I’m not sure when I became a magnet for men who needed fixing,” my dear friend Susan explained. It was our weekly lunch date and nothing pairs better with a cappucino than a discussion of matters of the heart.

“What exactly do you mean by that?” I inquired.

“I seem to be stuck in a vicious cycle. I’ll meet a guy and he’ll be great for the most part. I can usually pick up on the need for a little TLC to get him to the point where he’s outstanding, the kind of guy you can call the one. So I’ll stick it out and try to help and before you know it, he’s being a jerk, and then he’s being distant, and then he’s just gone…and so is all the work I put into him.”

I contemplated this as I let my friend lament her situation. It’s a pattern many women find themselves in. We’re born these nurturing creatures who believe that we have to tend to whatever crosses our path so that it may grow.

It’s true of animals and children, yes, but in friendships or relationships? As I gave this more thought, the Maya Angelou quote “When someone shows you who they are, believe them,” crossed my mind.

Like most things, this is easier said than done. So how do you avoid the heartbreak that comes from falling into this pattern? Remember these facts when evaluating the situation.

Actions speak louder than words.

There are people who will tell you what you want to hear because they know their words and the emotions that you might assume come with them are comforting, soothing. However, a person who loves you and cares for you won’t exhibit behavior that contradicts their claims. Frankly, lying comes easy to some. No matter what a person says, you must take their actions in account.

There is a difference between low self-esteem and self-awareness.

When someone says something negative about themselves, it’s natural for the person they’re talking to to refute the claim and emphasize their positive qualities. Certainly, sometimes we are hard on ourselves and say things we shouldn’t.

Other times, a person is simply being honest about the patterns they’ve seen in their own behavior. It may be something they are struggling to improve, but self-awareness does not necessarily mean they are on the path to self-improvement.

Photo by Giulia Bertelli

Potential only means something if moves are being made.

We’re masters at seeing potential in others. Many imagine things the way my friend did, fantasizing about the difference a little TLC could make. We’re not wrong to see the potential in people, but we are wrong to build dreams on a rocky foundation. If you see someone truly working to change themselves and improve from a previous state, then you are justified in giving them leeway, as many changes can’t be made overnight. If you fail to see progress, then the inaction speaks for itself.

It’s hard to accept that someone isn’t everything that you believe they could be. Oprah discusses her own struggles with this lesson in an episode of her Lifeclass series. She reaches the realization that love shouldn’t hurt, and indeed she is correct.

Friendships and relationships exist to bright love and light into our lives. When they bring stress, anxiety, and fear, it is time to cut them loose so that you can bask in the sunshine of those who truly care.

When someone shows you their true colors, don’t try to paint another picture.