People often ask me how they can know whether or not someone they are dating is REALLY open.
"He seems open, but how can I know? My last guy seemed really open until we started living together and then he was always angry. I don't want that to happen again," said Kiera in a phone session.
"No, we've only been dating for two months."
"Two months is generally not long enough to know whether or not someone is open. And you can't really know until you have a conflict and you see how he responds. You need to know if he uses anger, withdrawal, resistance, arguing, explaining, defending, compliance and so on. And, if he does these protective things, how long does it last? Some people get immediately closed, but then in half an hour or so they open and are ready to learn and resolve. Others can stay closed for days, weeks or even longer. Of course it's ideal when someone is immediately able to stay open to learning in conflict, but most people do not do a good job of this. However, if they open sooner rather than later, then things can be worked out. But if they want to sweep things under the rug and act like nothing happened, or stay distant until you apologize, this isn't good news."
It takes quite awhile before the deeper issues of fear of rejection and fear of engulfment surface in a relationship. These fears might not become apparent for the first six months or even for the first year — it depends on how close two people get and how important the relationship is to them. These fears don't generally surface in more casual relationships, but once two people feel very connected with each other, these fears will almost always emerge.
What do you do when your fears of rejection or engulfment surface? You need to accept that, if you tend to get protected and controlling, you will likely attract someone who will also get protected and controlling — although likely in a different way. If you tend to get angry, you might attract someone who withdraws or resists. If you tend to be compliant, you might attract someone who is demanding.
Regardless of what you each do, the real issue is whether you and your partner will eventually open to learning. This is what takes time to know. It's easy for most people to be open at the beginning of a relationship when there isn't much to lose, but it gets harder and harder the more important you become to each other.