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Are You Afraid to Trust Love Again?

Five ways to ensure more success the next time around.

RANDI GUNTHER Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor

In the last two decades, the internet dating world has exploded. From the pioneers of in 1995 and eHarmony in 2000, these online dating services have splintered into a multitude of specific-desire groups that literally offer whatever people are looking to find.

But too rich a smorgasbord can result in emotional food-poisoning. Illegitimate advertisements and high-risk involvements abound, and many dating services offer far more than they can deliver.

This unlimited exposure, rife with uncertainties, leaves relationship-seekers open to experiences that too often end in disappointment and disillusionment. When these disappointments mount, the common saboteurs of hope are likely to emerge. Every day, I listen to seasoned dating veterans becoming more cynical about each new outcome.

Pessimistic and often even embittered, their requirements tighten. And, as those scars mount, they are likely to search more diligently for partners who can help heal them from past defeats, at best an unlikely probability. Great potential partners don’t want to knock down barriers they did not create.

I validate that truth. In working with couples for over four decades, I have never seen a current relationship that can adequately heal unresolved negative baggage from either partner’s past. Many new relationships fail because one or both partners think they can, and should, meet these unrealistic expectations.

Taking all of this into consideration, it is no wonder that so many people come to see me feeling defeated by the relationship-seeking game of life.

“I’m not sure I can do this again.”

“Maybe all the good ones are just taken.”

“I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”

“I keep hoping that the right person will just show up, but time is running out.”

“Maybe I’m just not relationship material.”

“When you don’t know what is real and what isn’t, how can you keep taking chances that end up making you feel like a fool?”

“I’m really wary of even believing there is someone right for me out there.”

“Does anyone ever tell the truth anymore?”

The last statement is often at the core of the problem. In anticipation of being rejected, many people are too wary to be transparent early in the game. Driven by society’s standards for what is currently valuable on the open market, they try to present themselves as close to those expectations as possible. And, the potential partners are doing the same. It is no wonder that those unrealistic offerings so often end up in disillusionment.

If being open to the possibility that finding love is truly possible, people still looking for a quality partnership must recalibrate how to navigate these probabilities.

The following five ways to do that can make a real difference.

One – Respecting, being honest about, and believing in, your own value

“These are my assets, these are my liabilities, this is what I’m working on, so what’s for dinner?” That transparent monument to self, said with dignity and self-respecting humor, conveys to others that you know who you are, what you have to offer, and what it will likely cost to be in a relationship with you. No embarrassment, no hiding, and no negative surprises.

That combination of candor and comfort with self is a winning combination. It conveys an adventurous and worth-the-risk attitude towards dating that is inviting, in and of itself. The confidence that comes with self-knowledge and self-acceptance is both refreshing and ease-creating to any potential partner.

Two – Don’t start with a goal and work backward

It is all too common for wary daters to begin the vetting process before they even get to know someone. Especially after they’ve experienced multiple disappointments, many people want to check all their boxes before they take the time to gather enough data to make that kind of decision.

Moreover, they collect that data within a pre-thought-out set of standards that can eliminate a potential partner’s chances before enough information has a chance to come forth.

“There are just certain things I will never be able to tolerate.”

“I know what I want, and I can tell right away if it’s available.”

“If my most important requirements don’t show up within the first date, why waste my time?”

“I just don’t have the patience or time anymore to fool around.”

Those kinds of pre-biases are likely to result in pre-defeats. Most people take a while to open up. Until they feel more secure, they often withhold important aspects of themselves. If people stay open to possibilities before they judge too soon, they give themselves time to know more about someone before making a premature decision.

Try this thought on, instead: Imagine that a new date is a stranger you are meeting on a train while traveling in a foreign country. You know, from the start, that your time together is limited. Instead of pre-judging, you are more likely to easily open up about your life’s current journey, without at all thinking about a future. Because you have no attachment to the outcome, you are in the best possible mood to be completely at ease.

Three – Knowing your true deal-breakers

On the other hand, it is important for you to know what you absolutely will not be able to tolerate if you choose to go forward. Because most new relationship partners focus on what is good about the relationship and turn a blind eye to its negative aspects, they often do not pay attention to what they will not be able to live with over time. A love boat that is rocking gently with just a few potential leaks doesn’t seem to be in any real trouble, but will likely sink if those holes are not filled.

“He made a lot of joking comments about how it’s okay to break the law if you don’t get caught. I didn’t take them seriously, until he told me about it being fine to drive even if you’d had a few, as long as you were careful.”

“She talked a lot about her love/hate relationships with her family. Then I experienced it first-hand at Christmas. I couldn’t find the love she kept telling me about. It was a horrendous s**t show.”

“We were saving money together for our first romantic vacation. He’d ask from time to time if he could borrow a little for an unexpected expense and would pay it right back. I believed him. It never happened.”

“I knew she was pretty selfish, but so much fun, so I didn’t care at first. Then one night I really needed her, and she wouldn’t cancel her plans with her friends. Told me to call someone else and she’d talk to me in the morning. It wasn’t the first time, but somehow I broke.”

“He told me all the time that he had a temper but was totally under control. Until the night someone hit on me at the restaurant. He went nuts and got us thrown out. That’s more than a temper. I found out later that he’d been arrested before.”

“She warned me that she liked to flirt but it was nothing more than just fun because we seemed to be so connected to each other. Then I accidentally saw her phone open. Six guys in regular communication. That was it.”

Four – Don’t let the past define or predict your future

Childhood trauma, unresolved issues, biases and prejudices, cynicism, pessimism, and pre-defeats are barriers to potential partners who don’t want to inherit a mess they did not create. Too many people carry their scars into each new relationship, hoping that their new partners will somehow be the healers of those past heartbreaks.

Relationships can be catalysts in identifying past relationship problems and bringing them to light. Current partners can be supportive and empathic, but they cannot, and should not, be expected to make up for them.

It is important for the success of any new relationship that both partners are able to share their histories, particularly in terms of how they resolved their past losses and what they would do to prevent them in the future. They can ask each other for understanding and support, but not ever for compensation. And, in particular, be on the lookout for the triggers that activate those prior experiences.

Five – The attitude that most predicts success

Every relationship can create elation, scar, repair, transform, teach, deepen, or end. Everyone we’ve known forms both our memories and future expectations. People who rue, regret, obsess and blame themselves or the other will carry those scars, and even unwittingly nurture them. If they do not grow beyond them, more confident because of what they’ve learned, they are bound to expect those negative experiences with them into each succeeding relationship.

Those people who treasure what they’ve experienced, even if it was hard to live through, and push themselves to grow beyond them, enter each new relationship determined to do it better.

Just think how appealing a prospective new partner would be if, when asked about past relationships, answered with, “Lots of mistakes. Much learned. No regrets. Ready to do it better.”

If you can offer the same, your chances of picking a better person next time are highly enhanced. Though it still may take you a few tries, you will eventually trust love again.

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