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Tips For Dealing With Wishy-Washy People

If you love a person who is wish-washy, unreliable and commitment-phobic, I feel your pain.

Apparently many people feel your pain. Unreliability, last minute cancelled plans, and wish-washy-ness is a far to common complaint in therapy sessions. It seems as though there is a collective uncertainty in how we should be dealing with wishy-washy people.

Before accepting a constant state of disappointment, we should recognize that attempts to cultivate a meaningful relationship or just dealing with wishy-washy people reaches a threshold where it has a negative impact our mental health.

Below are tips I usually give clients who have the unfortunate experience of loving someone who is wishy-washy.

Stop Feeling Guilty About Setting Boundaries With Wish-Washy People

Time is the most valuable commodity we have.

Unlike money, health, or relationships, we can never get back the time we lose. That’s why we should be careful about how we spend it and who we share it with.

Our time is valuable and we want to share it with people who value it too. When someone is unreliable and breaks their promises, it is understandable that we feel disappointed, frustrated, and disrespected. It also wastes our time, which is a precious resource that we could use for other things that matter to us.

It can be hard to set boundaries with wishy-washy people, especially if we care about them or depend on them. We might worry about hurting their feelings, losing their friendship, or creating conflict. We might also doubt ourselves and wonder if we are being too demanding or unreasonable. But setting boundaries is not selfish or rude. It is a way of protecting ourselves and our well-being. It is also a way of showing respect and honesty to ourselves and others.

Clarify The Meaning of Cancelled Plans and Commitments

It’s not uncommon for plans to be scrapped due to flimsy reasons like “I had a better option” or “a sudden change of heart.” For instance, a client of mine had her much-anticipated beach vacation cancelled abruptly when her companion simply lost the urge to go. After enduring a demanding job, my client had been eagerly awaiting this chance to unwind by the sea, and the last-minute cancellation struck her as a profound betrayal.

The disparity in the meaning attached to their shared plans was stark between my client and her so-called ‘friend.’ The friend’s casual approach contrasted sharply with my client’s deep investment in the plans, highlighting their unequal levels of commitment. When something holds great importance to you, it naturally commands your time and dedication; it becomes a priority.

For those who frequently back out of plans, I recommend seeking explicit confirmation of what those plans represent to them. It’s possible that for these serial cancellers, making plans is merely a tentative arrangement, easily discarded if something more enticing appears.

On the other hand, you might view plans as a firm pledge, a promise to be kept.

Understanding this divergence in outlook can be incredibly helpful in avoiding the bewilderment that often accompanies interactions with indecisive individuals.

Wishy-Washy Folks Minimize

Wishy-washy people often minimize their behavior and the cost to you when they break their plans or promises at the last minute. They use weak excuses, such as “something else came along” or “I changed my mind”, to justify their actions. They also try to make you feel guilty or unreasonable for being upset or disappointed. They might say things like “What is the big deal?”, “You could have still gone without me”, or “Why are you getting so upset?”. This is a form of gaslighting and psychological manipulation, as they try to make you doubt your own feelings and reality. For example, a client shared an experience of a friend who cancelled dinner plans an hour before they were supposed to meet, because she wanted to watch a movie with her boyfriend later. She minimized her behavior calling her "selfish and needy".

The Opportunity Cost of Dealing with Wishy-Washy People

When you deal with wishy-washy people, you pay an opportunity cost. An opportunity cost is the benefit, profit, or value of something that you give up to choose something else. Every resource, such as time, money, or energy, can be used for different purposes, and every choice has a trade-off. When you make plans with wishy-washy people, you invest your resources in something that may not happen, and you miss out on other opportunities that could have been more rewarding or enjoyable. For example, if you book a flight and a hotel to go on a vacation with a wishy-washy friend, and they cancel on you at the last minute, you lose the money you spent and the chance to have a relaxing and fun time. You also waste the time and effort you put into planning and preparing for the trip.

The Social and Emotional Impact of Wishy-Washy People

Dealing with wishy-washy people can also have a negative impact on your social and emotional well-being. Loneliness and social isolation are linked to depression, low self-esteem, and shame, according to various studies. If you experience a lack of social contact because of the manipulation of your time by wishy-washy people, you should understand these mental health implications. It is time for you to set a boundary and protect yourself from their harmful behavior. For example, you could limit the amount of time and energy you spend on them, focus on other relationships that are more reliable and respectful, or end the relationship altogether if it is too toxic or draining.

Suggestions For Dealing With Wishy-Washy People

Don’t Wait

Resolving conflict is un-nerving for many people. They avoid it like a plague. But I recommend not avoiding having this discussion. Avoiding conflict only makes one feel more hurt and more resentful. Feel confident and assured that you are worthy of having your time respected. You are not being mean or inconsiderate by expressing your feelings and insisting on respect.

Use This Template

If you do not know what to say, use this basic boundary setting format. It allows you to express how you feel while minimizing the risk of creating defensiveness.

“I feel blank when you do blank.”


I feel manipulated when you cancel our plans at the last minute.

I feel sad that I missed the opportunity to go out and have fun on my only day off.

Use Appropriate Levels of Firmness When Setting Boundaries

When setting boundaries, it is important to consider the appropriate level of firmness for each situation. You don’t want to be too harsh or too lenient, as that could damage your relationship or undermine your boundary. Here are some tips on how to find the right balance:

Consider the context and the history of the relationship. Some situations may require more firmness than others, depending on the severity and frequency of the boundary violation. For example, if someone repeatedly disrespects your boundary, you may need to be more assertive and enforce consequences. On the other hand, if someone unintentionally crosses your boundary, you may need to be more gentle and explain your expectations. I once set a boundary with a friend who was notorious for cancelling last minute by asking to her text me by 8 am, or several hours before our scheduled time to meet, or I would assume the date was off. More often than not, this was sadly the correct assumption.

Consider the personality and the communication style of the other person. Some people may respond better to direct and clear messages, while others may prefer more subtle and polite cues. For example, if someone is very sensitive and defensive, you may need to use more empathy and validation when setting your boundary. On the other hand, if someone is very assertive and confident, you may need to use more authority and conviction when setting your boundary.

Assertive communication as opposed to passive communication is one of the most common difficulties I seem to see in clients. I am guilty of this communication as well. Passive communication is akin to sending a smoke signal or throwing hints and then getting upset or mad when the receiver of your message misses the message. Don’t send hidden messages and then get upset when the message is not received. Ask specifically. Draw attention to the importance of the request such as saying, I need to talk to you about something important.

Consider your own feelings and needs. Setting boundaries is not about pleasing or

A young girl with a t-shirt reading 'Love Who You Are,' promoting self-empowerment and boundary-setting in relationships
A reminder to embrace self-worth and set boundaries when dealing with wishy-washy people.

blaming the other person, but about protecting and respecting yourself. You have the right to set boundaries that make you feel comfortable and safe, and you don’t have to justify or apologize for them. For example, if you feel angry or resentful, you may need to calm down and express your boundary in a respectful way. On the other hand, if you feel guilty or afraid, you may need to overcome your fear and stand up for your boundary in a confident way."

Be in peace - diane


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