Hey friend, this is Coach LeAnne Parsons and I’m going to be answering this week's question. I've been on Leslie's team for 2 ½ years now, and I am passionate and committed to walking with women as they grow in relationship with themselves, God, and others. Together, we reclaim our voices and our brave in the relationships that matter most to us. I believe wholeheartedly that we can step forward into the life God has created for us with dignity and strength as our clothing.
Before I tackle the question, I want to remind you to sign up for Thursday' September 29th's free Live Workshop on How Long Should You Keep Hoping for Your Destructive Spouse to Change and How Will You Know His Change Is Real? Even if you feel confused by what your spouse is saying versus what he is doing. Click here to sign up.
This week’s question: I have been divorced for almost 6 years and now have been dating a man for about a year and a half. My question is: when I try to talk to this new partner about something that is bothering me he gets very defensive and becomes cool towards me. How can I know if this man cares about my feelings? He says he does but when I'm troubled, he doesn't seem to be very supportive. He is very good in lots of other ways. He’s kind to my daughters, does things around the house etc. Just when I'm trying to open up to him emotionally, he seems to shut down and gets annoyed. How do I NOT repeat past mistakes? Thanks for answering my question.
Coach LeAnne’s Answer: Your desire to not repeat past relationship mistakes is an honorable desire and so worthy of exploration and reflection.
The first question I would ask you is what were your past mistakes? You said you don’t want to repeat them so it’s important to recognize them and define them. For example, did you ignore your gut feeling that something wasn’t right? Were you intoxicated by charm but ignored character? Did you always defer to what he wanted being an unhealthy people pleaser?
No relationship is without conflict. Even the healthiest relationships will have friction from time to time because you are different and sometimes want different things or have different goals. While it’s natural not to see eye-to-eye with your partner, it’s how you and your partner handle those disagreements that can determine whether it helps, honors, hurts, or harms your relationship. Healthy relationship building always includes problem-solving and conversation about issues that are troubling you. Healthy conflict is disagreeing about a possible solution, not attacking one another, dismissing each other, or repeatedly turning a cold shoulder toward one another.
From what you wrote, it sounds like he has some positive qualities. He is helpful, friendly, and kind with you and your daughters when the conversation does not require him to open up at a deeper level or emotionally give of himself emotionally. Yet you notice he becomes defensive, shut down, and cold when you bring up your feelings about something or share a problem you’re having.
I suggest a few things: Take some time to get really clear about what is okay with you and what is not okay with you when it comes to communication and connection with someone who may be a potential life partner. Once you are clear about what you need and want, communicate that with him as honestly and openly as you can without accusation or defensiveness.
For example, you might say, “You’re an amazing man in so many ways, but I notice when I get emotional, or I need you to respond to my feelings you close off and shut down. Sometimes you even seem a little angry that I bring things up. Am I reading you right?”
Or, “I think we get along great most of the time but I notice that when I’m upset or angry about something and want to talk, you withdraw. I’m curious. What’s that about?”
Asking these questions is crucial to your next step forward. Can he hear you? Is he willing to self-reflect on his own behavior? Does he care about the impact of those behaviors on you and on your relationship?
How he receives your heartfelt communication will show whether he will give merit to your feelings and concerns. It will show you whether his heart is open to looking at his “why” for you and your future together. If so, then perhaps you can give it more time to see what he does. This kind of vulnerable exploration can be a scary place for both of you to step into. But from there you will have a clearer picture of what’s possible and what he may or may not be willing to change.
If you’ve done all of these things and he doesn’t respond positively, you will feel hurt and sad. Sometimes the truth hurts. We speak a lot here in our ministry about committing to the truth- no more pretending. Dealing with things as they are and not as we wish them to be is never easy, whether there’s been abuse in your life or not. Relationships are always a challenge but clinging to a false reality makes the present harder than it has to be. Therefore asking these questions will help you gain the clarity you need.
But whether he responds positively, or once again shuts you down with his coldness, it’s important that you know that you are a valuable woman who wants healthy relationships. Being repeatedly diminished or dismissed can hijack your self-esteem, and lead to feelings of hopelessness. Trying to do relationship with someone who regularly uses the silent treatment, cold shoulder, stonewalling, and dismissiveness to avoid conversations are huge red flags for more abusive and destructive behaviors in the future.
Therefore, regardless of the outcome of this relationship, please make sure you have good supportive wise girlfriends and seek the Lord daily because sometimes it’s tempting to see yourself through the eyes of the one who isn’t willing to change and believe the lie that you’re not worth it. That’s not true, and so again for you to not repeat your past mistakes, I want you to focus on who God says you are, not your own feelings, thoughts, or even your partner’s words or actions.
God says you are His beloved child: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is who you are!” (1 John 3:1). God is not timid about expressing His boundless love for us; He repeatedly affirms in Scripture that we are born of God, His very own treasured children (John 1:12–13; 2 Corinthians 6:17–18; Galatians 3:26; Romans 8:17; Isaiah 43:1).
God says you are valuable. He calls you His workmanship: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (Ephesians 2:10, NLT). We are not random lumps of clay. God says we are the result of His artistic skill and craftsmanship. God made us in His own image and likeness.
Remember: when you share with him how you feel, if he does not respond well, it’s not about you, your value, or your worth. It’s more about how he feels inside. Perhaps he feels uneasy talking about emotional things. Or incompetent about how to express emotions or even how to listen compassionately. Or believes he’s too old to change. He has his own junk in his own junk drawer. Don’t make it about you.
I understand that not everyone who reads this blog may embrace faith in God. My desire is not to talk you into believing all the Bible says about relationships. I am here to love you where you are and acknowledge that abuse, addictions, and apathy take place in all kinds of relationships. My heart breaks for victims of intimate partner violence- emotional, physical, or spiritual. Please don’t become one.
Friend, when you have found yourself in “groundhog day” in other words in familiar territory from a past relationship and you don’t want to make the same mistakes, what steps did you take to hold yourself accountable for the changes you wanted to make?
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