by Neil Rosenthal
NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series.
Dear Neil: I have fallen head over heels for a woman whom I have grown to deeply love. But I have been divorced twice and do no want to make the same mistakes again. Can you offer any recommendations about how to avoid repeating previous mistakes or failures. I’d love to remarry, but I am afraid.
-Cold Feet in Minnesota
Dear Cold Feet: It seems obvious that people would learn from the mistakes of a failed first marriage and do better the next time, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case. People don’t automatically learn from their experiences, especially regarding marriage. Why is that?
The first reason relates to the “baggage” you bring from your previous failed relationship(s). Many of us are too proud or shortsighted to see why we weren’t great partners. Instead, we focus on what our ex did wrong, how s/he failed as a spouse and therefore spoiled the marriage. But if we blind ourselves to our mistakes, inappropriate behaviors, poor responses and the ways we tend to sabotage a relationship, we set ourselves up to repeat the same hurtful problems the next time.
So, ask yourself, “What was my role in causing the problems in the relationship or in assisting my previous marriage to fail? What were my failings in the relationship? How could I have been a better partner? How could I have been more loving, patient, communicative, understanding, generous, trustworthy and/or empathetic?”
Use your next marriage to become better: more giving, less demanding, more nurturing and better with handling conflict, anger, hurt and disappointment. If you don’t thoroughly understand your role in causing your last relationship to fail – and what you must do better – you’re far more likely to repeat the same mistakes.
It’s vitally important that you make peace with any previous marriages and all of the attending emotions, feelings, disappointments, angers, slights, abuses and hurtful comments – or else you’ll be likely to judge your current intimate partner by what your ex used to do.
Another reason remarriages tend to not do any better than the first marriage is related to how we handle conflict, differences and disappointments-which most of us do poorly. Way too many people get overly reactive and/or defensive in a disagreement, and blame, attack and get unnecessarily venomous, adversarial and mistrusting. It’s a real killer to a loving relationship.
In addition, people who were independent before marriage-who have their own friends, families, interests, hobbies, careers, money and habits-might not always be comfortable in sharing decision-making with someone else. Blending habits and tastes in decorating, music and food can be difficult, irritating and frustrating as well-and can try the patience of even the most tolerant of people.
To truly blend lives with someone else means that you are committing to negotiate and compromise as a partnership. Teamwork works best when you view decision-making as a partnership of two.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303. 758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, heartrelationships.com.