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Are you dating and wondering if this time around the other person is the right long-term partner for you? What is required to assess another person realistically and minimize repeating heartbreak and disappointment?
I often see people leaving their marriage or common-law relationship and within a few months, they are involved with somebody else, declaring that this time, things are different.
What has most likely happened in those cases? It is very possible that the person has skipped an important step, the one of grieving and completing the old relationship. Instead, they have simply replaced one partner with the next, because that is what we are taught to do.
If you are like most people, you will associate the word “grief” with a loved one dying. In reality, grief and loss, in one form or another, occur with most changes in our lives, including the end of a relationship.
When a relationship ends in separation or divorce, it brings huge changes to our daily routine, to our friendships and social interactions, and often to our financial situation. There may be elements of relief that the pain and suffering we experienced being in the relationship is over, but there will also be elements of grief and having to adapt to the changes.
Processing the changes can be challenging because our environment is not supportive. Often, the advice we are given when a relationship ends is along the lines of “don’t feel bad” and “there are many fish in the sea and you’ll find somebody else”, or in other words, “replace the lost relationship with another one”, as if partners are simply exchangeable.
What is required to move forward without dragging our old baggage with us is to fully process the previous relationship, understand what patterns caused the break-up, and grieve the old relationship and the loss of our dreams for the future. The choice to be with somebody else without having done the deeper work might come from fear of being alone. I know because I have experienced this myself in the past. I remember being very much in love with a man many years ago and feeling shocked and heartbroken when the relationship ended due to depression and mental health issues. Within five months, in fact by Christmas that same year, I was dating somebody else, convinced he must be “the love of my life”. What was really underneath this rash decision was that I didn’t want to be alone for Christmas. I had not vetted this man properly and the relationship did not last long.
Jumping into the next relationship without knowing the other person well will most likely cause further heartbreak when that relationship also ends. So how does one not give in to the temptation to rush into the next relationship? And how do we evaluate other people as a potential match?
Dr. Joan Borysenko likes to joke that “if your parents were alcoholics, you can go to a cocktail party, and there’s one alcoholic, and you’re going to end up talking to that one person.” We are naturally drawn to what is familiar and unresolved from childhood. Therefore, we need to be aware of our wounds and our patterns. What have I learned about myself, other people and love relationships growing up? If I am afraid to be alone or have a pervasive fear of abandonment, I might rush into the first possible relationship that shows up and recreate a vicious circle of repeating heartbreak. Or if one of my parents was emotionally distant that might be exactly what I find myself attracted to over and over again, even though I suffer greatly when my partner retreats and closes off.
When we get to know somebody, it pays off to take it slow and to not focus so much on ourselves, but to actually be really curious about the other person. If we focus internally on how someone makes us feel, for example attractive, admired, or appreciated, that focus on ourselves does not tell us anything about the other person. We cannot hear what people tell us between the lines if we are too distracted by our own feelings. We want to learn to read other people relatively quickly before we get emotionally attached to them. Once we have started to bond with somebody or have announced the new relationship to all our social contacts, we are more likely to make excuses for them and to put up with behaviours, character traits and values that will become deal breakers in the long run.
In order to assess somebody for a match, we need to know what our own values are and which ones are “must haves” or “deal breakers”. We need to learn to listen for other people’s values in what they share with us. Here are some questions to keep in mind:
- What matters to them? What values become apparent? Are these values in line with your top 10 values?
- What is their position on taking responsibility for their own words and actions? Do they blame others, like ex-partners, for past difficulties?
- What are their strengths and weaknesses?
- How do they look at challenges and problem solving in regards to life situations, especially relationships? If they are conflict-avoidant, they won’t be able to work relationship issues out when they arise.
- How great are their interpersonal skills and communication skills? Do they have a high EQ which allows them to have empathy, share their own emotions and maintain relationships beyond the initial connection?
- Do they have a history of working through situations, or are they most likely a “fair weather friend”, who is going to be there for a good time but does not have the resilience to work through challenging life situations?
Even after a few dates, we don’t have the entire picture yet. We are likely filling in the blanks with wishful thinking. Rather than deceiving ourselves that we already know a lot, let’s continue to remain curious and open to discover what the other person is really like. Hypnotherapist Michael Yapko recommends to make a concrete list of 25 things we do not know about this person, any one of which could be a potential deal-breaker. What are the things you don’t know for sure yet, and still need to find out?
Before we commit to another person, it is also beneficial to have one or two honest friends or family members vet this potential new partner. In order for this to be helpful, we of course have to be willing to listen to their impressions and assessment. The best way to attract a more successful relationship is not to approach the search for a new partner with desperation and immediacy but with curiosity, a realistic attitude and by taking one step at a time.
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