Everyone heads into a new relationship with baggage in some form or another; it’s unavoidable. Maybe you’ve been cheated on, or ghosted, or a messy break up has left you with your walls up. Or maybe it’s just the fact that you haven’t met the one for you yet, and it’s left you a little jaded. So how do you let your guard down if you’ve been hurt before?
The conundrum here is that no one truly falls in love without letting someone in, which can be hard if you’ve got scar tissue left over from relationships past. But if you’re with someone new, and are looking for ways to open up again there are things you can do.
To let your guard down, keep these three things in mind and practice this good, old-fashioned practice:
Ah, that wonderful, often wine-tipsy, date a few months into a fledgling relationship where you both really dive into your exes and the damage they did… It’s one of the most cringy but therapeutic moments in a relationship, because letting someone know where you’ve been provides huge insight into your behaviors, tendencies, and yes, fears.
If the guy you were last with cheated on you, and so did the guy before that, the likelihood that you’re afraid your new partner will cheat is probably pretty high. It’s helpful for them to know that. Equipped with that information, they may be a little more forgiving if your usual one-text check-in balloons to six when they’re with a close, platonic-but-adorable friend. If your last relationship fell apart because your girlfriend wasn’t as nurturing as you needed her to be, your new partner may have a better understanding of why you tend to get clingy if they’ve been busy or preoccupied.
Having these talks, no matter how awkward, are important. The insight they provide not only gives your partner a better understanding of you, it gives you a better understanding of your partner’s behaviors that might be completely harmless with context, but may otherwise trigger some of your anxiety.
A simple, “I’ve been hurt before because of ‘X’, which is why I sometimes ‘Y’,” can offer a lot of clarity and understanding to your partner, and begin some healing for you.
2. Ask for what you need.
You know what you’ve been through better than anyone, so if you’re feeling anxious about letting your guard down, ask yourself what would make it easier, and then ask your partner to make that change.
For example, if you’re nervous about getting too serious too fast, and you think knowing more about their dating history might put your mind at ease, ask questions. They may not want to divulge everything, but keeping your questions specific to your needs won’t make them feel like you’re prying. Instead of asking, “What went wrong in your last relationship?” asking, “How do you generally deal with break-ups?” can open up a dialogue that may be helpful.
If you’ve been cheated on, explaining to your new partner how much you value honesty and need it to feel secure gives them the opportunity to provide that added support proactively instead of retroactively, which can save a lot of anguish. If your partner is honest when it comes to the little things, you can begin to consider them trustworthy overall.
Vocalizing your needs and allowing your partner to provide them can help make your relationship feel like a safe space for you to start breaking down any walls you’ve built up.
3. Be Fair
It’s important to keep in mind that what has happened in the past does not in any way dictate what will happen in the future. If one person hurt you, it’s easy to feel like they all will, but everyone comes into a relationship with different experiences, and judging someone new or jumping to conclusions based on the behavior or circumstances of a past relationship only causes damage that may never have surfaced on its own.
If a past partner was distant toward the end of a relationship, that doesn’t necessarily mean a current relationship is doomed just because he’s not good at texting you back. Jumping to that conclusion could cause you to alienate someone who may love being in a relationship, but just prefers not to text while he’s at work, for example. It’s easier said than done, but approaching each new relationship as a blank slate, and referring to steps one and two when you start to feel uneasy saves your partner from being punished for someone else’s sins, and saves you from potentially sabotaging something that could be great.
These things can be incredibly challenging if you’ve had a tough time in the past, but as with all things, practice makes perfect. The more you communicate your feelings, ask for what you need, and realize that the road goes both ways, the healthier and safer your relationship will feel. Eventually the communication will feel like second nature, and those walls you’ve built up will begin to fall down without you even realizing it.