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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Thank you for the way you reasoned through this question to several possible solutions. It really helped clarify my own situation. I am remarried and struggling to separate if the hurt , confusion, frustration , etc. is coming from my present relationship or as my husband says, an over reaction to my previous marriage of 28 years where the dismissiveness, minimizing, ignoring, cold shoulder, behaviors were common and routine. The damage to my heart mind and body were substantial and recovering is an ongoing process. I was single for 6 years before remarrying during which time I did so much learning, grieving and healing. What I have learned though is the real test for me was when I was again remarried and dealing with the joys and stresses of sharing my heart and life w a new husband.
There are times I love the way I carry myself and communicate under any source of stress. But too often I am triggered by the stress of again feeling rejected, dismissed, ignored etc. and I react with defensive loud anger.
Relationships can be really hard but I am hoping this one will continue to breathe and grow in a healthier direction. Even if it is only on my side. That’s all I am responsible for and I am committed to truth rather than the version I want to see.
Thank you again for your response to this question and how it spoke to my situation also. I appreciate that!
Love the growth your having🌷
Good morning Helen!
I am so grateful you are here. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. The hurts, confusion, frustration and how we navigate all of the thoughts and emotions around our stories will either encourage us to press into self awareness and growth, or high jack our days. You are making choices to allow the spirit of God to renew you with truth. You are a precious daughter of the most high God. You can do hard things. You can find your voice. It matters. As you take each breath and allow the Lord to guide your steps, please know that you are loved and supported. The truth will continue to set you free.
Thank you for bearing witness to growth here! Your words bring life.
I Thank you for this clear answer!!! …and the question. My current step is to always be accountable for my actions and thoughts….until that becomes common I learned and now know I need to rely on others who can help me distinguish healthy responses and appropriate actions to keep myself (my heart) safe.
Signing up for the year in Conquer was what I chose “next” because it helps me distinguish the truth and also provides specific actions I can take as appropriate.
My work now is to get clear by distinguishing and writing down what you suggested in your answer…I haven’t done that “step” yet!
It’s been hard for me up until now to be able to separate myself from his (husbands) emotional abuse…it looks so harmless but it really does kick like a bronco in my gut!!! Covert, silent treatment is his favorite method of communicating when I respectfully disagree with him (among other things he claims I do–if I am lucky enough to hear what he is actually thinking. . ) .I finally can see that I do not like the kick in my gut anymore!!! And I let him know clearly for probably the first time–I finally CLEARLY communicated that I will not let him repeat that behavior to me!! And the only way I can do that is removing him from being around me… Only God knows what that looks like to my future.
Which brings up another major thing I learned: from Leslie’s and other’s teaching: With God I am strong and able to go into the unknown because of this learned right thinking and the support of my friends!!!
God Bless this ministry Amen.
Thank you for joining us here in this space! Your words- “With God I am strong and able to go into the unknown because of this learned right thinking and the support of my friends!!!” are life giving and a wonderful reminder to all of that as we build into others with the spirit of God guiding us, victory is sure.
Emotional abuse is damaging. It is never okay. I celebrate with you the step you took to clearly communicate your desire to be valued, and not mistreated.. We call that walking in CORE strength here at LV and CO. . We are stronger together! Your words will be an encouragement to many.
I thought I would add another perspective to this. Men are natural problem solvers. Sometimes when we tell them our emotions and feelings they are busy in their brain trying to figure out how to solve the problem because that’s what they feel they need to do. Sometimes I feel inadequate when it comes to an unclear problem like an emotion of one rather than a broken television or plumbing or a car battery. Sharing our emotions in our heart is so important to be cherished to be valued as the tender females that God made us to be. Sometimes we just need to be careful not to turn what is also a God given male quality, problem-solving Into a more feminine attribute such as being our mother, sister or girlfriend. Of course this does not apply to any covert silent treatment, abusive remarks or deflection. I simply wanted to point out that there can be another aspect to observe. When we have walked through so much pain, abuse and gaslighting it’s often difficult to see another man through healed eyes rather than hurt ones
Thank you, Kaytie! Dating again now after divorce from abuse….that was a helpful reminder! Thank you, Dee, Christine and Helen as well.
Chris! We are stronger together! So thankful for each of you that follow us and contribute to this healing space,
Thank you for sharing your perspective. Having the courage to pause, notice, and then choose the lenses we view our situations through takes community, connection and wise counsel. Viewing our relationships and healing with healthy openness to wise others and the Holy Spirit takes commitment! Clarity comes and confidence in the Lord grows as we take each step. Each person we love and appreciate has the same choice to make. To see us through the hurts, harm, and habits we have experienced OR- to see us through the lens of our loving Holy Father. Sharing our stories with others and being open to curious conversation oftentimes invites healing and strength to take our next right step into wholeness.
When I first got married, my poor husband had no idea how to handle my monthly boo-hoo. I have heard from many others that men don’t like to feel helpless, and a woman’s emotions surely make them feel helpless, so of course, they will react in whatever way works for them: usually withdrawal in some form. So, I had to teach my husband how to love me through these things. I told him “just hold me and pass the tissues.” So, after you ask those questions to find out what his reaction is about, if he says that he just doesn’t know how to handle emotions, if you can give him some concrete suggestions about what you need in that moment, it might help. He may feel relieved. Another thing you can does to preface your disclosure with an invitation just to listen: you don’t need him to “fix” anything, but you just want to be able to tell him what’s going on with you, and for him to listen with empathy. It’s all determined on how he answers those two questions.
Good Morning JoAnn!
Thank you for opening up this conversation today!
Doing the inner work to identify what matters most in the present moment for us, for our wellbeing, for our families, for our faith, and for our futures in relationship with one another is key to seeing, hearing, knowing self and others. We can learn to do this intention and purpose. When we know what matters most, and when we embrace the courage to communicate what matters most with those that matter most, we invite a whole new level of connection and opportunity for relationship wholeness.
One of my favorite quotes addressing this topic is “clear is kind”. Clarity helps us to set healthy boundaries for ourselves. Clarity invites us to do our own work. We do have the opportunity to teach others how to treat us. A great question we all get to ask ourselves is “How do I want to be treated?” “Am I clear in how I will communicate that to those I care about?”