I remember sitting with a friend talking about a conflict with someone in my life and about how I wanted to resolve it. My relationship with this person, I explained, needed to evolve; we needed to grow. I was trying to come up with ways to convince the other person of this. My friend listened, sipping her coffee, nodding along. Then she said, “Not everyone wants to grow, you know.”
I sat back, completely confused. What did she mean people don’t want to grow? Of course people want to grow! Of course people want to become better people and build better relationships! And if they don’t want to, they should! And I would be the one to explain that to them! (Oh naive, Dawn, how young and full of misguided expectation you once were!)
Of course now I know that lots and lots of people don’t want to grow and that’s nobody’s business but their own. They get to decide when to grow, how to grow, and whether or not to grow at all and we get to decide how we want to deal with that. Sometimes that means making allowances, sometimes that means shifting our expectations, and sometimes that means not having a relationship at all.
People get to be exactly who they are going to be and we get to choose how we deal with that reality.
I know this might seem discouraging. We live with the hope that difficult relationships will become easier if we can just find the right words to explain things. If they just understood, wouldn’t they want to join us in making things different?
Well, the answer to that is maybe.
Some people will want to work with you to make things different. Some people won’t. Some people will want to hear what you’re saying — your grievances, your concerns, your boundaries — so they can be better in their relationship with you. Some people will hear those things — your grievances, your concerns, your boundaries — and get angry with you for sharing. They don’t want to know about it. They don’t want things to change. They like the way things are. What you see as growth they see as unnecessary. What you see as communicating they see as criticizing.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to communicate or we shouldn’t invest in efforts to make the relationship work better for us — we absolutely should! But we need to understand that at a certain point we need to let it go. At a certain point we’ll be making things worse. Besides, who said we’re the boss of how relationships ought to be for everybody? We only know what relationships should be for us. So if it’s not what we want then we can make allowances, we can shift our expectations, or we can walk away.
Our growth should not depend on other people’s willingness to grow with us. We can grow even if our important relationships won’t grow with us. Because not everyone wants to grow.