Q. Having been a widow
for a number of years I am out of practice in meeting men.
I'm worried about my discernment and would like to know how
I can identify early on whether or not a potential partner
is carrying around potentially damaging emotional baggage
from previous relationships .
A. It's probably safe to say that everyone is
carrying some 'unresolved' emotions that effect their intimate
relating, if that is what you mean by emotional baggage. Presuming
that you are looking for someone with a lighter load, here
are a few questions that everyone in your position might consider:
1. How long since potential partner's
The shorter the time, the greater the likelihood of unresolved
feelings and thus emotional 'baggage' left over from previous
involvements. It's just common sense. Becoming aware of and
working through feelings requires time and some intention
(the greater the intention, the less the time). A relationship
breakdown generates all kinds of powerful feelings and people
who rush from one relationship to another are clearly not
allowing their feelings to work through (or are only desiring
joyful feelings, which amounts to the same thing). Not allowing
feelings means they are being denied, which means that emotional
baggage is present.
The shorter the time the stronger the indication that the
partner doesn't have a strong sense of self. All the time
we see situations where a person jumps from one relationship
almost directly into another and then when the romantic juices
have quieted, discovers that a lot of the underlying drive
was security based. If you were to find yourself in a relationship
with a man fresh out of a relationship you might very well
be finding yourself with a man who just needs a woman around,
who deep down, essentially is looking for a mother. In these
situations you can imagine that emotional baggage is going
to be pretty substantial. Not only that, these types of men
often unconsciously expect their partners to feel the feelings
they refuse to recognize in themselves, so be ready to carry
a very heavy load indeed!
2. What happened in breakdown of the
Beware of the person who takes no personal responsibility
and is primarily focused the flaws of the ex-partner. It always
takes two to crash a relationship and partners who don't know
their own role in the breakdown or are unwilling to talk about
it with a new intimate are blocked or masking, and highly
likely to recreate the same scenario (perhaps in slightly
different form but with much the same outcome)
3. What kind of effort has been made
at personal growth since the last breakdown in intimacy?
No effort means a lot of baggage. It is very hard to see ourselves
clearly. It takes a great deal of time and effort. Hiring
someone to help us can accelerate the process hugely. Once
again a person who is too busy, or unwilling to seek help,
is highly likely to repeat the same underlying patterns in
intimacy (patterns that lead to breakdowns in previous intimacies).
4. What are their philosophies about
dealing with anger?
How a partner deals with anger will probably not be discovered
until sometime into the relationship. But you can find out
viewpoints early on. Be wary of partners who can't be with
anger - their own or that of the people they are with. When
anger can't be expressed clearly and cleanly, and no effort
has been made to learn how, you can be sure that other feelings
will get stuffed as well as the relationship ages.
5. How do they do with feelings in general?
As the relationship progresses a little does your partner
at least show a willingness to be with difficult feelings
when they do arise? Does he come back later on, willing to
track them? Or does he run (either by absenting himself altogether
or staying in his head only)? Without a very deliberate intent
at skills training in feelings, the tendency to run away and
avoid feelings becomes a habitual way of relating that is
hard to change later in life. Remember the strong silent type
may be attractive at first but the shadow side of this type
could easily be stonewalling and avoidance.
6. What's the relationship with the
opposite gender parent?
A man's relationship with his mother forms the entire foundation
of his relationship with the feminine. Feelings left unresolved
with his mother will have to be worked out eventually with
the woman he is with. Be alert to a partner who very highly
idealizes his mother or one who is extremely detached from
her (or worse yet demonizes her). You can be sure this fellow
has a lot of unresolved feelings about the feminine and you
will be destined to experience the consequences.
These are just a few cues. At the bottom of it all you have
to trust your heart. We wish you luck.