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Making discerning partner choices

Last year I got badly burned in relationship. Not just a little boo-boo kinda burn, but what felt like third degree burns all over, inside and out. It was abusive and dysfunctional and I’ve written about it in 2 previous blogs (see them here and here).

So I’m not going to re-hash that here. What I’m now interested in, and what a conversation with the amazing coach Jo Valentina-Sinclair got me thinking about, is:

  • how do I safeguard myself against a repeat performance? and

  • how can I make more discerning, self-respecting partner choices in future?

I’m in no way ready for or interested in a new relationship right now. Continued healing and self-mastery are my priority. But if and when I am:

  • how will I be able to trust what any male suitor tells me?

I’m a very open, trusting person by nature. Even my kids think I’m ridiculously honest and gullible. For whatever reason, I missed out on the cynical gene and tend to take people’s words literally. I guess, because in my own communication, I’m both naturally and spiritually (it’s a precept of my yoga practice) devoted to truth.

And words are my "thang": they’re my second love language and l just love hanging out in the word zone.

I speak and share my truth plainly. I get confused when others aren’t as clear in their communication (saying one thing, but clearly thinking/feeling another). I cannot tell a lie. And I’ve always assumed people are honest like me.

In every-day life, this can be hilarious, as I fall for the same old wind-ups time and again. But in this most recent experience, I encountered such extreme deceit (by way of some classic narcissistic behaviours), with such painful consequences, that I’m left wondering how to protect myself.

And even though this was the crème de la crème of betrayals, if truth be told, I’ve had a few other experiences in the past, where suitors have most sincerely and credibly declared their love, commitment and longing for conscious union with me, only to behave in total contradiction to those promises or simply bugger off a few months down the line.

Now, just for the record: this is not the sum total of my experience – I’ve also had several meaningful longer term relationships and many beautiful, conscious encounters with awesome men, who own their shit and speak their truth congruently from start to finish. They’re still my friends and I love them to bits. So I’m not here to initiate some man-bashing diatribe.

But I’m having to admit that – shock, horror - men I chose to date, didn't always speak the truth to me (even if they thought they were) and I wasn't able to detect it.

So I’m here to explore – as honestly as I can – this pattern of “trust – love – betrayal” in myself for the benefit of all.

And, by the way, I totally get that every relationship I’ve ever had – good or bad - has been a soul choice, that has, ultimately, grown me into a wiser, truer, more loving and empowered person. So this isn't a poor-me story. I'm happy and very grateful.

And I know that life and love can’t be controlled. That there are karmic ties and patterns that come to be cleared. I’m even of the mind, that there are dark energies and entities that can insinuate themselves into our hearts and minds via sex and psychic vulnerability.

But to speak from the level of the personality for now, to be quite honest, if I ever do go into another relationship, I don’t think I could handle any more grand-scale trauma of the kind I’ve just experienced. And it’s made me very wary.

So how do I preserve my inherently innocent and trusting nature, whilst taking this mother of a wake-up call very seriously?

The coach I was speaking with started out by asking me what kinds of questions I’d ask a prospective lover in future, to ensure he wasn’t going to morph into yet another Jekyll and Hyde.

Which was a good place to start.

Only I asked my ex loads of questions during our courtship. We even did “the 36 questions that lead to love” together and shared vulnerably about our childhood and relationship wounding. There was nothing, at this point, I felt I couldn’t be, ask or tell.

He listened, held space and shared. Openly. Heartfully. Sincerely. Patiently. No warning signs there.

This, after all, is the skill of the narcissist: to lure you in with a perfect display of soul-mate-hood.

The only thing that set off a small alert in my inner being was the blaming and bad-mouthing of his ex that occasionally crept in. It’s a rule of mine not to blame, but take responsibility. So when I witness another doing this, I feel compromised and unsettled. (See also my blog: "Are you dating a blamer?" )

To put it simply, if a suitor can’t frame the ending of his/her last relationship in terms of how they created their experience and what gifts they’ve taken from it (rather than framing it as entirely the fault of the other), then don’t expect a good outcome for yourself!

So perhaps noticing how and why I over-rode this inner alert – and maybe others – would be more fruitful?

This alert was just a flicker, rather than a station red. But what pushed it to the recesses of my consciousness was the seductive context (a dream-come-true love-fest in paradise) and my tendency to make allowances for others.

Only thing is, making allowances for bad behaviour can easily be co-dependence. It’s what people in relationship with addicts and abusers do. So while I’ve always thought of this part of myself as being compassionate, non-judgemental or even just incredibly laissez-faire, I’m now feeling guided to examine if and when this compassion and allowing becomes enabling, self-compromise and turning a blind eye.

All that said, there are undoubtedly some questions it’s not only healthy and wise to ask any potential partner, but also ourselves, when we are exploring new relationship terrain.

I even put the question about what questions to ask to my Facebook friends and got a ton of fabulous suggestions:

  • how do you take criticism?

  • how did your last relationship end and what was your part in that?

  • have you ever lied to a date and why?

  • did/does your parents’ relationship inspire you?

  • do you have longstanding friendships?

  • are you on good terms with most of your exes?

  • how do you get on with your family (and for men, their mother and for women, their father)?

  • what are your intentions, desires, fears and boundaries?

  • describe something that irritates you

  • what do you fear most when dating?

  • what patterns of behaviour have you noticed in yourself around men/women that you wish could be different?

  • what do you do that shows someone you care about them?

  • how aware are you of your traumas & suppressed emotions?

  • how are you actively working to heal them?

  • In your truest heart, what do you feel you lack?

  • do you like marmite? (Hee hee!)

And though these questions are meant to be directed at our suitor/date, from my perspective, they are equally valid if we ask them of ourselves.

In fact, many would argue that it’s self- rather than other-enquiry, we should prioritise, since it is only ever us, who is responsible for our lives. Taking our power back and controlling the only thing we can control – us – we are guaranteed to elicit some super useful inner illumination with these three powerful questions suggested by conscious sex and relationship educator, Natalie Chalmers:

  • can I trust myself ?

  • do I honour my intuition without rationalising it?

  • how do I stand up for my own boundaries?

And spiritual teacher Karen Aiyana Birch and psychotherapist Fadrique Cordero add to this array of questions, with a 7-point guideline to self-enquiry around: “it is worth investing?” in a current or potential relationship.

I love how this approach reframes the entire dialogue around the value of you, your time, your love and your life: seeing your investment of your YOU in relationship with anybody as a precious gift to them you wouldn’t want to squander.

The ease with which we can adopt this perspective may highlight how hungry for love we actually are. So if you spot that in yourself, note it: neediness, desperation or a looking outside oneself for completion will inevitably create an unhealthy, co-dependent relationship dynamic.