One of the important decisions people make about a potential intimate partner is forced on us very early on in a budding relationship. It’s about deciding whether to give the other person a chance, and how much we are willing to open ourselves up to him/her.
Most people have had the experience of saying “yes” to a promising romantic partner, only to wind up feeling that they made an awful mistake, that the person more closely resembled Dracula than Prince Charming or Cinderella. “How could I have missed all those red flags?” we wonder. “What was I thinking? Why didn’t I run when I first saw the writing on the wall? Why did I wait so long before I called it quits? What was I thinking?”
There may be many answers to those questions, but one of the most important answers has to do with the fact that we often attach and bond with a romantic partner before we truly know him/her. A great deal of the time, we say “yes” first, and then look at who we’ve chosen. After a while, when we begin to have serious doubts about our choice, we are already in the relationship, already attached, already devoted and wholehearted—so it then becomes painful and even torturous to leave. We have enough invested to give our partner a second chance, and a third, so we stay.
In an attempt to assist you in avoiding this scenario, let me offer some advice about which potential romantic partners to avoid—or at least to be very cautious about.
First, stay away from a relationship with anyone who is extremely reactive, volatile, angry, temperamental or emotionally unpredictable—meaning that they are loving and sweet one moment, and hateful and mean the next. You want someone emotionally stable, because living on an emotional roller coaster is hard to do, and it will make you more than a little crazy. You may also be, unwittingly, setting yourself up to be or to feel abused, because if you stay with someone who is reactive and unpredictable, you will never to know what to expect.
Second, steer clear of people who get very defensive when questioned, challenged or corrected. You want someone who you can talk to, reason with and compromise or negotiate with, not someone who always has to be right. Likewise, keep your distance from those who act overly controlling—unless you’re OK with essentially doing everything their way, in their time frame and to their taste and specifications. Presumably you want a partner in life, not a boss or another parent.
Third, get out of a relationship with someone who turns out to be addicted to something ultimately unwise or unhealthy, or who is a substance abuser. It doesn’t matter if that substance is alcohol, pain pills, illegal drugs or food—or whether the addiction is to porn, shopping or gambling. If it is ultimately destructive and unhealthy, where do you think this is likely to lead? If you don’t take a hard stand on this, you are inviting more heartache than you want, because an addict’s primary allegiance is to the addiction or the substance, not to your relationship.
Forth, don’t continue a relationship with a partner who violates trust, and run for the hills if s/he violates trust more than once. Trust is a cornerstone of all romantic relationships. In fact, trust is a cornerstone for healthy relationships between all human beings, regardless of whether that person is your lover, child, friend, parent, neighbor, co-worker, doctor or anybody else. You might be able to overcome and work through one betrayal that never repeats itself, such as a short-lived affair, but very few of us can tolerate repeated betrayals, lies, misrepresentations, deceptions, disloyalty or making agreements in bad faith.
Fifth, some people don’t trust other people, no matter how loyal and trustworthy you may be. If you’re involved with such a person, you will forever be trying to prove your trustworthiness, which gets old fast. Choose someone who isn’t so damaged and who is capable of trusting another person. That includes people who get insanely jealous and stay jealous over time.
Sixth, beware of people who are looking out for themselves but not you. Some people are so self-absorbed that all they can focus on is what they want, how they feel, what they think, what they need. There is very little room for you and your needs, wants, wishes, preferences or feelings. Stay away from such people. You will likely never feel as if there is enough room in the relationship for you.
Finally, some people are wrong for you because they don’t share your goals, and they don’t want the same things you want. This may include different values, religion, feelings about family, where to live, lifestyle choices and long-range outlook.