Falling in love with someone’s potential

When you have fallen in love with someone’s potential, you have fallen in love with who that person would be if he or she just didn’t e.g. drink too much, yell at you, say mean things, etc.  This becomes a problem when no matter how many times and no matter in how many ways you ask him or her to change, the person continues to do those things.

Now, of course nobody is perfect, but if you can’t live with the things that you wish this person didn’t do, then you have fallen in love with his or her potential but not with who he or she really is.  If your loved one agrees with you and is willing to make the changes—great.  But if he or she won’t or can’t, then…loving someone’s potential continues and is painful and frustrating.

It is easy to fall in love with someone’s potential, because at the beginning of a relationship we often only show our best qualities.  This is why it is important to really get to know someone before you get too deep into a relationship (see my post on building good relationships).  Often this does not work when chemistry takes over, the relationship moves forward too fast, and we find ourselves head over heels in love with someone’s potential.

Once we are knee-deep in the relationship, love causes us to make excuses for our loved one.  We continue to hope for change and hope that our mate will one day be the person we know he or she can be.

Deciding whether or not to stay in a relationship that is not working boils down to two questions:  Is this person willing to make the changes necessary to make this relationship work? Is this person capable of making the changes necessary to make this relationship work?  (And those are two very different questions!)

What do you think? Have you been in love with someone’s potential?

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Living in the present

Those of us who are anxious or depressed (or miserable for whatever reason) tend to spend a lot of time in the past and in the future and not so much in the present.  If you apply my wave analogy (see my last post) to this, what do we know about the past?  Everything that is in the past falls in the category of things we can’t control.  Similarly, much of what is the future falls into the category of things we can’t control (and it isn’t here yet so we can’t control it yet anyway).  So that leaves us with the present.

Your life is a series of present moments and you can either be there for them or not—they are on a use it or lose it basis—you will not get them back.

The more you can focus on the present, the less room you leave for depression from the past and anxiety for the future and the more relaxed you will be.

The practice of mindfulness is the practice of being fully present – it is inherently relaxing—therefore again a good way to combat anxiety or other distress, is to be in the present. This is a practice that has been around for thousands of years.

Let me give you an example that may illustrate how you can bring mindfulness into your day to day life.  Let’s imagine that I am multi-tasking like many mothers do.  Let’s say I am helping my kids with their homework, checking my email, doing a load of laundry and starting to get dinner ready.  While I am doing all of that, I am hungry so I have an orange on my kitchen counter and every once in a while I pop a section into my mouth.  At some point I go to reach for my orange and it’s not there.  I look all over thinking I may have left it in the laundry room and soon realize I must have eaten it.  I didn’t notice because I was paying too much attention to other things and I didn’t have enough left for my orange, and it is too bad for me, because it was probably delicious.

If instead I decided to eat my orange mindfully (now I am not necessarily suggesting you go this far, this is just an example) I would notice everything about that experience.  I would notice if the orange felt cool in my hands, I would notice the color of the orange, is it bumpy or smooth?  I would break the peel and would notice the smell of citrus and the stickiness on my hands. When I eat it, I would notice if it was sweet or sour, juicy or dry…When I was done eating the orange I promise you two things would be different: 1) I would be more relaxed and 2) I would not forget eating that orange.

If you can bring a little of this into your daily life, you tend to enjoy and appreciate the moments of your life more and you have less room for rumination about the past or anxiety about the future.

  • Use your anxiety or depressive or angry ruminations as a cue that you need to be more mindful.

Living in the present does not mean we shouldn’t learn from the past or plan for the future—it just means focus on the present.

While this is easier said than done, no one else can do it for you and if you don’t, you will only be wrecking your own “day at the beach.”

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Making Changes- The ingredients of Change

People often ask me, do you think he/she will change? Can people really change? He/she says he/she will change, should I believe him/her? How do I know if it will last?

