This year I will begin a series of articles with a focus on issues related to dating after a pathological relationship; this is one of the specific areas that The Institute is asked about all the time. It is a complicated issue, as are most of the recovery issues related to pathological relationships. I will explore and focus on strategies to that will help ensure that your most recent pathological relationship is your LAST pathological relationship.
“Time ripens all things; with time all things are revealed; time is the father of truth.” ~Francois Rabelais
There is one task in dating after a pathological relationship: to discern pathology from non-pathology before you are hurt. In order to achieve this task, you must be prepared to buy yourself some time. Pathology is not decided by one event– not one lie, not one affair, or not one nasty fight. Pathology is discerned over time by watching for a pattern of behaviors. Your experience with one pathological will help you know the behaviors and pattern however, if you do not give yourself time you will NOT see it.
The very first thing that happens in a pathological relationship is that you are overwhelmed. A pathological often moves fast and hard. They love-bomb, they challenge your “no’s,” they show up unannounced, they come along just because, or after you tell them that you have plans with friends they send text after text. When you tell them that you’d like to see them Sunday, instead of Saturday they send flowers on Saturday letting your know you are missed. While you are at work they send emails, call, or even show up. They are beginning the process of control. Each one of these events is part of a pattern that serves to overwhelm and manipulate you. You perceive the attention as loving, sensitive and compassionate or it maybe even something you have not felt before. You hear the talk in your head that says “he must really care about me because he wants to share every moment with me.”
The problem with pathology is this intensity in the early phase takes away your ability to “feel” the danger. The intensity blinds you making it nearly impossible to see the boundary violations, see the tests that you are being put through, see that the acts of “love” are really fantasy development. What I hear most about this early phase is feeling fear and excitement at the same time. But what inevitably happens is that the fear is squashed by excitement. He pulls you in with flowers and scares you with a boundary violation. As you begin to question the violation, he sends a sweet text message so the fear fades quickly.
The solution is giving yourself the gift of time. Slowing down in a relationship allows both the fear and excitement to be sensed.If the relationship is built on fear, you need to know that. If the relationship is built on excitement, you need to know that too. Our feelings are a tool…a warning sign. They let us know when something good is happening and when we are in danger. You need to feel the fear so that you can decide how to act. But, if you are moving so fast that you cannot feel these emotions, you will miss the warning signs.
Time will reveal the truth. Not only will going slow help you to feel the danger if it is there,time will allow the patterns of behavior to reveal themselves. For pathologicals with good masks this may take a while for them to slip. Your task is to put the pieces together and when you see who he is, believe it and do something about it. It might not be one lie, but two or three is a pattern. It might not be one boundary violation, but two or three is a pattern.
In this day and age, slowing down is not really part of our lives. We move fast today. Technology makes things so easy and allows for quick, direct (sometimes even intense) communication. We are often under pressure to move fast in relationships,having put off “love” for career. So the task of slowing down requires that you look at how we date today.
- Technology: Focus on limiting the amount of texts and emails that you send while in early stage dating. Limit texts or emails to once a day or less and limit content to setting up dates or quick check in. Leave real conversation for the face to face meetings. Take a look at your facebook friends and consider not adding a new friend until they are an actual friend. Adding a person that you have not even met in person or who you have had one dinner date with might not be the best choice. When using online dating sites keep emails simple, straight forward and of a non-intimate nature.
- Contact: Consider dating once a week. Leave Friday and Saturdays for a traditional date night and hold firm to your boundary. Even if you are not mutually free on those days for two or three weeks,you just bought yourself some time. Hold firm to boundaries regarding when you are available. If you have plans with friends or family, do not cave when the pressure comes for him to participate.
- Time: Be vigilant about how long you spend with one person in early stage dating. Allow yourself two or maybe three hours for first, second and third dates. This would include a dinner date, an outdoor activity date, or a group date. Keep phone calls short and pleasant. Again, leave real conversation for face to face meetings.
- Relationships: You can slow things down by keeping your early stage date just that, a date. He does not need to meet the kids, the parents or any other close family. The process of bringing a new person into your intimate circle only intensifies the relationship in your eyes and puts you at risk. The person you should introduce him to is the non-tolerant best friend. The friend that warned you about the last one!
And a word about sex and slowing down: think about it. That’s it. Just think it through. Whatever you choose, make sure you have taken the TIME to think it through. Sex means that your neurochemistry will shift and you will sense a deeper attraction, a deeper sense of relationship investment, and even craving. Those are all neurochemistry shifts you cannot control. Sex means that your mind and your beliefs about the relationship will change. Sex means that you could be triggered or struggle with the intimacy involved…are you ready?
The task of pacing and slowing down gives you control. When it comes to discerning if your potential date is pathological you will only be able to do that if you remain in control and you control the pace.Give yourself a chance. You knew the first time around too but he was better at being a pathological. You knew the first time around but he moved faster and moved with an intensity that was meant to overwhelm you. This time you will know, you will see and you will be able to choose differently if you give yourself the gift of time.