Dear Michele: Recovering From Past Relationship

Dear Michele,First, I want to say thank you. I find your responses very helpful, very enlightening. Thanks so much for answering relationship questions from me and other members of this website.

My last relationship ended in such a painful way that I find it difficult to allow myself to fall in love again. I have met someone recently and we have had fun at our weekly dates. There is a possibility that our casual dating will turn into serious dating, and even a relationship further down the road. So far, I feel comfortable with this person. At the same time, I am facing a dilemma. Although I would like to settle into a long-term relationship before I become too old, I am a little afraid of being in a serious relationship at this point because of the bad experience I had not too long ago. To be sure, the person that I am seeing now is very different from my ex. He does not pursue me as fervently as my ex used to. We communicate daily, but our communication is brief and he does not use flowery language like my ex used to. We have fun together, but it’s more of the peaceful type than the exciting or dramatic type. I want to know what might be the best way to approach a new relationship so I don’t lose someone with potential by being too cautious, or get hurt by someone who is not genuine.

Recovering from a Past Relationship,

Dear Recovering,
Let me first say how sorry I am that your previous relationship was so painful. At the same time, it appears that you have gained the gift of discernment, as you can see and feel the difference between your current date and your previous boyfriend. Intense pursuit and dramatic romance makes great movies, but many times it indicates an effort to keep deeper problems at bay. I laud you for having the insight to do the hard work of grieving your past relationship and examining how to not repeat its mistakes. Being aware is the first step.

Step two is addressing your own anxiety about the situation. If you can clearly see how this relationship is different, then you have already reduced your chances of getting hurt. When you start to get concerned about getting hurt, take a deep breath and a step back, and look to see if you are moving faster than you would prefer. Bring your heart and your concerns to God, and then listen. Do you feel more peace or more angst? The angst is your sign that something needs to change. That may mean you slowing down the pace. The peace is your sign that everything is ok.

Is there a recipe for a finding a relationship with a guarantee of no break-up pain? Nope. Is there a way to handle the pain better? Yes, absolutely. First off, don’t rush in. You don’t have to be in a serious relationship before you are ready. That means keeping the dates and the conversation causal. You can choose to delay introducing family and friends. Attending Mass together is fine, but I wouldn’t encourage couple prayer time until you want to be more serious. You can avoid dinner at home and snuggling on the coach afterwards, along with weekend trips away or spending the night together. All these things will slow down the pace. And don’t sleep together before marriage. Sound old fashion? Sure. You likely know that our faith teaches us the beauty of dating in a chaste way. The reality is that delaying sexual intimacy protects your heart (and your body, ok, your soul too) from becoming connected in a way that is meant to be permanent. The pain of breaking up is simply less, well, painful, when you haven’t slept together.

Afraid that you are being too cautious? Then I would recommend discussing it with your date. Explain your feelings and why you may want to slow things down. His approach to dating certainly sounds healthy, so I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that he has the emotional maturity to handle the conversation. If he doesn’t, then you will be able to see it in his reaction. And I know you don’t want to hear this, but if he can’t handle that conversation, then he can’t handle a lifetime of honest communication. Don’t feel like you have to share every thought with him, but if your fears are getting in the way of enjoying time with him, then you may want to think of a short, sweet, and simple way of telling him what you are struggling with. A man who is truly interested in you will wait for you to be ready.

And finally, be sure to take the time to grieve your past relationship, which can mean time alone to mourn and bring your hurting heart to God. As we know, He is there to sustain us through our pain, but also to celebrate with us in our redemption! Lean on your faith to guide you through the process of releasing your pain to Him, and opening your heart to the next gift that He has prepared for you.

God Bless,

Michele Fleming, M.A.