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You Can't Overlook This Common Relationship Problem

Here's what to do as soon as you recognize you're not a priority.

Key points

  • When it comes to a relationship, there's definitely one mountain that may be way too high to overcome.
  • The amount of effort that goes into a relationship is much more important than how sexy, cool, or well-known that person may be.
  • When effort is one-sided, you end up wasting precious time that could be spent on more reciprocal current and future relationships.
  • Try to identify effort-imbalanced relationships as soon as possible so that you can shed them.
Image by Elizangela Cicuto Liza Cicuto from Pixabay.
Source: Image by Elizangela Cicuto Liza Cicuto from Pixabay.

Although Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell sang, "Ain’t No Mountain High Enough," that ain't exactly true. When it comes to a relationship, whether it's a close friendship or a romantic partnership, there's definitely one mountain that may be way too high to overcome. It's called Mount Lack-of-Effort. It's when the other person is not putting enough effort into maintaining the relationship with you.

Such a mountain becomes especially too high to climb when that person is aware of the effort gap yet still doesn't make the effort to make more effort. As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make the horse say, "Hey, I am going to dedicate more time to getting water for you, too."

That was the situation during my school years when I was dating someone whom we'll call Wasnt Going-Towork. That was also when I was still in my "oh my goodness, we are actually holding hands in public" stage in life. So, I was, shall we say, a bit inexperienced and naive at the time. The relationship continued as long as it was convenient for her and I was making much more of the effort. But it faltered when she had to, you know, do something. After trying for far too long to keep things going, I eventually realized that she was just not that into me, to paraphrase that 2009 movie title.

I also encountered some Mount Lack-of-Efforts with some of my schoolmates after we had graduated. My rather naive expectation at the time of graduation was that we'd be besties forever. But with some of them, whom we'll call Callonly Whenwifenotaround, Dontneedu Whenhavesignificantother, and Worships Hisboss, I soon found myself more and more being the one to maintain contact the further we got from school.

These friends would thank me for taking the time to call and organize get-togethers. A couple would even say that I was the only link among our former schoolmates and that I was the sole source of updates on all our other schoolmates. They'd apologize for not contacting me more often since their lives were so darn busy. Not that I was twiddling my thumbs . Yet, I still made the effort to maintain the friendships because, at the time, I saw the value in maintaining them. It seemed like a bit of a badge of honor, maybe even a sign of leadership. In reality, though, it was more of a badge of "What the heck am I doing" and a sign of "Dude, you are wasting your time."

Ultimately, it became apparent that my efforts weren't being really fully reciprocated. Someone whom I was dating at the time told me, "It's easy to make friends when you are doing things for other people." She added, "The real measure is what they do when you don't."

Source: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.
When someone is supposed to be a mentor, that mentor has to make an effort too.
Source: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

The same applied to some of my professional relationships at the time, too. For example, there was the very well-established guy whom we'll call Supposed Tobeamentor. He was supposed to be my mentor. But he told me that he was too busy to directly mentor me, although if I continuously showed what I could do for him, then maybe, just maybe, I'd get something out of it. The unspoken suggestion was that I keep helping him and maybe, just maybe, I could gain something by basking in his glory, which, by the way, ain't what a real mentor is supposed to do.

At some point, I actively shed such relationships for more reciprocal ones. When a relationship seems "effort-less" on the other person's part, you end up wasting time that could be spent on maintaining more reciprocal relationships or at least finding such relationships.

So how do you identify such "effort-less" relationships? Here are five things that you can do:

  1. See what happens when you stop contacting the other person. When you do so, are you like a tree falling down in the forest? Will that person even notice if you no longer call with the same frequency? How soon will he or she ping you, if ever?
  2. Point out the effort gap and discuss how it can be remedied. Do they acknowledge the gap, agree that it is a problem, and make concrete plans to make amends, such as vowng, "I will make it a point to check in more." And do they step up their effort?
  3. Ask your gut, your intuition, that feeling that's inside you. Do you really feel that they will stick around the moment you stop making it so easy for them?
  4. Observe what the person does when you actually want something from him or her. Do they step up? Are they there for you? Or do they start disappearing into the background like the bit characters they are in your life?
  5. Consider how much effort they have made to really get to know you. This is the most basic of effort that's needed for a relationship. If there was a Jeopardy! of you and your life, how many basic questions could they actually answer?

It's just not sustainable for you to be supporting the bulk of a relationship by yourself over the long term. When such a thing happens, it doesn't necessarily mean that the other person is a bad person. It simply means that he or she does not view you as a priority. When you fall somewhere after Taylor Swift and cheese fries on their list of priorities, it's time to move on from that relationship. You simply aren't a mountain that they care enough to climb. And the sooner that you realize that, the better.

More from Bruce Y. Lee M.D., M.B.A.
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