3 Ways to Know When [and When NOT] to Invest in a Relationship

We have all invested in relationships that we thought had potential but ended in disappointment.

By Audrey Hardin, M.S. LPC

By Audrey Hardin, M.S., LPC

Hannah came into my office this week feeling hurt and confused over a guy she spent a lot of time with. I asked her to walk me through their relationship. As she spoke, I felt a lump forming in my throat …it all sounded so familiar.

Hannah met Jake through church at a singles gathering. They began hanging out after they discovered they lived down the road from each other. She saw potential in him and began sharing her expertise as an interior designer –cleaning and redecorating his living room, his bedroom, and hosting parties at his home. She offered him advice on matters of the heart and was available when he needed her. As they spent more time together, she shared more of her past hurts and Jake seemed to listen –which implied he cared. One day, Jake showed up at her apartment unannounced; Hannah was excited to see him until she discovered he was there to take her roommate on a date!

Hannah sat in my office with her hand on her head, questioning why Jake would ever want to take out her roommate, who barely knew him. How could he miss all that she had done for him? Especially considering how vulnerable she was in opening up about her personal life! Hannah was dumbfounded, hurt, and humiliated.

We’ve all been there, have we not?

We have all invested in relationships —friendships or romantic relationships, that we thought had potential or were worth our time and energy but turned out to be disappointing, hurtful, or even exploitive.

Similar to the teaching of Jesus, we too, can unwisely “cast our pearls before swine.” Just like Hannah, we have sometimes given the best parts of ourselves to those who don’t value it. And the result is the same as in Matthew 7:6:

“…do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

When we find our pearls trampled, we can vary in our responses. Consider which response you gravitate towards:

1. Just try harder and give more.

Maybe if I just helped him/her with this or listened more or looked more attractive or contributed better ideas –he or she would see me as valuable and want to keep me around.

2. Sink into blame and shame.

 I should have seen the signs. He or she never cared that much about me. Maybe something is wrong with me. I’m so stupid.

3. Shut people out.

If I pull back from people completely, I won’t get hurt. Or If I put on a presentational self and become what others seem to want, I can keep my real self safe.

Instead of these responses, let me suggest another:  Seek help/counsel from an outside source. After all, it’s impossible to be objective about yourself.  Proverbs’ promise of safety is what we really want, as it implies we won’t get hurt.

“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” Proverbs 11:14

Here are 3 Tips to know who is worth investing in:

1. Are they committed to the relationship?

When relationships begin with an imbalance of commitment, someone always gets hurt or feels exploited.

Determine the level of commitment of the other by investing slowly and watching to see if they match or pace with you. If you find yourself always initiating, sharing, or doing, pull back and see if the other steps up or remains on the receive. 

2. Can they own their “stuff”?

No one is perfect and everyone has junk in the closet and makes mistakes. The key to consider here is if they are willing to acknowledge it and take ownership for how they hurt you. In other words, when you express a specific hurt, how do they respond? If it is denial, blame, or justification - this person is more about self-preservation than the relationship.  

3. Are they willing to change?

If you ever hear someone say, “this is just who I am, you need to accept that!” RUN FOR THE HILLS. This person is not mature enough to do the self-work that is required to grow and develop a healthier relationship. Any lasting relationship has components of growth, change and negotiation.

We also need to ask ourselves these questions as well…

Am I committed to my relationships? Can I own my hurtful behaviors? And am I willing to change when someone holds the mirror up in my life to some “ugly” parts in me that hurt them? 

Once we can check the boxes for ourselves, we can quickly recognize when someone is not doing them with us.

When it’s done right

Samantha deeply broke Kevin’s trust. Kevin’s pain deeply clouded his discernment and he asked me to help him sort through the relationship and determine if he should give Samantha another chance.

As we considered these 3 criteria, Kevin saw that Samantha was 1. committed to the relationship as she repeatedly stated she wanted to be a part of his life and asked for another chance. He also told me 2. she owned her behavior, thoughts, feelings, and motives fully. Lastly, 3. she had already sought out a counselor to begin working through the broken pieces in her own life. At the end of the session, Kevin saw how Samantha was someone worthy of his investment.

Take note though, that even though Kevin decided to give Samantha another chance and step into the process of rebuilding the relationship, this does not mean that he went back to the emotionally intimate place they were before.    

TIME is such a large factor in determining who is worth investing in and who is not. If we over-share too early in the relationship, it creates an emotional attachment that then clouds our judgment and keeps us invested in a relationship that can be damaging.

Take time to observe and weigh the other person’s involvement before giving those pearls (the most valuable parts of you) away too quickly.

Remember….  it’s not the pig‘s fault that your pearls ended up in the mud!