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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

How Long Should You Wait For Promised Change?

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“He promised he would change. But he’s still the same. I can’t go on like this.”

“She said she was going to be different, but it hasn’t happened yet. How long do I wait?”

One of the harder places to be in any relationship is waiting for the other person to follow through with promised change. I am often asked how long one should wait for the agreed upon changes to occur – what’s too long and what’s not long enough?

It’s never a pat answer. There is no magic formula, no rule that states how many weeks, or months or years have to pass while you wait powerlessly for the promise to be kept.

If you find yourself in this unenviable position, here are some of the things to consider as you ask yourself how long you should wait:

Who initiated the idea of change?

If you are the one who brought up the desired alterations, it’s time for a pause. You cannot change another person, no matter how much you want to. Even if it was agreed upon, if you initiated the idea, there’s a very good chance it will not come to fruition on your timeline (or at all). The question then becomes are you willing to wait for them to internally motivated to change or not?

Here’s a difficult truth – people never change for another. They change for themselves.

Are you hung up on potential?

The quickest way to anger a teenager is to bring up the fact that they have potential. They’ll immediately shut down, feeling simultaneously judged and unappreciated. Adults are no different. Yes, it’s difficult to see what somebody can become while, from your perspective, they’re squandering some of their gifts. And it’s easy to fall in love with somebody’s promise. But that’s no guarantee they’ll ever reach that ideal that you’ve pictured.

We are all always changing. They may move towards their potential and they may not. All you have to go on is who they are right. this. moment. How do you feel about that person?


Are there actions alongside the words of promise?

It’s one thing to claim an intention to change. It’s another to take steps. In these cases, the words tend be grandiose, full of promise and potential. They can distract and cloak reality. In contrast, actions, real actions towards meaningful change tend to be quiet, easily overlooked. Yet these are where you attention should focus.

Understand that change is hard and rarely linear.

As long as actions towards the goal are occurring, be patient and compassionate. Change is scary and often way more difficult that we anticipate. Be supportive. Be an a$$kicker and a cheerleader. When there are signs of progress, give the benefit of the doubt.


Set ultimatums with yourself and boundaries with the other person.

You need to decide exactly what you’ll tolerate. Think through those “if…thens…” and make firm decisions on your responses. Communicate these to the other person, not in the form of ultimatums, but in the form of boundaries – what you are and are not willing to put up with.

Ultimatums can be manipulative, seeking to control another’s response (which never goes over well). Instead, make your own decisions about you and communicate them clearly. Then allow the other to make their choices and follow through on what you promised yourself. That last part is important.

Accept that you may have to step back with the hope of one day stepping back in.

It may be that you cannot tolerate the situation unless and until the change has occurred. Or maybe the nature of relationship is in opposition to the change occurring while a certain level of contact is maintained. Distance can be helpful if it does without manipulative intentions and without the expectation of a guarantee.


Be honest about the limitations of change.

Behaviors can be learned or unlearned. Habits can be developed. Personal challenges can be managed. But ultimately, this person is who they are. Is that enough for you? If you are waiting for a total transformation, you’re not being fair to either one of you.


When you’re frustrated, change your approach or your response.

After all, it’s what you can control. And you may be surprised just how powerful that can be.


Is addiction a part of the story?

Addicts are extremely skilled at doling out promises of change (peppered with just enough evidence) to keep you waiting. If there is addiction (or the suspicion of) in the mix, you’re going to have to practice some tough love. Check out Al-Anon for help and support here.

Attend to yourself.

Sometimes we get so caught up in somebody else’s issues that we forget to take care of our own. And sometimes we use somebody else’s problems as an excuse to ignore our own. Make sure to attend to yourself.

And most importantly –

Although you may be waiting on change, refuse to wait to live.

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10 thoughts on “How Long Should You Wait For Promised Change?

  1. Wonderful points. For me the unchangeable person has turned out to be the greatest gift. They have gifted me the chance to learn unconditional love. No I’ll love him/her but only if they ….first. This doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily stay in the relationship, but no matter what, I end up a much happier person.

  2. my problem was my ex would change, wait for me to relax again, and then change back. or he would say his behavior had changed and then hide it from me. but that’s a horse of a different color–he, as it turns out, is a narcissist. in a truly healthy & loving relationship, change is different than my experience. i did once (despite his hatred for ‘ultimatums’) tell him if THIS didn’t change by this time i would do THIS. well, it didn’t and i did. so that’s the end of that story.
    in general i believe in loving the person warts and all–but he kept trying to have a girlfriend on the side????despite my insisting i am monogamous???? and was being manipulative & abusive in order to get his way…so i had to learn the hard way that some warts are poisonous and need to go.

  3. Oh, this really is a fun one. The promise of change. It’s usually just that. Someone who is in the process of making changes isn’t typically talking about it. They’re just doing. I chose to leave someone I was I love with because they weren’t taking the steps for us to have a healthy relationship. It took me a lot of back and forth, but I think I’m finally learning the lesson of letting go. But, not of the person. Instead, it’s about making a choice, a boundary and letting go of the outcome.

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