Virtually everyone says “I do” the first time with the best of intentions, and an expectation it is forever. For some of us, the “I do” turns into an “I don’t anymore”, and we find ourselves somewhere we never expected: divorced. And eventually most of us get to a place where we want to consider entering into a new relationship. That can raise an enormous amount of fear and anxiety. After all, since our first marriage failed, is a second one doomed to fail as well?
Not if we take the opportunity to LEARN from our divorce. What can we learn? Basically, we should be able to learn a tremendous amount about what we want and need in a relationship (those are two separate issues), and what a truly compatible partner would be for us.
Simply put, the key to a successful second marriage begins with partner selection. It is not possible to overstate its importance.
How do we select a truly compatible partner, especially if we already thought we did once?
I advise all of my divorced clients to make a “template” for a new partner. This is an actual list of Preferences (what we want) and Deal Breakers (what we need). Then after creating the list, go back and edit it again, then wait a few weeks and edit it yet again. This requires brutal honesty with ourselves in a way that might feel unfair or superficial, but that’s why absolute honesty is key.
For example, a middle-aged man I counseled married a woman that he stated had an enormous list of positives such as intelligence, drive, sense of humor, attractiveness, etc. He was very highly touch oriented; he needed lots of hand-holding, hugs, kisses, and other forms of non-sexual intimacy. The woman he married was clear that those things were not important to her, and she expressed little interest in his viewpoint. Throughout their marriage the issue continued to arise: he would ask for more touch and more intimacy, she continued to express it was not important to her, and she saw no reason to modify her behavior, and did not consider his need for touch to be important.
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to determine what happened. After many years of marriage the rift became unmanageable, and the couple divorced. Afterwards in his grief the man did what so many of us do, he declared that she had been “perfect” when he married her and that there were no warning signs and no way to predict this outcome of divorce. But with some excavation of the past, and discussion about the beginning of the relationship, this key incompatibility was revealed early on, and he did what humans are exceptionally good at, he rationalized this away because “she checked so many boxes” and seemed great, but with this glaring incompatibility.
It is almost never the case that we didn’t see these things coming, it is that we see “red flags” and dismiss them because they run counter to what we want at the time. That’s why forming this template before entering into new romances is so important. We can compromise on Preferences, but we cannot compromise on absolute needs (our Deal Breakers).
A divorce should encourage us to critically examine our wants and needs, and to form that template for what a good partner would be for us. And if someone violates the template, we have to have the maturity and the self-respect to be our own advocate and not pursue a relationship with someone who is waving these giant red flags, regardless of our level of attraction to them, or how many “boxes” they check.
What if you are already in a relationship and considering marriage? Then again, it requires brutal honesty about if this person truly is compatible with you, or if you are willfully overlooking incompatibilities because of other traits you desire. Maybe she is a strong financial provider, but she doesn’t make herself emotionally available. Maybe he is great “father material”, but is disinterested in sex or romance. Calling off a serious dating relationship is difficult, of course, but as those who are divorced should now know, it is exponentially better than terminating a marriage.
The key again is proper partner selection. Don’t handicap your second marriage the way you perhaps did your first. Learn from your divorce, and make better choices. Future you, and your future spouse, will thank you!
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More by Steven Stewart