Jillian*, a 25 year old successful model, just started dating Matt*, a 29 year old police officer. They both love the outdoors and hiking, they both love animals and they have great conversations about everything. After 3 months of dating, Jillian believes she has found the one. She has noticed, however, that Matt drinks heavily when they go out. Matt also told her he has been known to be a jerk sometimes when he doesn't get his way, and he thinks he gets his temper from his abusive dad. Jillian could never imagine him acting that way towards her since he's such a romantic and he trusts her enough to share his painful past. Jillian decides she is ready to introduce Matt to her family. Before they arrive at her mother’s house, Matt downs a small bottle of Jim Beam he has stashed in his car’s glove compartment. Jillian confronts him about this and he snaps at her saying he's a grown man and just because he's allowed her to be his girlfriend for 3 months, that doesn't give her the right to tell him what to do. Jillian shook it off as him being nervous about meeting her family and introduced him as if nothing was wrong.
Fast forward six months when Matt and Jillian are now living together, and we see Jillian holding her bruised cheek in disbelief. She was going out with friends and Matt did not like what she was wearing. Jillian told Matt she was not changing and Matt got violently angry.
Why do we get into relationships with false ideas and fantasies about who people are and we ignore what we see and hear? Well there are four reasons that come to mind.
1. We are just happy to have someone. This tends to happen when you’ve been alone for a while, your self esteem is at an all-time low and anyone is better than no one. This may also happen when you have had a really bad relationship in the past. You may latch onto the first person that says a kind word and ignore all the other warning signs. Jillian ignored Matt’s drinking and controlling ways because he was sweet and romantic…in the beginning.
2. We minimize what we see. You’re favorite line to your friends becomes "S/he is not that bad", which is probably true. Even abusers have a honeymoon period when they are kind and giving, but unfortunately it is short-lived. In order to justify staying in a roller-coaster relationship, you hold onto the occasional good times in order to tolerate all the bad times. Jillian justified Matt’s behavior to her family by focusing on his good job, what they have in common, and by saying, “He’s a cop, so of course he’s overprotective” as well as, “He buys me really nice jewelry”.
3. We are stuck on the "potential" or what we hope they will become. Just because someone is tall, that does not mean they will end up playing in the NBA. If you do not see your mate moving in the direction of their dreams or you find yourself working harder than your mate to help him/her obtain that dream, then it's not your mate’s desire. It's yours. The relationship has become more about what you want instead of really seeing who your mate is. Jillian thought if she and Matt were under the same roof, things would get better because they would be moving in the direction of “living happily ever after”.
4. We expect all people to be the same. On the flip side, maybe you have a wonderful mate, but because you dated three jerks in a row before him/her, you expect your new mate to treat you the same way. You ignore the loving, kind behavior and constantly look for them to hurt you in some way, which ultimately pushes them away. Matt expected Jillian to be like his first wife who cheated and left him for another guy. So, just like his father, he knew he had to keep a tighter reign on Jillian in order to keep her in line.
Pay attention to the company you keep. Do NOT stay in an abusive relationship. Look at what your mate does as well as what they say. Listen to what your mate’s friends/family say about them. Usually people will show/tell you who they are early in the relationship. If they tell you they have a bad temper, believe them. If they tell you they can be controlling, believe them. Remember, actions speak louder than words. If your mate is staring and blatantly flirting with other women while they are with you, but he calls it being friendly, believe what you see. If your mate is talking to other guys late at night or texting sexy messages/photos to other guys, but she says they are just friends, believe what you see. Likewise, if they show you they are compassionate and kind, believe them. If they show you respect and treat others the same, believe them.
Now I'm not saying to constantly look for your mate’s flaws. Look at the entire package. See your mate for who they really are and not who you want or don’t want them to be. If the good outweighs the bad, (and not just the surface level stuff like their looks, their job or their car, but their core values), stay in the relationship. The true test is this: if s/he treats you the way you would want your closest friend or family member to be treated, then your mate is a keeper. If s/he treats you any less, then it’s up to you to decide what you want your relationship to look and feel like. You don't have to settle for “It’s not that bad” when “Fantastic” is out there waiting for you. It's your choice.
*names have been changed