Dating a man who has been hurt: 10 things you need to know

Dating a man who has been hurt isn’t easy. 

You will struggle more than usual and may be tempted to give up. 

But if you know how to see things through and understand his behavior, it can blossom into something worth sticking around for. 

Here’s a look at the reality of dating a man who has been hurt.

Dating a man who has been hurt: 10 things you need to know

1) He’s unlikely to give second chances

A guy who’s been badly burned is scared of the fire. 

If you cross him the wrong way or mess up in a big way he’s very unlikely to give you a second chance. 

Let’s face it:

All of us have been hurt in many ways, especially in dating and relationships. 

The difference is that a man who has been badly hurt in romance will usually drop you as soon as he detects behavior or attitudes similar to the ex or exes who let him down. 

Second chances don’t come easy when you’re dating a man who has been hurt, and all too often they don’t come at all. 

There’s no need to be perfect, but keep in mind that once he decides to cut things off it’s likely the end of the line. 

There’s also the aspect of him being a man that makes it harder, as men tend to respond especially poorly to being wounded. 

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Perhaps due to our society’s focus on male toughness or resilience, he may feel defensive about having been hurt and have a chip on his shoulder about it. 

If you trigger that and make him see red he’s quite liable to just walk away and get all tied up in his victim narrative once again. 

2) Love will take a little longer

Dating a man who has been hurt can feel like a waiting game. 

You may wonder exactly how long it’s going to take before he opens up to you, introduces you to friends and family and really decides how he feels.

Resist the urge to push him or demand an answer right off the bat. 

A man who’s been wounded in love is likely to take a lot more time to get comfortable with you and fall in love. 

You will have to earn his love and let him begin to see you as his woman naturally, rather than pressuring him. 

Keep in mind that he may have baggage you ultimately don’t want to accept either, so this is a two-way street. 

As he gets used to you and you acclimatize to his slower pace, the love will grow naturally if it’s meant to be. 

As Brianna Wiest writes:

“Rebuilding our ideas about what it takes to really love someone starts here: love is something you earn. It’s not something you get, or deserve, if you’re ‘good enough.’

It’s what happens when you open up to someone, bond with them, accept each other for the good and bad and everything in between.”

This idea of earning love can be misunderstood. 

I don’t think Wiest is saying that it’s like earning money at a job or getting a stamp of approval.

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What she means – correctly in my view – is that love is a process and relates to real things and real actions, not just temporary emotional ups and downs. 

Once this guy bonds with you, it will be for real, but he’s not going to just jump into your arms. And that can actually be a really good thing for the long-term potential of your relationship because it means the foundation will be rock solid. 

3) Leave the heavy topics for later

When you’re dating a man who has been hurt you should avoid getting into heavy topics too early. 

There are some subjects which are bound to come up and that can’t always be avoided.

But watch for the flitting shadow across his face when you’re getting too deep and take a step back conversationally at that point. 

Typical intense topics you should avoid are:

  • Past breakups
  • Tragedies and loss
  • Mental health struggles
  • Cheating and relationship problems
  • Career frustration and unhappiness
  • Family problems and illness

Some of these topics may come up by mistake or just in the course of conversation, and that’s fine. 

But try not to intentionally bring them up or be insistent that your guy get into the past too much or open up on issues which are painful to discuss. 

He will get into all of this if and when he decides that you’re a woman he trusts and wants to be with longer-term. 

 Like Lauren Nelson says:

“Lead into the conversation with a pleasant, light topic. If you can make the man smile or laugh, you will have put him at ease. This makes it easier for him to discuss his pain with you. 

When tense or immersed in his pain, his guard will be up. This defensiveness is a learned defense mechanism. 

In masculine communication, men are taught to conceal emotions unless in the presence of a trusted confidante, as emotions are construed as a sign of weakness.”

4) Tell him how you feel and help him heal

Dating a man who has been hurt is hard, and you may often feel that he doesn’t appreciate you enough. 

This can lead to you closing down as well. 

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If you are just starting out dating him you may feel it’s unfair that he blocks access to his heart but you feel expected to be light and cheery. 

And honestly, you could be correct. 

But all is fair in love and war and the only thing you can really predict is that what you think is fair probably won’t happen. 

