Relationships happen in the present, not in the future or the past. Connection does not occur without the other person present. However, it is common for many people to remain focused on past events or the anticipated future. When we focus on the future of a relationship we tend to ignore what is currently happening in the present. I see this pattern in my clients, with close friends, and even within my own past relationships. We can send so much time anticipating the next stage of the relationship that we lose all sights of what is happening in the present moment.
Being Future Focused
An old friend of mine started a new relationship about two years ago. Our conversations throughout the year about her relationship were very similar. She was continually waiting for the next milestone in their relationship to occur. At the beginning of the relationship she focused on when he was going to call next, and how she needed to clear her calendar in case he wanted to see her. Later down the road, she focused on being called his girlfriend, when she would meet his friends, and then when meet his parents. She continued to focus on what was missing and her perception of the next stage in their relationship. She rarely focused on how her current relationship was going in the present moment. When she saw any of her partner’s flaws, she would rationalize them and provide excuses for his behaviors. She would often state that she could see his great potential to be a better, i.e. a better job, treating her better, make more money, be someone she can create a life with. Most everything she focused on and loved about him was his potential in these areas. She was not present and did not see him for who he was in their present relationship.
According to Harville Hendrix, when we try to ignore or rationalize the negative traits of our partner, we are usually lead to anger, withdraw, and bargain, as reactions to our partners not giving us what we need. This becomes a power struggle that most couples ignore. My friend became increasingly impatient in their relationship and played into the power struggle of trying to change her partner. “I know what he could be in time. He’s not going to get it right for someone else. He was my investment. And I refuse to have wasted the last 2 years!” She had fallen in love with his potential and not who he really is. This common relationship pattern is very toxic, creates destructive relationships, and reenforces our needs not getting met. Often times our destructive patterns are clues to the irrational and damaging beliefs that took root in us from our childhoods. For my friend, there is potential pattern streaming from her childhood: that she is not worthy of having her needs met.
Signs you are falling in Love with Potential
You make excuses for behavior you wouldn’t normally accept from anyone else
Your focus on the past or the future of the relationship
You make assumptions about a person’s feelings or commitments
You are not happy or do not feel connected to your partner
You spend more time in turmoil about the relationship than actually with the person
You believe that you can change your partner
You feel inadequate, not good enough, or judged
Your relationship developed very quickly
You believe you have ownership of what your partner does
How to Prevent Falling in Love with Potential
When we have a strong desire for a relationship or even marriage, it can be easy to “live the clouds” of the relationship and ignore realities that are difficult to accept. We often romanticize the flaws of our partners and do not remain in reality. As a result, faults are ignored and unhealthy relationship patterns are continued. These unhealthy patterns have likely been present for most of our lives. “Since we've almost surely chosen someone with negative traits similar to those of the parents who wounded us in the first place, the changes of a more positive outcome this time around are sling indeed. In fact, most people who have has serial relationships reports that despite their bests intuitions they manage to find the same problems each time around.” If we don’t look at our patterns we will continue to repeat these in our current relationships and be pulled back the the unhealthy past.
Remaining present within your relationships will assist you in building connections that are based on authenticity and will help reveal your emotional wounds that many times are unconscious reactions and have attributed to the pattern of unhealthy relationships. If we are able to remain present in the relationship from the beginning we will be better able decipher between reality and potential. Sometimes it’s easier to stop things before they start. Almost all unhealthy relationship patterns stem from deeper issues, and to stop repeating these patterns it is essential to look at our relational wounds and make progress towards healing.
Getting the Love you Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix. http://us.macmillan.com/gettingtheloveyouwant20thanniversaryedition/HarvilleHendrix