We are designed to be "relational" beings, yet we receive some of our greatest joy and also some of our deepest wounding in relationships. Many of us don't "do" relationships well. We make the same poor choices again and again, thinking somehow that we'll find true love at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Some of us may be wise about guarding our investments, even our time, but fail miserably at guarding our hearts.
Trust is key
We need people in our lives to affirm, support and challenge us. We need calm, trusted voices that speak in love and truth to stop harmful habits and launch new, healthier ones. We need the mirrors of self and social reality held up to inform and shape lives that are honorable and honoring. So how then do we identify and manage those relationships that go way beyond providing the challenges that make life interesting and move into territory that can be either unsafe or even insane? Trust yourself and those closest to you -- here's how:
1. Trust your head
Listen to what people are saying when they speak -- don't edit or give them the benefit of the doubt without clarifying true intent. Believe them when they reveal negative qualities and decide whether you can live with them or not. Forget about trying to fix them later. Distrust flattery that is accompanied with an attempt to control or manipulate you. Notice self-centredness and be cautious about broken promises. Use your head and accept that you are not meant to be friends with everyone you meet and that you certainly aren't meant to date them, either.
2. Trust your heart
A partner's mean talk that bruises your spirit comes from a place so dark and deep that you could die trying to change it. Many victims of domestic abuse were conned by spouses who appealed to their need to rescue a wounded soul. Trained professionals are the only ones who should engage with profoundly wounded people who are actively trying to pass their pain on to others. If you have asked your partner for greater respect and the attitude doesn't change, wish them well, head for the door and don't look back.
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3. Trust your gut
Your intuition, your sixth sense, is worth developing. Is there a huge gap between what you are being told and what you are actually seeing and sensing with your partner? Check that out. Forget about not wanting to offend someone. Call him or her on bad behaviour and bad vibes. Check out your perceptions and reactions with others that you know and trust. In short, don't give a player another minute of your precious time.
4. Trust friends
Listen and learn when the people closest to your potential date make them the butt of jokes. Drinking too much, being perpetually unemployed and the like should be major deal breakers for you. Run far away before you become a part of that sad, unfunny picture.
5. Trust your spiritual barometer
Do you believe that life is guided by a higher power? A bigger purpose than for just your own happiness? Partner choice can go a long way toward helping or hindering your ability to live out the destiny meant for you. Be reflective and meditative, listening wisely for the unsettled disquiet or all-out anxiety that a particularly ill-suited companion might evoke in you. If you tolerate unacceptable behaviour because you can't live without someone, you're DUI -- dating under the influence -- of guileless body chemicals rather than a benevolent guiding life force. Time for a course correction!
6. Trust your kids
Don't make your kids your confidants around adult matters, but listen to what they say and notice their reactions to people and situations. Talk with them about both their unease and their too speedy familiarity with someone new in their life. There may be some "mouth of babes" wisdom that you would be wise to heed. Sadly, there are predators who will try to get close to you in order to get at your kids.
7. Trust your dog
Kids and dogs often have a heightened awareness of the good and evil in people. Mild jealousy is to be expected when you introduce a new love to a family pet; however, lock the doors on anyone who causes Fido to growl or bare his teeth and pay attention if your pet's negative reaction is out of character or extends beyond the first couple of meetings.
Dr. Marion Goertz is a registered marriage and family therapist. Visit her online at www.mariongoertz.com.
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