It can be easy to decide that this guy is a waste of time and he’s just going to be a burden on you. 

However, I encourage anyone dealing with a man who’s been hurt to be there for him and not take his hesitancy and closed-off nature personally. 

A man who’s been badly hurt usually feels really alone. 

And even if you try to make it clear you’re there for him, sometimes it’s really good to directly say it as well. 

Telling him how you feel relatively early is not necessarily a bad thing, but there’s a right and wrong way to do it. 

I recommend letting him know you really care about him and find him attractive but not in a pushy way or with an implied obligation. 

Just let him know he’s deeply appreciated and cared for, because that’s what a man really needs when his heart has been through the wringer. 

When you’re there for him in a non-attachment-based way, he will feel more and more able to open his heart to you and to start healing from the scars of the past. 

Dating coach Christine Keller spells it out:

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“Tell him that you love him. Tell him that he means the world to you. Tell him there isn’t a place you would rather be than in his arms. 

Once he hears this coming out of your mouth, he will fall in love with you even harder because he will know that there is a woman in his life who is ready to accept him the way he is, with all his scars and the demons from his past..”

5) He may be overly jealous and controlling

Dating a man who has been hurt can be hurtful. 

Guys who have been treated poorly in the past sometimes have a bit of a chip on their shoulders and don’t behave the most reasonable in relationships. 

One of the biggest things you need to know is that a man who’s been hurt is sometimes overly jealous and controlling. 

This is especially common if he was cheated on by his ex or experienced her “fall out of love” with him. 

He may be overly emotionally demanding on you, check in on your whereabouts and become sulky and moody for no apparent reason. 

Later you might find out, for example, that he was upset you were talking to an old guy friend on the phone the night before. 

Things like this can sink a fledgling relationship before it really gets off the ground, but if you understand the wounded roots of his behavior you can weather the storm. 

Sonya Schwartz explains:

“Not all broken men will be controlling, but some of them will be because they won’t have trust in you. 

This is definitely the case for a man that has been damaged due to a woman being unfaithful to him.”

If your man doesn’t trust you and it’s bringing you down, try to have a compassionate conversation with him and let him know that you’re different. 

You’re not his ex, you love him and he can trust you. And that’s that. 

6) It’s easy to fall back into the past

Dating a man who has been hurt can be like walking a tightrope. 

You want to relate to him on a deeper level, but you need to also stay aware that getting too close too quickly could crash him back into past pain. 

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“The key is to not let him reenact his painful past with you,”

says dating coach Erica Komisar on the website Soul Fulfilling Love

This man is already hurting and it won’t take much to make the traumatic memories pop up in his emotions once again. 

You don’t want to be that catalyst for him. 

Not only will he come to associate you with past pain, he will also be likely to start drowning in his memories and drift away from you. 

The past is often close at hand, and this man is probably struggling to stay away from it as well. 

Be an asset to him, not a burden. 

Avoid emotional topics about the past and try not to accelerate the relationship too quickly. 

The past is always there waiting like a dark, yawning chasm. 

Chances are his mind is already focused on avoiding it like the plague. 

And that, ironically, just makes him more focused on it. 

Take his mind off that by doing fun activities, pumping him up, having fun in the bedroom and being a whole new kind of woman for him than what he’s used to. 

7) Don’t take his emotional defensiveness personally

It’s tempting to take it personally when a man shuts down on you or gets really touchy. 

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What the hell is his problem?

If he’s been hurt badly – especially in the recent past – his problem is likely the gaping hole where his heart should be. 

His emotional defensiveness is just him trying to protect what’s left of his stability and emotional self.

If he responds angrily or depressively at situations that seem like no big deal to you then do your best not to take it personally. 

And always do your best to remain an optimist. 

Things may be rough, but with the right attitude and some forbearance, there is always the chance of making things work. 

Emotional defenses, irritability and being closed off are all the side effects of being badly hurt. 

He’s just waiting to see if you’re someone he can really trust because he doesn’t want to open himself up again and get his heart ripped out. 

This definitely puts a fair bit of pressure on you, but it also means that once he does commit it’s going to be for real. 

Sometimes the best things take a bit longer to pay off, but once they do it’s really worth it!

8) His romantic side may take a bit longer to heat up

Dating a man who has been hurt can take time for things to heat up to the level you’re hoping for. 

