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When One Person Isn't Ready for the Next Step

Navigating "the readiness factor."

JackF/Canva Pro
Source: JackF/Canva Pro

As a therapist and founder of the Reconnection Club, I work with people whose adult children are estranged from them.

In trying to repair those parent-adult child relationships, my clients usually go through a great deal of reflection. That may involve extensive reading/learning and counseling, consultation, or therapy.

When parents start to deeply understand the issues that contributed to the breakdown of communication, they're often eager to talk about those issues with their estranged adult children. They feel ready to sit down and start working through things together.

However, their adult children are not always ready yet to meet them at the table.

This simple fact of not being ready is both sad and frustrating for parents hoping to reconcile before they (or their grandchildren) get too much older.

Of course, it's normal to feel impatient when someone important to you is not yet ready to do something important to you. Anyone who's ever waited for a significant other to be ready for marriage knows the quiet but steady longing for things to move forward.

The problem is that readiness is not necessarily a choice.

"No Pressure"

When only one person in a relationship is ready for a new step, the other's lack of readiness can lead to bigger problems. The waiting person might grow more and more resentful, while the not-ready one feels increasingly pressured, judged, or even disliked for not being ready.

But readiness per se is a hard fact that must be acknowledged and respected in relationships of all kinds. For the most part, we don't choose whether or when we're ready. Not for marriage, for certain conversations, or even for connection.

We can choose whether we work to become ready. But even then, knowing how to get there is not easy. What makes someone ready or not can be a bit mysterious.

So what do you do if you're ready, but the other person in the relationship isn't?

Ready or Not...

Since the person you're waiting for can't choose to be ready just because you are, you have your own decisions to make.

  • Will you wait for that person? If so, for how long?
  • How will you know when it's time to stop waiting?
  • What will happen after that?

For parents unwillingly estranged from adult children, the answers will likely be different from someone who's waiting to start a family.

For anyone who's waiting for anyone to do anything, it may be that the best you can do is try to stay free of resentment, by choosing your own next steps. Resenting the other person is a sign that you feel you have too little power in the relationship. The solution is to take back control of what's within your power.

Start by asking yourself those questions above, and see if you don't feel more empowered and less resentful as soon as you do that. You'll be taking charge of your side of the street, while your partner tends her own yard.

Help for the Hesitant

If you're the one who's not ready, you can help both of you by actively thinking through the situation. Ask yourself:

  • Is it possible you'll be ready in the future, or is the door permanently closed?
  • If you might be ready later, what barriers need to be removed first?
  • What do you need to have in place before you can be ready?
  • If you're truly open but just need more time, are you willing to schedule another conversation about it?

Managing differences in readiness works best when both people acknowledge the importance of readiness, as well as the impossibility of forcing it.

The Force Isn't With You

If you're tempted to push ahead when one of you is hesitating, for best results, don't. Unless both people are ready, any gains are likely to be temporary.

Try not to let readiness be a comment on the worth or goodness of either person. Being ready results from an alignment of a complex set of variables, most of which have nothing to do with caring or appreciation.

To preserve a good relationship or build a better one, respect the process of getting to "ready," and never push yourself or anyone else toward it.

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