The red flags in my marriage, helped me navigate dating after divorce and be more successful in those relationships.
When I first started to think about meeting new people and feeling overwhelmed by the dating world, especially after being out of the game for almost 20 years, I realized I needed to remind myself that I knew what I was doing, that I actually dated my ex-husband and although there were growing pains along the way, there were also moments of joy during the 20 years we were together. What could I take from those moments, the good and the bad ones, to navigate the world of dating?
As I look back at my marriage I can pinpoint times I now see should have been red flags that needed to be addressed and dealt with but weren’t–we all overlook things we shouldn’t but it’s how we think about these issues now that can help one heal, move forward and ultimately learn how to navigate future relationships.
An easy way for me to look through my past was to list things I could see were issues and those that were positives in the relationship. This is not an easy exercise by any means but one that gave me some closure on my past relationship and some reassurance that I could go out and date with a fresh perspective on who I now was, what I wanted and the way in which I wanted to nurture a relationship with someone else.
Below are 6 of the questions I asked myself about the red flags in my marriage.
These are not questions to make you go down a slippery slope of listing what you did or didn’t do in your past relationship, judge yourself or think about what you could have done to save the relationship. These questions are meant to reflect on the past so that you can determine what it is you want and need for yourself moving forward.
1. What was he unhappy about?
Given the events that led him to leave our marriage, the reasons he gave me for doing so, and the way in which he did it, I know I can list a lot of things here but what I wanted to capture, though is what I thought were the main issues during the marriage.
2. Were there some issues that surfaced over and over again that I or we overlooked and didn’t address?
3. Was I dismissive of the things he expressed being unhappy about?
4. Was he clear to me about what he needed and wanted in order to be happy?
How can I now use the answers to these questions to help me navigate the world of dating? Communication is key to making any relationship work and thrive and with poor communication, resentment often presents itself. This was the case in my marriage. From my perspective, his resentment grew over the years and he had finally reached his tipping point and left.
When I started to date, I made sure to listen, ask questions and accept a person’s non-negotiables. I didn’t want to get into a pattern of thinking where I would dismiss someone’s non-negotiables, even perhaps think they would eventually change their mind about something I wasn’t on board with.
For example, if someone told me they wanted more children and I didn’t, then chances are, he might not change his mind about that and that might become an issue down the line.
Another example: He wants to travel the world and go camping in the Himalayas for 3 months, and that’s not your cup of tea, then you owe it to yourself and the other person to be honest. Having this information up-front is important for yourself and the other person because it allows both parties to judge if the relationship will be compatible.
5. What was I unhappy about?
This is the part that was difficult for me to address because this is when I realized how much I had given of myself and ultimately failed to give myself the space I wanted and needed in the relationship.
It wasn’t until I was jolted out of my “wife identity” that I started to see how much I had given up the things I valued the most in life. We all make sacrifices in life but when I started to list the things I overlooked in my life, I made a point of making sure these items were no longer negotiable in future relationships. Setting my boundaries and knowing how much wiggle room I had for my “non-negotiables” made it so much easier for me to navigate the dating process and eventually become serious with someone.
6. How did I express love, happiness, and joy in my previous relationship and what were my expectations around these?
What I learned after I answered these questions for myself is: be true to who you are, define what makes you feel happy and secure in a relationship, make known the small gestures you appreciate and perhaps the larger ones that you may want in a relationship. Make sure to find out the same about your partner.
Another eye-opener for me was when I realized that during the 20 years we were together, we had fallen into a habit of assuming we were the same people we were 20 years ago and not shifting or molding our interactions, style of communication, and the way we took care of ourselves to the adults we were becoming.
For example, my needs and wants shifted in the past 20 years and so did his but in looking at the past, I realized that I, and we as a couple, did not respect these changes in our lives. Emotionally, our relationship got stuck along the way and so the way we tried to meet our evolving needs became incompatible with who we were becoming.