I recently got together with a group of divorced friends who also had ex-spouses who cheated on them. We wandered into a deep, philosophical discussion that centered around what we would tell our children to look out for when choosing a mate. Not the positive traits mind you but rather the reverse of that. We were going to come up with a comprehensive list of all the red flags we missed that they should look for in order to keep them from making the same mistakes we did. Simple enough, right?
I listened for a good bit and as the list grew longer and more unwieldy, I realized that everyone’s red flags were personal to their own situation. And while they most definitely applied to their experience and were certainly valid, it seemed approaching the issue this way would leave us with a list that would be long enough to cause a tree shortage should we commit it to paper.
I mean, how could you possibly name all the red flags one should look for when trying to suss out whether or not someone would betray you? Wouldn’t it just be easier if cheaters came with a scarlet A tattooed on their foreheads? Though not a likely solution, focusing on potential red flags also seemed counter productive since the list would be too prohibitively long to being useful. No, it seemed a healthier approach would be to focus on what you can control yourself.
But the question remained, how would that parlay into weeding out bad mates?
A few ideas sprung to mind and what topped our list was establishing clear boundaries and learning to listen and trust our gut instincts. When I met my ex some thirty years ago and our relationship went from 0-100mph in about 6 seconds, I knew deep down something was off. Most brides and grooms get a case of cold feet on their wedding day but it felt like I had a case of entire body freeze.
And since I apparently wear my heart on my sleeve and my face my limo driver on my wedding day, sensing my imminent meltdown, graciously offered to by-pass the church and keep going until I reached the opposite coast. A tempting offer but there was no way I was going to change my mind at that moment because I would have disappointed too many people. In hindsight I now realize the absurdity of taking a step that huge in order to keep the peace but what did I know at the tender age of twenty-one?
It all seems so silly now but I realize that my gut knew then what it took me thirty years to finally comprehend: that I deserved better than him. From the beginning, he treated me like a possession from which he could extract some worth. Nothing more; nothing less. Deep down, I always suspected this but instead of listening, I told my inner voice to shut up.
So I guess that goes a long way toward saying that if you want to give your son or daughter advice in this area, you should scrap the talk about what red flags they should be looking for but rather what they should look for in themselves.
5 Things I’d Tell My Children To Hopefully Keep Them From Making My Mistakes
1. Make sure they establish boundaries in any relationship and they should know how they plan to enforce said boundaries if someone tries to cross them.
2. Understand that “no” is a complete sentence.
3. Know that if they do make a mistake in choosing a life partner, you will be there to support them and will not make them feel like they should see their marriage through at any cost.
4. Trust their instincts and listen to what they’re telling them.
5. Heed any gut warnings that tell them something isn’t right and if that happens, they shouldn’t feel bad about walking away from the situation no matter what; not even on the day of the wedding!