Dealing With Wishy-Washy People

If you love a person who is wish-washy, unreliable and commitment-phobic (WUC), 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 the 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

Stop Feeling Guilty About Setting Boundaries.

If a friend or family member was stealing from you, we would do something. Either tell them to stop stealing or perhaps end the relationship. The point us stealing of “things” would not be tolerated. Why then are we so tolerant of the stealing of our time? 

Unreliability and an inability to make or keep commitments is a passive-aggressive form of theft. It steals your time which is a precious commodity.

Time theft is often tolerated because of the passive-aggressive nature. We don’t see it as a form of disrespect and theft, but it is.

Clarify The Meaning of Plans

Plans are often cancelled for weak excuses such as  “Something else came along” or “I changed my mind at the last minute”. A client recently had vacation plans cancelled at the last minute because her friend decided she did not feel like going. My client who had a stressful job had been looking forward to going to the beach and recharging for months. The cancellation felt like a significant betrayal. My client and her “friend” had very different perspectives about commitment levels when they made plans. I would ask for clarification on the meaning of plans for the serial cancel-ers.  Perhaps making plans to them is just a place holder unless something else comes along. Perhaps to you it means something different. It means a commitment.  Knowing this difference in perspective is a great way to minimize the confusion that comes with dealing with wishy-washy people.   

Call Out Minimizing

WUC friends and family members are great at minimizing their behaviors. “What is the big deal?” “You could have still gone without me.” “Why are you getting so upset?” are familiar justifications. They will often minimize their inconsiderate behavior while attempting to shine a light of hard-to-please, demanding, and needy behavior on you.  This is an example of gaslighting  and psychological manipulation.  

Consider Opportunity Cost

An opportunity cost is defined as –  A benefit, profit, or value of something that must be given up to acquire or achieve something else. Since every resource (land, money, time, etc.) can be put to alternative uses, every action, choice, or decision has an associated opportunity cost.

Your time is valuable, and when it is manipulated, unreliable people make you pay an opportunity cost.

Social Isolation

Loneliness and social isolation has been linked to depression, low-self esteem and shame. If you are experiencing lack of social contact because of WUC’s manipulation of your time, you should understand these mental health implications. It is time for you to set a boundary.

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. 

Boundary Setting With WWUCP

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

Start with a lower level of firmness and increase as necessary.

A lower level of firmness might include explaining your feelings of disappointment. Lifting the firmness level up a little would include an more assertive body language such as changing the tone. Be mindful that when you set a boundary you never use an apologetic tone. Use a tone of voice which is confident and assured but kind. Give the WUC’s the benefit of the doubt that they do not understand the impact of their behaviors.

Ask for what you want and need in terms of commitment and reliability. For example, canceling plans at the last minute without a good reason is frustrating.  I need 24 hours notice, unless it is an emergency.  

Use Higher Levels of Firmness When Necessary

After determining your needs and asking for what wait to see how they respond. If your needs and desires continue to be ignored you have some tough decisions to make. This may include limiting contact and declining future invitations. The relationship may only be able to continue in a  superficial manner. You may need to face the fact that it is time to find new friends.

I hope this was helpful. You can follow the link here to sign up for my mental health newsletter. 

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Be in peace – diane