-being to not tolerate that kind of treatment.
The “slap in the face” is figurative, but I think you get my meaning. Sometimes though, the slap is literal, and the sad truth is that many people nowadays have come from dysfunctional homes and create dysfunctional relationships. The other sad reality is that when you come from dysfunction, you don’t even know it! “Normal” and “healthy” and “functional”, if you come from dysfunction, is theoretical because what you grew up with is what you consider to be normal. But dysfunctional is not what experts consider “normal” or “healthy”. Plus, if you’re in a dysfunctional relationship with a dysfunctional partner, love cannot grow and flourish in a healthy way. Ever.
Your standards, how you allow yourself to be treated, even in the smallest sense, comes from what your normal was when you were growing up. Hopefully as you experience different things in your relationships you raise your standards and grow beyond what you were taught. Staying in a relationship merely because you see potential is often a sign of resisting your own needs and feelings. Feelings. Something else that many of us struggle with…
Love is meant to be healing, inspiring and uplifting. Love comforts you, embraces you and makes you feel like you can be better at whatever you do. Love makes you strive for the best of everything; to be the best person you can be, to be as successful as you can be and to feel fulfilled. Love helps you realize and reach your potential. Love helps you help your partner realize and reach their potential. (Their true potential, not what YOU see as their potential.)
Yet feeling love for someone else and trying to make that love enough, even when it is not, doesn’t work. You can love someone who does not really love you back, who maybe can’t love you back (at all or in the ways that you need) for whatever reason. Is the love you have inside enough for both of you? No. The answer is no. Are you listening?
The other side of it is that it’s not always about getting your partner to love you. Sometimes you have to realize that no matter how “good” and “deserving” and “caring” and “loving” and “giving” your partner is you can’t force love. It’s an energy that should flow easily, effortless. And really, really wanting to be in love with someone isn’t enough to make it happen. And that’s OK. But sometimes you stay because you hope that your partner’s potential will make you fall in love. Sometimes you cling to the past, the way your partner used to be, but it still does not change the here and now. It’s just evidence that only one of you has grown.
Your needs change over time, hopefully, (if you are growing and evolving), so your relationships (and partner) will either flow with those changes or not, but you will know when you start to feel unfulfilled.
When your needs change and your relationship doesn’t grow enough to adapt to those changes, you will likely try to “fix it”. You may at first start to notice that your feelings get hurt. You may express this and not feel really heard. Something may start to feel “off”. You might start to feel lonely. These feelings are trying to tell you something, and it is important that you listen!
Sometimes knowing if or when to leave a relationship is tricky, for sure. There are usually many things to consider, some that are more important than others. Are you married? Do you share assets? Are there children involved? Have you exhausted the proven methods of improving the relationship (for example couple’s counseling?) Most importantly, are you being abused in any fashion? Because if you are, it is unlikely that the abuse will stop and that your partner will get the help needed to overcome the abusive patterns. Get out!
If you have tried to communicate your needs better, to get on the same page, and tried counseling (which I highly recommend if there is no abuse happening), and there still isn’t enough change to create that lost sense of fulfillment, it’s probably time to let go of what you think your partner’s potential is and leave.
When you leave, after the dust has settled and you’ve healed, you can then look back on the relationship and identify what was missing, so you can raise your standards. Of course there is no guarantee, but if you do your best to make your relationships works and learn what you can, you will have a much better chance of finding a better match for you (as well as have more confidence about how to navigate within the next relationship).
Perfection within any relationship is unrealistic, and bumps and “bruises” can be expected at some point. But knowing that you deserve the best, have done your best, and have taken responsibility for your share of your past relationships can help you move out of the old and into the new.
Looking at what your own potential is, and focusing mainly on that instead of someone else’s potential is where the real work is done. This is also, I believe, where more fulfillment comes into your life as you start to see the changes that you’ve needed to see actual start to manifest, progress. And that progress might be emotional (more joy, laughter, happy moments) or it might be that you start to surround yourself with people who treat you better (more respectful, considerate and supportive) or it might even mean that you start to feel more comfortable in the times that you are alone, and you find peace. Letting go of holding out for someone to reach their potential can be the one door that you didn’t even realize was there. Now you just might have the key to what’s been missing.