For years, I marveled at couples who appeared to connect on a deep level while I struggled to save my second marriage from the brink of divorce. I was determined to beat the odds and avoid a second divorce but was cynical and lacked the skills to deal with the baggage leftover from my first marriage.
While many couples see remarriage as a second chance at happiness, the statistics tell a different story. According to available census data, the divorce rate for second marriages in the United States is over 60% compared to 50% for first marriages. These facts fueled my fears and pessimism.
In hindsight, my fear of failing was a major obstacle to achieving emotional attunement and intimacy in my marriage but also drove my search for ways to avoid divorce the second time around. When I turned to the experts, I was able to reconnect with my husband and regain the love we had early on – before becoming overwhelmed by ghosts from our past relationships.
A Sense of Secure Connection is a Key in Positive Romantic Relationships
One of the most influential authors on this topic, Dr. Sue Johnson, posits that one of the primary reasons why we fear intimacy and lack connection with our partners is that we do not feel emotionally safe with him or her. Lacking confidence in our partner’s trustworthiness can cause us to feel disconnected and distressed a great deal of the time.
Perhaps we are too distracted to hear our partners bid for attention and to speak the language of attachment, according to Dr. Johnson. She explains that we fail to give clear messages about what we need or how much we care.
By being vulnerable, you can achieve a level of emotional safety with your partner. It is the primary way to enhance my bond with him or her. Thus, you will be able to re-establish a secure emotional attachment and preserve intimacy between you. Dr. Johnson writes: “If we love our partners why don’t we just hear each other’s call for attention and respond with caring?”
In other words, instead of focusing on your partner’s flaws and looking to blame him or her, try spending your energy fostering a deeper connection. Stop assuming the worst and put an end to demanding rather than requesting – the demand-withdraw pattern that often develops– and change it.
Dr. Johnson identifies this pattern as the “Protest Polka” and refers to as one of three “Demon Dialogues.” She explains that when one partner becomes critical and aggressive the other often becomes defensive and distant. Renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman’s research on thousands of couples discovered that partners that get stuck in this pattern the first few years of marriage have more than an 80 percent chance of divorcing in the first four or five years of marriage.
Bringing an end to the Pursuer-Distancer Dance
Why is this relationship pattern so common? Dr. Gottman believes that the tendency of men to withdraw and women to pursue is wired into our physiology and reflects a basic gender difference. In his classic “Love Lab” observations, he has noted that if this pattern becomes deeply entrenched, both partners will provoke and maintain the behaviors in one another.
So let’s see how it usually works in a typical scenario. Kate’s hyper-vigilance is her strategy to motivate her husband to open up. But in this case, the ways that Kate and Brian respond to each other backfire – going from bad to worse.
“Let’s talk about why we’re not spending time together anymore,” Kate complains as Brian watches the news (which she dislikes). “How can we get along if we don’t work on our issues?”
“I’m not sure what issues you’re talking about,” Brian says. “We don’t have any problems.”
Kate feels increasingly frustrated with her attempts to draw Brian out. Meanwhile, Brian resorts to his classic distancer strategy – becoming defensive and stonewalling her attempts to communicate. As Kate continues to express more disappointment in Brian, he further withdraws. If this pattern does not change, Kate and Brian might begin to feel criticized and contempt for each other – two of the major warning signs that their marriage is doomed to fail, according to Dr. Gottman.
Stop the Blame Game
According to author Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., “It’s always easier to point the finger at our partner than to acknowledge our part in the problem. In order to truly connect with a distant or distancing partner, we need to identify the problem and take steps to change it.”
Here is what it looks like when your intent is to learn about the other person and grow together:
- “I feel hurt when you don’t talk to me about what’s going on in your head, and I’d like to know what you’re thinking.”
- “I feel left out when you watch TV when we’re eating dinner because I’d like to catch up.”
- “I feel uncared for when you don’t include me financial decisions. I’d like to be kept posted, even if you prefer to make some decisions on your own.”
Rather than expressing criticism or contempt, this type of dialogue can help you to foster positive communication since the intent is to get information rather than to criticize or nag.
7 ways to connect with your partner and make your second marriage last:
- Gain awareness about how your past can impact you and your partner’s preferences for emotional attunement.
- Think back to when you felt more emotionally attuned to your partner, earlier in your relationship, and try to recreate that level of emotional intimacy.
- Accept that negative patterns exist and need to be corrected to improve the long-term stability of your relationship. Work on changing your reactions to your partner and take responsibility for your part in interactions with him/her.
- Don’t let your fear and shame of failure keep you from being vulnerable with your partner.
- Accept your differences and try to understand rather than criticize your partner.
- Stop the blame game. Practice tolerance and forgiveness for real and non-intentional acts or hurtful words.
- If you or your partner feels flooded, walk away but not in anger or blame. Disengage as a way to restore your composure not to punish your partner. Attempt to resume a dialogue when you feel refreshed and able to talk calmly and rationally.
The best way to nurture a second marriage or any intimate relationship is to establish emotional safety and emotional attunement. When experiencing problems in your marriage, it is wise to examine your own actions while adopting realistic expectations about your partner’s willingness to change.
In other words, do not focus on trying to fix your partner or play the blame game (no one wins). Self-awareness and being aware of your partner’s needs for attachment are key to ensuring a lifetime of love.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.
More From Terry
This article first appeared on HuffingtonPost.com