No one gets to choose who they fall in love with, and many of us will find ourselves falling for someone who has more baggage than the average person due to a painful past relationship. It will be difficult to build a healthy partnership with someone like this, for sure, but it’s not impossible. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
It will take him longer to build trust. No matter how ready you are to open up, he’ll need time to reciprocate. Vulnerability will have painful connotations for him, and he will therefore be reluctant to reveal his true self to you. If you’re prepared to be patient and compassionate with him, he’ll eventually come out of his shell. Just don’t expect anything to happen quickly.
He may seem disinterested at first. Most people who have been hurt will be slow to show their feelings for someone new. He’ll want to know that you are 100% interested in starting a relationship with him before he’ll feel ready to show how he feels. This may be difficult to accept at first, especially if he’s slow to answer your texts or avoids labeling your relationship. Just be patient and make it clear how you feel. In time, he’ll be ready.
He may not want to talk about his past. It’s perfectly reasonable for him to not tell you about his painful history. You’ll probably be curious and maybe even feel entitled to know, but reliving the hurt he went through could be traumatic for him and create tension between you. Sometimes helping a person heal requires you to give them more time than you think is necessary. In time, he may choose to tell you, but don’t pressure him or take it personally if he doesn’t confide in you right away.
Low self-esteem may be an issue for him. Many of us who experience rejection, betrayal, or emotional pain from our significant other are left questioning what we did wrong. We feel inadequate, unattractive, and suspicious of anyone who shows interest. Dating someone with a poor self-image is difficult. Consistent, genuine support and care through your actions is the quickest way to help him rebuild his confidence and self-worth. However, remember that what’s broken is his relationship with himself, not with you. The best thing that you can do is give him time and space to rebuild.
You’ll need to learn to have constructive arguments. A relationship that can’t withstand a disagreement is destined to fail. His experience being hurt may lead him to avoid confrontation for fear of ruining things or try to push you away to get the pain over with. You will need to find a way of arguing in productive rather than destructive ways. Listen to each other and try not to end an argument without finding some form of common ground, even if it’s just agreeing to disagree. The more you argue in this manner, the more secure you’ll both feel in each other.
He may seem controlling. Trust issues can make a person prone to jealousy and possessiveness. He may be unreasonably suspicious if you leave the house at an unusual time or go out with friends. Controlling behavior is a red flag and should not be tolerated, as it can escalate into emotional and physical abuse if left unchecked. However, if you identify the source and talk with him about it, he may be able to address this behavior and save your relationship.
You’ll have to work harder on getting to know the “real” him. People who have been hurt are wary of showing their true selves to someone new. They’ve tried it, and it didn’t work well for them. If you’re trying to get to know a guy like this, be prepared to jump through some hoops. He may have several layers of armor around him, even if he projects confidence.
Have realistic expectations. Everyone has an ideal relationship in their mind that they are searching for in real life. But in reality, relationships are messy, and you will have to find someone with whom you are willing to work through difficulties. Anyone who has been damaged by a previous relationship brings extra baggage, and you need to make sure that you are ready to put in the work together to achieve a meaningful relationship. If you don’t feel ready to put the work in, don’t waste your time (or his) hoping that good luck will carry you through.
Bond over positive experiences together rather than past traumas. It’s easy to feel close to someone when you confide your most painful memories to each other, but it won’t build a solid foundation. In fact, it can open the door to codependent dynamics, such as feeling like you are the only person who understands the other, or that you have to be a caretaker rather than a partner. Fixating on your scars will make you see each other as broken people. In contrast, spending time together pursuing mutual passions will give you happy memories on which to build your relationship and give you a healthy, positive foundation for your future together.
You need to know when to walk away. There is only so much you can do to fix a broken person. Ultimately, he has to be willing to heal from his past. If he is in denial about this or continues to push you away and be closed off, it’s time to walk away. No matter how much sensitivity and goodness you see beneath his tough exterior, you can’t force him to heal.