Have you come across a situation in which a person has a habit of making promises to you but never following through? It can be painful to depend on those promises, only to see them never come to life. What do you do in a situation like this? How do you communicate with this person to ensure the promises do not continue to be unfulfilled?
Whenever we are interacting with others, it is important to keep in mind that we want to be kind in how we treat them and talk with them. When we are kind, it paves the way for the other person to be able to listen to us and respond well to us. When we act or speak unkindly, the other person normally will react defensively and so will not be able to listen or take in what we are saying. They will usually respond in an unkind manner as well, and the potential for conflict and misunderstanding is greatly increased. You know that button you could push, that dig you could make, that thing you could say or that action you could do that would really hurt the other person - so don’t!! It is not worth it! There is no good that could come out of it. Work in your own best interest, and be kind!
It is common to feel frustration and resentment with someone who is not following through on their promises. Those feelings are normal to experience given that you have been waiting, and they have been promising something to you. However, what is important is how you handle those feelings of frustration and resentment. The key idea here is to be DESCRIPTIVE. You want to describe to this person how this situation makes YOU FEEL. You don't want to come after them or criticize or blame them. All that will do is make them feel emotionally unsafe with you, and they will withdraw from you to protect themselves. For example, let’s suppose that a couple has been dating for some time and the boyfriend has consistently made promises to propose. Instead of saying "You make all these promises but you never follow through - you make me so mad! You are so inconsiderate and such a liar!”, say something like, "When we talk about getting engaged and then it doesn't happen, I feel really sad, unimportant, used, forgotten, not considered. It really would be helpful if we could have a really honest conversation and talk about where our relationship is headed and how we both feel about it." In this situation, when you don't communicate that way but instead attack him, he can't take in or listen to what you are saying because he has to defend himself, and he won't be able to share with you what he is feeling. When you DO communicate that way, you are emotionally safer for him and you are inviting him to a mutual conversation. He will feel safer with you so that he can listen to you and begin to be honest with you about how he is feeling and what he is thinking about the relationship.
When you... communicate that way, you are emotionally safer for him and you are inviting him to a mutual conversation. He will feel safer with you so that he can listen to you and begin to be honest with you about how he is feeling and what he is thinking...
In regard to interacting with a person like this, it is helpful to remember that we can't, and shouldn't, control another person. You can't control how they are feeling. You can't control if they will share their thoughts and feelings with you. In the situation mentioned above, you can't control if he will propose. All you can do is be kind and descriptive and invite him to talk about it. Let this person know that you care for them, you really want to understand them and know what they are thinking and feeling, and you want to be respectful of those thoughts and feelings. You extend the invitation to talk and share, and then you let them decide without pressuring them or being critical of them in any way. If they can't or won't share with you, then continue to make it emotionally safe for them. Reiterate that you will be respectful, that you care about them, and that you would like to discuss together the situation at hand. Again, you can't control what they think or feel. You leave it up to them. If they still refuse to share their feelings or their reasons why they are not ready to fulfill their promise, then it is up to you to decide how long you are willing to wait, or if it is time to move on. You must remember that this is your decision to wait or not, and for how long; it is not their decision. You are only responsible for yourself and can only control yourself.
Again, you can't control what they think or feel. You leave it up to them. If they still refuse to share their feelings or their reasons why they are not ready to fulfill their promise, then it is up to you to decide how long you are willing to wait, or if it is time to move on.
In the situation mentioned above, I would highly recommend that couple to look into pre-engagement counseling! In some ways, pre-engagement counseling is preferable to premarital counseling because there is no pressure of an approaching wedding date nor a formal promise to get married. Remember, counseling does NOT mean that something is wrong! Counseling is such a helpful proactive tool; who couldn't benefit from talking with an objective third party when stuck? Ask your boyfriend if he would be willing to go with you so that you can work on your relationship together to see what the future may hold.
Of course, the most important thing that you can do is pray! Pray and ask the Lord to give you wisdom, direction, and guidance, for your relationship and for your reactions.
The last thing that I would offer is to remember these two words, which basically sum up my suggestions: be KIND and be DESCRIPTIVE. Be kind in how you treat this person in your life and be descriptive in how you are experiencing the relationship. In doing so, you will have a safeguard in place so that you will not be critical, blaming, or attacking, and you will make it easier for this person to share and be honest with you.
Willa Williams is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She works at the Biola Counseling Center as a therapist and at the Biola Center for Marriage and Relationships as the Consulting Therapist. She has a Master of Arts in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL) and a Master of Arts in Counseling in Psychology from Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL). She is Level 3 Trained in the Gottman Method of Couples Therapy and also is a Certified Prepare/Enrich Facilitator. Before coming to Biola, she served overseas at the Spanish Bible Institute in Barcelona, Spain, where she taught a class on counseling skills for pastors and served as the staff therapist for the students. She has been married for more than 30 years and has two teenage children. She has a passion for healthy relationships and enjoys working with couples as well as individuals. She appreciates the immense impact that healthy marriages and relationships have on couples as well as future generations.