The three main ingredients of change are:


Insight (or new information)





Insight or new information, can be many things, but often involves either learning how our behavior or choices are negatively affecting someone else or ourselves, and/or discovering what is driving our current behavior (often an upsetting experience from the past, see my “Getting to the root of the problem” post).

Motivation- There are many things that can motivate behavior change.  A frequent example that comes to mind, is the loss of an important relationship.  When people break up, one or the other of them (or both of them) is often motivated to change whatever caused the break up.  The loss of the relationship (and the wish to reestablish it, or not repeat the pattern) acts as a powerful motivator for behavior change.  People will often make big promises to change in order to win back a partner, or not carry the mistake into their next relationship.

When the motivation is removed (the relationship is intact again, the couple gets back together) is the person able to maintain the changes?  This is why the third ingredient of change is of crucial importance.

Time.  Does the behavior change pass the test of time?

There are really two parts to this.  Time with the motivation present, and time with the motivation removed.

In the relationship example, this means that the person promising to change may need to show that he or she can maintain the behavior change for some period of time before the other partner has enough trust to try the relationship again.

Once this occurs, the bigger test is: does the behavior change persist even with the removal of the motivator?  In other words, if the couple gets back together, is the behavior change maintained?

For a while, the  new motivator may become maintaining the relationship, but eventually that may wear off, and only then, will you be able to see if the behavior change can be maintained in the absence of a motivator.

There are obviously no shortcuts on this one.  You just have to wait and see.

Sometimes these ingredients are not enough for change and people become stuck in negative behavior patterns.  I will address this topic in another post.

What are your experiences with trying to make changes in yourself or responding to someone who promises to make a change?

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Not taking things personally

When someone “does something to us” we often take it personally.

We tend to think there is something about us that this person is responding to, or we feel hurt that we are being treated this way.

On some level we seem to think if we were different the person would not have done this to us.

Although it is very hard to avoid feeling this way it is often the case that what someone has done to us says more about them than it does about us.

If someone treats you badly and you feel the treatment is unjustified (which is usually the case when we are feeling hurt–confronting negative behavior respectfully and appropriately is something else and should not lead to hurt feelings) it is often the case that this person is treating us this way because of their issues, not ours.

Once again, it is a lot easier said than done, not to take things personally, especially if it involves someone we love.

Remember we cannot change others and we should not take their flaws personally.

How do you deal with hurtful behaviors by others?  Do you find yourself taking them personally?

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Worry is like a rocking horse… it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere!

Focus on what you can control- A wave analogy

Let’s say I wanted to go to the beach one day and I decided to make it my goal to stop the waves from crashing into the shore.  Since I am a very determined person, I am going to do everything I can think of all day long, and clearly I am going to have absolutely no effect on the waves and am going to be frustrated and exhausted… likely a very bad day.

Let’s say the next day, I decide I am going to just go to the beach and ignore the waves because yesterday didn’t work.   Chances are, I am going to have a much better day.

The obvious moral of this story is… if you try to control something that you can’t control, the only thing you will do is wreck your day at the beach.

  • Focus on what you can control- don’t wreck your day at the beach

Although my example is very obvious, no fool would go to the beach to try to stop the waves from crashing into the shore–we do this kind of thing all the time.  For example if I was worried about my health, and I went to the doctor and the doctor said I had to take a medical test to make sure I don’t have some big bad disease.  Let’s say the doctor says we are going to take the test Monday and will find out the results on Thursday.  Chances are very good I am going to spend Monday- Thursday worrying about the results of that test.  Well if I get the results on Thursday and it is good news, what a waste of Mon- Thursday that was!  If I get the results and it’s bad news – well I still have wasted Mon-Thurs when I could have been in ignorant bliss not knowing I had this disease—and guess what? I am still going to have to start doing what I need to do, to make myself healthy again starting Friday.  Worrying did not change anything.

  • Worrying is like a rocking horse, it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere.
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