Don't Fall in Love With Your Partner's Potential

Expecting the best from your partner and seeing their potential is fine, but not at the cost of enduring suffering in the present. Find out why you keep waiting for it to change and how this can affect you.
Don't Fall in Love With Your Partner's Potential
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 30 September, 2022

Unfortunately, love and relationships are fertile grounds for self-deception, excuses, and distorted beliefs. One of the most common of these is the one that leads you to think that your partner will change and mature and that this will completely transform your relationship. Based on this belief, you might endure years of unhappiness and hurt yourself a great deal. Indeed, it’s never a good idea to fall in love with your partner’s potential.

This kind of situation more commonly occurs during adolescence and with first loves. It’s a time when inexperience takes its toll on all of us. Nevertheless, there are those who, even in adulthood, stay with someone for what they believe they can become, and not for who they really are.

To evaluate your relationship, simply ask yourself the following: would you stay with your partner if you knew for sure that in ten years nothing would change? We’re not referring here to the natural kind of development and evolution that we all go through, thanks to experiences, but to the fact that their attitudes, values, and habits would remain the same. If this were the case, would you stay with them?

Couple lying with a heart lollipop symbolizing that we "married" our fathers or mothers
Falling in love leads to idealization and seeing aspects, qualities, and attitudes in the other that they really don’t possess.

Idealization can make you fall in love with your partner’s potential

Believe it or not, to a certain extent it’s normal for you to fall in love with your partner’s potential. In fact, it’s facilitated by the social process of falling in love and by the neurochemicals involved in this process. It happens because, when you’re just getting to know someone, you only show your best side. You’re attentive, pleasant, and assertive and you try not to show your flaws and weaknesses.

In addition, during the early stages of courtship, your brain is ‘flooded’ with dopamine. This generates feelings of pleasure and reward and encourages you to continue in the relationship. Furthermore, at these moments, a part of the cerebral amygdala (related to fear) is deactivated. For the same reason, you don’t see any risks, ignore the red flags, and only look at what you like.

Accepting or denying reality

As the relationship progresses, you lower your guard and begin to show yourself as you are. You also get used to the neurochemicals and they stop having the same effect. At this time, you have several options. If you understand each other and want to consolidate your relationship, you’ll sort out any minor differences between you. On the other hand, you might realize they’re not for you and end the relationship. The third option is that you continue to stay in love with their potential.

If this is the case, you’ve already realized that reality doesn’t conform to your idealized projection of them. However, you remain convinced that the potential you saw can be developed.

You might find yourself saying things like “He’s pretty cold and indifferent to me, but it’s because he had a difficult childhood and I know my love can heal him”, or “He doesn’t want to commit himself, but I know in the future he’ll give himself to me completely” or “He doesn’t want to have children, but when he sees how happy we are, he’ll soon change his mind”.

If these phrases sound familiar to you, you’re deceiving yourself. If you keep waiting for them to go back to how they started, it won’t happen. It was probably just a front to make you fall in love with them, especially if they’re narcissistic.

In short, if you’re waiting for the potential you see in your partner to develop, you need to know that you’ll only end up hurting yourself. That’s because if people do change, it’s because they need to, based on their own personal processes, not when it suits us.

What are the consequences?

When you fall in love with a person’s potential, and not with who they really are, the consequences are extremely negative:

  • You might accept humiliation, indifference, and mistreatment in the hope that it’ll end one day, and transform into what you’re longing for.
  • You suffer, you’re unhappy, and you find yourself living in a relationship of frustration and dissatisfaction for months or years. Research has shown that expecting the best from a partner (especially when the issues are serious and the partners don’t possess good interpersonal skills) is counterproductive. This doesn’t help you solve problems or improve, it only reminds you how far what you have is from what you’d like to have.
  • You emotionally wear yourself out trying to change your partner and turn them into something they’re not. In addition, continuous conflicts are likely to arise, since no one likes to be rejected by their partner or transformed into someone they’re not.
Couple arguing, representing dont fall in love with your partners potential
Falling in love with someone’s potential can lead to conflict situations in the relationship.

Don’t fall in love with potential, seek objectivity

To avoid the above consequences, it’s essential that you’re able to see the reality before you and stick to it when making decisions. Analyze how your partner treats you, how they talk to you, how they communicate with you, and what attitude they adopt when a conflict arises.

Try to be objective when answering these questions. While it’s good to be empathetic and understand the wounds and traumas your partner may have suffered that make them behave in a certain way, this doesn’t imply that you should stay and put up with any mistreatment or try to heal them.

It’s okay that you see tremendous and wonderful potential in your partner. They may even actually have it, but it’s not your job to enhance it or wait for it to develop (or not develop). What’s truly important is the here and now, how they are, what they bring to your life, and what they offer you today. Is this good or harmful? Does it enrich and nourish your life or cause you great suffering?

Remember that, above all, your commitment is to yourself and your job is to love and protect yourself. If the relationship, as it is today, is harmful, painful, or doesn’t fit your needs, don’t keep clinging to a maybe or a possible change in the future.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Manrique, R. (2013). El amor: hay (bio) química entre nosotros. Revista de Química27(1-2), 29-32.
  • McNulty, J. K., & Karney, B. R. (2004). Positive Expectations in the Early Years of Marriage: Should Couples Expect the Best or Brace for the Worst? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(5), 729–743.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.