How to Protect Yourself From the Disappearing Man
- Monday, November 14, 2005
One day you and the new man in your life are snuggling on the couch, holding hands and planning the weeks and months ahead. The next, you find yourself sitting alone on that same couch, waiting for a phone call that never comes.
When you pursue a long-term relationship, it’s important to understand the implications this has for the man in your life and to realize that commitment may not always be the logical next-step for him. Proceed naively and you are likely to have your dreams shattered – repeatedly.
Over the years, I have heard this story from many clients, most recently a woman named Cynthia. On her first visit to my office, she explained how, after months of fatigue and depression following the breakup of her marriage, she was finally able to start dreaming of a new life. She began attending a church singles program, assuming it would be a safe place to socialize and heal.
Although initially hesitant, she quickly warmed to the singles group. She loved being with others who, like her, were recovering from broken relationships. She received plenty of attention from the men in the program and dated several of them on a casual basis.
And then she met Chad, a gregarious, fun-loving marketing executive.
“I was immediately attracted to him,” she told me, “and I think he was attracted to me, too.”
“It sounds like things moved pretty quickly,” I said.
“I guess chemistry took over. We talked for hours, shared our life stories, laughed and prayed together. Chad had been divorced only a few months, but he assured me that he was ready to start a new relationship.”
“It’s easy to fall hard when you’re vulnerable.”
“But how could I have been so foolish?” she said. “Chad didn’t want a committed relationship, but he didn’t have the nerve to tell me that at the start. After a couple months he announced that he wasn’t ready for a serious commitment. Now I feel used.”
“We always wish that new relationships would go smoothly,” I said, “but it’s rarely that simple. Remember that Chad’s decision to end the relationship probably had little to do with you. He just wanted to take things more slowly, and that can be a positive thing for people who are emerging from a broken relationship. The good news is that you can use this experience to prepare yourself for the next opportunity.”
Thankfully, Cynthia wanted to learn and grow stronger. Together we pieced together some important guidelines that would help her in her next relationship.
- Protect your heart. The scriptures tell us to guard our heart, for it is the wellspring of life. This means that we must not give away our affections too quickly or without significant deliberation. Cynthia didn’t take the time to really get to know Chad before rushing into an emotionally and physically intimate relationship with him. If she had been a bit more patient, she might have discovered some essential truths about Chad and avoided a great deal of pain.
- Recognize the warning signs. You must be perceptive enough to spot the red flags that accompany drug and alcohol problems, control issues, and unresolved pain from previous relationships. Do they overreact to small slights, letting you know they are fragile and wounded? Learn to identify men who fear commitment, who are "here today and gone tomorrow," and fear sharing their feelings. They may be present, but not truly emotionally available. Most important, when your guts register warning, an unsettled feeling, pay attention.
- Recognize and respect your vulnerabilities. In Cynthia’s case, her divorce and subsequent desire for acceptance and love made her especially vulnerable. When we are vulnerable, we are prone to faulty judgments and rash decisions. We may seek companionship in the wrong places or settle for readily available companionship that has no possibility for a long-term relationship. Or worse, may settle for a man willing to give physical attention, but withhold his heart or commitment. He may appear "spiritual," but lack spiritual depth.
- Make prayer part of the decision-making process. Any relationship worth time and emotional investment is also worth time on our knees. Heavenly discernment is critical when it comes to our love lives. The Apostle Paul says, “In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) If Cynthia had bathed her new relationship in prayer, critical warning signs about Chad might have surfaced. Regardless of the problems we face, a conversation with God should be an essential part of any solution.
- Seek and accept wise counsel. Wise counsel is hard to find. There are those, even trusted friends, who mean well but have little ability to really help us. They often have their own agendas, their own unhealed wounds from past relationships. What are we then to do, if even our closest friends offer jaded opinions? Choose counsel very carefully. This may mean seeking professional counsel, the advice from someone with no vested interest in the outcome who can offer us a fresh perspective. We can’t always avoid mistakes, but with objective counsel from our healthy, trusted friends and professionals, we can discern the patterns of our lives, recognize the areas where we are most prone to errors, and work hard to deal with them.
- Prepare yourself for your relationship. Preparing yourself means you have adequately healed from past wounds and developed emotional and spiritual maturity. You have taken time to settle yourself after any past hurts. It means seeking balance in your life, ensuring proper nutrition, exercise, emotional and spiritual growth. It also means being selective. Seek companionship from a man who has a healthy spiritual life and is seeking a closer relationship with God. Remember, if you expect to attract an emotionally and spiritually mature and available man, you must be spiritually mature and emotionally available yourself.
- Don’t expect instant success. In the real word, relationships do not follow a Hollywood script. When you are dating, you need to be able to smile and learn from the experience. Also, you should keep in mind that there are times when feelings simply are not mutual. It’s nothing personal. He’s just not into you, or you’re not into him. Although God made us for relationship, he provided no guarantee that we would find a soul mate on the first try – or even the second or third. Remember that this is a time of exploration. Like any road trip, your dating journey will probably include a few errant turns. Loosen up and be ready to laugh at your foibles. You’ll have a lot more fun along the way.
Dr. David B. Hawkins is a visiting professor at International Christian University and specializes in interpersonal relationship counseling as well as domestic violence and emotional abuse in relationships. He has been a frequent guest on Moody Radio" Mid-day Connection" and "At Home Live," and has also made several guest appearances on" Focus on the Family."
His most recent book, "When the Man in Your Life Can’t Commit" (Harvest House Publishers) will be available in January 2006. Visit Dr. Hawkins’ website at or contact him directly at YourRelationshipDoctor@yahoo.com.
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