Especially if you have stronger feelings for him, you may get impatient or begin to second-guess the connection. 

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The good news is that often a guy who has been hurt is a passionate and sincere person underneath.

If you think about it, he wouldn’t have been able to have been badly hurt by a past partner if he didn’t feel deeply and commit. 

So his reticence and apparent coldness now shouldn’t throw you off: it’s just his emotional shields that are up to protect him. 

And I’m willing to bet that under that hard outer shell is a man who’s got a lot to give. 

This goes for sexually as well, where he may seem turned off or detached in the bedroom at first. 

Give it time and his inner lion will eventually come out of the cave. 

9) Be patient and don’t expect to be center stage right away

A man who’s been hurt will take longer to introduce you to friends and family. 

He may be hesitant about calling you his girlfriend as well. 

This does not mean he doesn’t have feelings for you or sees no future. 

More often than not it’s because he’s moving slowly after having seen the drawbacks of moving too fast in the past. 

He’s waiting to see if you’re in it for the long haul and really love him for who he is or whether you’ll turn out to be a fairweather lover who hits the highway when things get tough. 

“In the beginning, you won’t meet his friends and he won’t invite you to special events. Everything will be private at first, as he’s still not sure how you feel about him. 

He doesn’t want you to become a part of his life if you’ll be gone by sunrise. 

He needs some time and space to see what will happen,”

notes Zoella Woods

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10) Don’t try to ‘fix’ him

The temptation to try to fix someone is very strong for codependent folks. 

Codependency is an unhealthy attachment style where people often start depending on someone else to fix or complete their life, or depend on someone else to be there for them to fix. 

The “savior” and “victim” sides of codependency are both very counterproductive for one simple reason:

They put all-out power outside ourselves and seek happiness from external validation. 

Finding true love and intimacy is a lot different: it’s reciprocal, respectful and outcome-independent. 

Dating a man who has been hurt can be a real sand trap for a codependent in the “savior” role. 

If that’s you then you may feel a strong urge to help and fix him. 

Don’t do it. 

Be there for him, help him heal, but give him space and time.

Don’t ever think it’s up to you – or possible for you – to do the work and emotional processing that he needs to do on his own one way or another. 

Should you date a man who’s been hurt or find someone else?

The answer to this question depends on your current state in life and your own feelings toward the man who’s been hurt. 

If you are feeling a lot of toxic emotional blockage and resentment toward him then it could be that he’s more of a “wound-mate” than a mate. 

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Perhaps you’ve also been hurt and are drawn toward his pain as something you can relate to and see the authenticity of?

If you are feeling a sense of love and space to allow his process to take place and don’t feel codependent or outcome-attached with him, however, then this connection can be a positive and fruitful thing. 

There are two main options when it comes to dating a man who has been hurt

The first option is not what you’ll want to hear: 

It’s that it’s either too soon or he’s too wounded to be in something new. 

If this is the case then it doesn’t matter how easygoing, loving and open you are. He’s going to self-sabotage, close off and leave you disappointed in the end if this is the case. 

If this man isn’t ready then no amount of pushing or prodding will make him ready. 

Only time and your own understanding can do that. And sadly there are no guarantees that he won’t meet another woman right at the perfect time when he finally is ready and leave you behind. 

That’s part of what makes navigating the situation all the trickier. 

The second option is that he’s ready but you just need to pay attention to the pointers above. 

If he’s ready but hurting it doesn’t have to be a relationship ender and there’s still hope.

Try to be patient and give him time and space to heal. 

Encourage him and tell him how you feel, but don’t push the situation to have a specific outcome within a specific time frame. 

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Here’s the bottom line

The bottom line is that dating a man who has been hurt is a balancing act. 

It can lead to a successful bonding and wonderful relationship, but it can also easily go off the rails and become an emotional minefield. 

If you have feelings for him and want to make this connection work you should be patient and loving. 

Let the process unfold and let him work through his issues on his own terms. 

There’s always hope where love is concerned. 

“This is a difficult situation to be in. But if this is the person you want to be with, there is always a way to make it work,”

writes Paula at Elite Daily

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Just be sure you’re not only in it for the challenge. It needs to be for the right reasons. 

Keep fighting for love. It’s always worth it.”

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