July 27th, 2011 by Nina Atwood
Dear Nina: I just started reading your book [Temptations of the Single Girl] again after one year. I find it fascinating how it’s actually a work-book, and so many thing I didn’t get when I first read it, I’m starting to understand more now. My question is simple: After you’ve broken up a relationship and the guy comes around again trying to patch things up and start fresh, what is the attitude that you have to have with him, in order to avoid past patterns and eventually a second broken heart? What do you come to the table with, in order to state your rules? And more important, how do you know if a genuine inner change has happened in him and that he’s REALLY up to working things out, instead of getting a “I miss you” fix? The reason why we broke up is that he doesnt know he has the capacity to be in a relationship. Again, your book has been helping me a great deal! – Anna
Dear Anna: You are asking great questions, and that is an empowering place to start. The first rule of relationships is this: if he tells you he’s not sure he is capable of being in a relationship, believe him. The second rule is this: the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
That said, I know that you are going to want to go to the table and find out if there is anything new or better for you with this guy. What you bring to the table are these questions:
- Why should we date again? For what purpose?
- What will be different this time, and why should I trust you?
Having asked these questions, your job is to be silent and let him do the heavy lifting in the conversation. Don’t succumb to the temptation to fill in the gaps if he struggles to answer you. Just sit there and listen, open to discovery.
What you are listening for is a truly heartfelt intention on his part to be a good man to you, to make a genuine commitment, and to date purposefuly toward lifetime relationship/marriage. You won’t be able to hear that intention if you jump in and rescue him. Your attitude is “we’ll see” and “why should I give you another chance?”
Don’t fall into the trap of talking about your wants and needs. Commitment is such a basic ingredient for relationship success that you shouldn’t have to ask for it; it should come naturally. The more you have to demand it from a guy, the less likely you are to get it.
Be prepared for him to exit again by the end of that meeting. But if he hangs in there and engages around the questions, and if the answers he gives you feel right in your gut, then I would go into a “we’ll see” mode for at least three months during which timeframe you do NOT sleep with him. You go out together but don’t hang out at either of your places. Minimize alcohol, and use that time to observe his behavior with you and to discover whether or not the “I miss you fix” wears off. If he’s weak on commitment, he will be impatient with not getting his sexual needs met and you’ll find he exits again. If he’s strong on commitment, he will use that time to deepen your relationship and give you a strong sense that he is in for the long haul.
It’s not harsh, it’s real. Allowing this guy to earn his way back into your heart is not harsh, it’s real. The first time around, he had the chance for a great relationship just by being with you and being committed. He blew that opportunity. Now, the road back to your heart has to be much more challenging so that he can become the man he truly wants to be – worthy of the love of a good woman. Your challenge will be maintaing that stance, but if you don’t, your relationship will repeat the pattern of the past and it will hurt even more. Stay true to your quest for a healthy relationship and you have the opportunity to turn this lemon into lemonade!