Are You In Love With the Person or With Their Potential?


I was lucky.

The decision to file for divorce was a no-brainer for me. At that point, my husband was MIA, had committed bigamy and had used all of my money (and credit) to fund his other life.

Many of you do not or did not have that decision present itself in such a clear-cut manner.

And I feel for you.

I used to play a little thought exercise where I would consider how I would have responded to finding out about my ex’s actions at some point along his pathway to destruction. When I’m honest with myself, I probably would have been way too forgiving and lenient with his behavior.

Not because I would have been okay with what he was doing, but because I believed in him. After reaching the understanding that he needed help, I would have held onto the hope that he would have accepted it. I know that I would have grasped onto any glimpse of the man I knew and loved and made excuses for actions that didn’t align.

I’m afraid that I would have stayed too long and endured way too much. Confusing a love of his potential for a love of the person. Setting hard boundaries would have felt too much like giving up on him, and that thought would have been devastating.

I currently teach accelerated math students. That means they all have the ability to be in my class and they had to demonstrate that in order to register. But one of the first – and often hardest- lessons they have to learn in my class is that it doesn’t matter what you can do. It only matters what you do.

Most of them learn the lesson. I love to watch them grow and mature over the year as they slowly take on more responsibility for their learning. Others struggle to put their potential into practice. And at some point, I, along with their parents, have to decide if this is the right place for them at this point in time.

It’s given me an interesting perspective on potential. After all, I’m evaluating it on an almost constant basis and with a large number of people. And from what I’ve learned watching them, I would now handle a situation like the imagined one with my ex very differently.

We often face these situations – with our children, our employees and our spouses. We can easily get so caught up in the frustrations of the “shoulds” and the deflection of the fears that we have trouble seeing the situation clearly.

If you’re facing a tough decision about somebody and you’re trying to balance their potential with the current reality, try asking yourself these questions:

Do they believe in their potential? Does it look the same as what I envision?

Are they motivated by different goals that are currently more important to them?

How far away are they from what I perceive as their potential?

Are they motivated to work towards their potential? Do they care about the impact on me? 

Are they making progress towards their potential?

What sort of timeline am I looking at for them to reach their potential? Am I willing to give it that much time?

What will the growth process entail? Am I willing to put the work in too?

Am I realistic about their potential or am I asking them to be somebody they’re not?

Do I believe that I have the power to make them change?

Am I lowering the benchmark or my boundaries in order to avoid making a decision? 

Am I constantly excusing their behavior?

Am I setting appropriate boundaries so that their choices have limited impact on me?

Am I holding onto my hope that they can change out of a fear of confrontation or of letting go?

Am I allowing their actions to consistently compromise my own well-being?

Am I okay if they never change?

It is so hard when we see what somebody can be. We can be so distracted by the possibility that we ignore the reality. Or, we can become fixated on the idea that if we just motivated them the right way, said the right thing, that they would change their ways.

Yet their journey is different than yours.

They may change and grow. But not on your timeline. On theirs. And not to your goals. But to theirs. When we only see people from what we perceive as their potential, we are not truly allowing them to be themselves. Rather, we are trying to push our own ideals, beliefs and needs upon them.

Here’s the reality –

You cannot change them. You cannot ignore their current state forever. You cannot manifest their perfect potential. You cannot decide what is important to them. You cannot make them revert to the way they were or become what they said they wanted.

All you can do is try to gain a clearer picture of the situation and make the best decision you can.

For them.

And for you.

Thank you for sharing!

13 thoughts on “Are You In Love With the Person or With Their Potential?

  1. kfairley2013 – Pennsylvania – A 33 year old single mother of a beautiful five year old son named Micah. I am on a personal journey of living a life filled with abundance and teaching my son all the lessons I have learned. My writings are all events from my personal journey that I share to help others along their journey as well. My son London born stillborn 12/5/2011 has dramatically changed my life, and through this traumatic event came my awakening.
    kfairley2013 says:

    Thank you for this and your blog! I really needed this and your inspiration today! Although it was something I already knew, you made me comfortable with a decision I had to make today! Thank you!

  2. Hi, very useful, thank you. I read carefully through your questions- ouch! It just seemed obvious to me that the way forward was to take responsibility for our home and family; whereas it was ‘obvious’ to him that the important thing was planning his next fishing trip! He listened sincerely to my complaints of a lack of support and just carried on fishing!

      1. Seriously, it was very helpful and I’ll know better for next time!

  3. LesleyPearl – I am. A massage therapist. A teacher. A writer. A healer. A dancer. An artist. A bodysherpa. For 10 years I made my living telling other people’s stories — as a reporter, and then, later, as a public relations and marketing professional. Today I help people rewrite their own body stories. Much as I have rewritten mine. My body story read: Fat. Uncoordinated. Sickly, facing a life of respiratory problems. In my 40s, I’ve completed a bike century and sprint triathlon. Hiked the hills of California, Colorado and the South of France. Mountain biked through the Sierra Madre. Snow shoed at Yosemite. And maintained a healthy weight for eight years. Lately, I spend Sunday mornings dancing to West African drumming. I look in the mirror and I like what I see. I believe that when you change how you feel about your body, you change what you can do with your body. And the universe opens with infinite possibilities. As a self-named bodysherpa, I’ve built a practice with the express purpose of helping people to fall in love with their bodies, take care of their bodies and do things they never imagined possible. My blogs are a further exploration of accepting myself for who and how I am at this very moment.
    LesleyPearl says:

    Thank you for this … I was dating someone for about 10 weeks. The first 5 weeks were pretty magical, the second 5 weeks were a struggle. He was different … some things had changed in his life. It seemed a bit early to have a relationship “talk.” So I observed. He ended things … and I wasn’t quite ready. I’ve been having a heck of a time letting go. Because of who and how he was in those first five weeks … because I was hopeful about this relationship. Letting go of hope, letting go of potential, is hard. Your message seems more than well timed.

  4. OK, just when I thought you couldn’t capture the crux of my pain in the past two years you go and write another article that has floored me to you 360 knowledge of what happens in our everyday marriages. Your words provide clarity and validation for those of us trying to navigate the most difficult time in our lives. Once again Lisa, you’re the best!

  5. I’m so glad to see someone talking about this! It’s a really big blow to realize that the person who you are in love with…doesn’t really exist now. This lovely part of our idealism kicks in, especially when we’re close to someone. But loving their potential brings you nothing in return, and it’s important to be realistic about who they are and if they have any intention of fulfilling the potential that you see.

  6. The one question you did not ask and is the roadblock for me is: What if what he/she did was so egregious and contrary to you morals and values that you feel you would be betraying yourself if you chose to reconcile?

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