Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;
I have been dating a woman, Sara, for about 2 months. We talked about our past relationships and I gathered that her last one wasn’t a good experience. In her eyes, the guy was “abusive.” She recounted stories about how manipulative he was, how selfish, etc, etc… They were never married, but were together for a long time before it fell apart in an ugly way. I had a different experience with my ex- we’ve remained friend through the years, although admittedly we weren’t very friendly for the first 6 months. But we both learned lessons and I don’t hold any blame.
Here’s the problem I’m having with Sara- she doesn’t seem to have taken anything but animosity from a relationship she put many years into. Sara is a lot of fun and she is intelligent and attractive. But during a recent out of town trip she took, I had a lot of time to think about things. Now I’m wondering if I should go any further into a relationship with her. She does seem to have a problem being direct about her feelings if something upsets her. I don’t want to be the next guy she’s describing to her new boyfriend as an abusive a-hole.
This is a very astute question which most people don’t even seem to consider. Every relationship is about at least two people, and you usually only ever hear one side. No one can have a relationship with a partner who doesn’t reflect their own relationship skills. This means that Sara probably has some issues. But on the other hand- who doesn’t?
In a relationship, there’s more than one way to respond to issues. Usually either one partner pushes the other’s buttons and brings them out or they diminish their impact by not responding to them. If you balance her by not reacting to her stuff, you might be good for her; she might also do the same for you. But if you are a “rescuer” you will make her issues worse.
As long as you two can openly and honestly communicate a lot of things might just work themselves out, but an ongoing conversation is essential. It’s the nice people who keep everything silently to themselves who suffer the most.
Be kind not nice. There is a huge difference.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: Two months isn’t long enough to know what the future will hold. Most people are on their best behavior during the “honeymoon” phase…then when they start feeling comfortable, you see what was behind their company manners.
I think it’s unfair to judge a person on past relationships because this would mean that no one learned or grew through experience. However, something you said about Sara sets off my Granny BS alarm: “she doesn’t seem to have taken anything but animosity from a relationship she put many years into.”
Animosity is not fertile ground for learning and growing. Continuing animosity means that that a person is festering, not healing. It also usually means that they are placing the blame largely on the object of their anger. People who are obsessed with blame rarely question themselves. It takes two to tango and Sara and her ex both had their own part in whatever dysfunction existed. If Sara can’t admit that, she’ll never update her personal relationship skills. If those skills now lean towards finger pointing rather than problem solving, you can expect to have many fingers pointed at you over the course of your relationship, should it continue.
My suggestion is that you tell Sara exactly how you feel, although for god’s sake, be tactful or you will seem abusive in her eyes. See how she reacts. If she gets angry, this is how she will always react. If she is concerned for your happiness as well as her own, she will engage in a conversation.
An ongoing conversation IS necessary to a healthy relationship. If you can’t start the conversation, I’d advise against trying to start the relationship.