I’ve been coaching a great young lady through a relationship. She has really tried to make it work. She has contorted herself quite a bit to make it work (against my coaching). The relationship nearly ended last March but some decisions were made to give them a “restart.” Then in September they nearly ended again but for the first time they were honest with each other about some of the bad foundational issues they began this relationship on. Now they are both trying again.
This relationship is still going to end. I can make that declaration solidly and this is why.
Yet again I go to Dr. Henry Cloud for my wisdom as a Brave Dating Coach. In his book, Necessary Endings, (read it!!!) he inadvertently put together a list of “proofs” to help you know if the person who is repeatedly saying he/she is sorry truly is going to change this time.
This is a tough list. This is a real list. Use this list to help you see the truth about this relationship. Use this list so you can stop lying to yourself and contorting yourself to make this relationship work. Use this list to know if the person you love is going to really change this time or if you need to make an ending.
Each of these are important but they are not listed in the order of importance. Each of these are real. Each of these are hard—harder than just having a discussion and making promises that things are going to change.
Verifiable Involvement in a Proven Change Process – For a simple example, if the addict is trying to get sober, he/she checks into a rehab and stays the entire time. That is a verifiable involvement in a proven change process. Maybe your love needs counseling or discipling or to live on a budget. What is he or she doing to change? Not just words. Who is he or she getting involved with to make this change? You can verify this by the time away from you. And he or she must see it through all the way to the end. You can verify this too.
Additional Structure – As Dr. Cloud has learned, people do not change without a new structure. This is an obvious truth. The change process must not be left up to the person’s own schedule and internal controls. So what is he or she doing to change his/her structure? Actual changes that are real. Not whims. Not promises. And not involving you—as you are a part of the old structure. What is he/she doing to give him/herself new structure to effect actual change?
Monitoring Systems – This sounds so business like but this book is mostly about business relationships yet gives such great life wisdom for the rest of our lives. Basically monitoring systems is how will you watch that these changes are actually happening? And since you are a part of the original dysfunctional structure, you monitoring this is not enough. To contort to keep this relationship you have quite often lied to yourself. You cannot be trusted to solely monitor this change. So bring in your team to do the monitoring. They are on your side. Ask them to watch and be up close with all of the changes your other is making.
New Experiences and Skills – Being a part of a change process and putting yourself under additional structure will bring about new experiences and skills. These go hand-in-hand. If you don’t see any, there will be no change.
Self-Sustaining Motivation – Who is motivating your other to make these changes? Is it your nagging, or maybe you call it reminding? Or is he/she making the meetings, appointments, etc., because he/she is motivated to change this time? People who truly want to change will do it on their own.
Admission of Need – Someone who admits to a problem and is not getting help is stuck. Someone who is getting help but then always tries to convince the helper that he/she really doesn’t have an issue is also stuck. People who live in scarcity, who use fear to control their worlds, numb themselves, or protect their vulnerability and/or any combination of all this will not admit their need to change. They may make promises to “work” on things and promises to change, but they rarely admit their need to change. They refuse to see that they have a problem and own the problem because that might make them vulnerable. As you are learning, vulnerability is brave, it is your greatest measure of courage. Without an admission of need, you are both stuck.
The Presence of Support – A proof of change is surrounding yourself with people who support your change. Those “contagious” people who inspire you and challenge you to grow. Truthfully your other needs outside support to sustain this uphill battle. Again, this cannot solely be you. This cannot be you leading the support group. Who is on his or her team?
Skilled Help – As much as your other having his/her own team, some professional help is also needed. There are some deep roots that are trying to be cut to effect this change. A professional can help with that. The desire to see a professional also shows the desire to cut these deep roots.
Some Success – Change takes time. To truly cut the roots and truly have change happen, a lot of time is needed. In the meantime, you can be looking for some success. A better description of this is “movement.” Hopefully movement is happening, even if it is backward movement. Backward movement may truly be happening—and may need to happen to move forward—but it is still movement. You are looking for some sort of movement instead of ongoing stagnation.
(Taken from Necessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud, pp. 102-109.)
I end this “list” with the words “ongoing stagnation.” Those are some awful words but what you’ve been living with so far, isn’t it?
This is why I know my friend’s relationship is still going to end. None of these things are happening. They are continuing to live in the same “ongoing stagnation” and not put in the brave work to make the necessary changes. It is so sad to watch.
You can be a different story. Use this list to help guide you. Is real change ever going to happen or do you need to make an ending.
(Photo credit: Hoach Le Dinh)