How Do I Help My Lady Get Over Her Past?

Dear Neil: I have been in an on again-off again relationship with this beautiful lady since this last Christmas. She and I are close when we are together, and her kids absolutely adore me. But she was in an abusive relationship with the kids’ father. Now when she and I are close, she finds the very next thing I do that is unacceptable to her and she uses it as an excuse to run away. She will end all communication for a couple of weeks, and then we will get back together again. I love her and really want her to give me an honest shot, but so far she’s been unable to do so. How do I help her to get over her past and not run away?

On Again-Off Again in Portland

Dear On Again: You could start by keeping your perspective. You are in a two-month relationship with a woman who has an intimidating past, and you want her to be available for a relationship with you right now—with no hesitations or reservations. You are not looking at whether she is ready to be in a committed relationship, whether she has made peace with the ending of her previous relationship, if she thinks it is wise to let her kids get close to you this early on, and you aren’t sure that she knows how she really feels about you.

Consider the possibility that you may be expecting her to move too fast and to be ready for a relationship too quickly. It’s entirely possible that you are her rebound relationship (which would assist her in feeling “normal” again. She may not be ready for a committed future with anyone yet.) The getting-to-know-you process takes some people more time than it does others, and you may simply be more ready for a relationship than she is at this time.

However, let’s say you are right, and that she is pushing away from you because she has low trust toward men, or is leery of getting close to a man quickly, or she hasn’t gotten over the trauma from her previous relationship. You could talk with her about this subject, asking her what she would need from you in order to not push away—and what she is attempting to communicate to you when she pushes away. The bottom line is that you cannot help her get over her past, but you can demonstrate your compassion and trustworthiness over and over again. Hopefully she will begin to feel increasing levels of safety and trust around you.

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