I guess I’m an optimist by nature. However, bouncing back from a bad marriage and believing in love again wasn’t an easy process. Throughout my journey from an unhappy marriage to a painful divorce, and then a healthier second marriage, I’ve examined my first marriage from every angle – dissecting every reason why it didn’t work.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that my marriage didn’t fail – it simply ended due to incompatibility and our difficulties resolving ongoing conflicts that were becoming increasingly damaging to our children. Truth be told, I didn’t grow up with stellar examples of a happy marriage so it’s no wonder I was pretty clueless about what it takes to successfully navigate marital challenges.
Over the last decade, I’ve come to terms with the reality that as much as I crave the security of marriage, I find it extremely difficult. While this statement might sound depressing, the realization that marriage is a choice but tough for me to pull off has somehow freed me up. It’s taken the pressure off me to always have the right response, reactions, or attitude towards my husband at all times. It’s not really a cop-out to say I’m relationship challenged. It’s a fact.
So even though I crave the commitment of marriage, I admit that it feels impossible at times – so much so that being married makes me want to scream. But after studying marriage for many years, and being happily remarried for almost two decades, I’ve restored my faith in love. First, you must believe that you have it within your ability to make healthier choices.
These 5 tips will help you change self-defeating patterns that pose obstacles to a loving marriage:
1. Let go of guilt and positive things will start to happen. Whereas when you see yourself as a failure, your actions will confirm a negative view of yourself.
2. Attempt to see yourself as capable of learning from the past, rather than repeating it. Learn to separate the past from the present and begin to live in the present. Therapy and/or keeping a journal can help you achieve these objectives.
3. Examine your beliefs and expectations about relationships and work through issues that might prevent you from creating the life-long partnership that you deserve. For instance, are your trust issues fragments left over from the past or based on your current partner’s actions?
4. Healthy relationships don’t come without risk – allow yourself to be vulnerable and to trust others who are trustworthy. Therapy, reading, and supportive friends can help to guide you.
5. You have the power to make positive things happen in your life. Recognize the newness in each day and use positive intentions such as “I am capable of creating loving, trusting relationships.”
Various forms of self-defeating or dysfunctional relationships might prevent you from achieving the happiness you deserve. Visualizing the type of relationship you want, becoming more self-aware, and discovering ingrained beliefs and expectations are key to rebuilding your life. A central finding of my research is that divorce doesn’t have to define who you are as a person or the choices you make. You can build a true partnership based on mutual respect that is long-lasting if you are willing to do the work.
Amanda’s story is an example of how to use your past experience as an opportunity to create the kind of life you want today. Amanda, age thirty -eight, struggled through a series of short-term relationships and avoided commitment due to feelings of mistrust and fear of ending up in a relationship that resembled her marriage. For several years, she had difficulty believing that her boyfriend, Brian, had her best interests at heart, which caused her to feel mistrust and anxiety at times. Due to her family script, she was programmed to fear abandonment and betrayal. After all, her father was unfaithful to her mother several times. Nonetheless, she visualizes a relationship with a partner who loves her unconditionally and is fully capable of giving her the devotion and reassurance she craves.
Most people would have crumbled with the divorce that Amanda endured. But deep in her core, she believed that she could overcome her past and that she deserved to be loved. She didn’t allow fear and shame to stop her from healing from the past. With the support of a trusted therapist and a close friend, Amanda was able to unlock her past and put her parents’ divorce and her own bad marriage into an adult perspective. She learned to embrace the concept that working through problems in a relationship can lead to deeper communication and commitment.
Competent-and-caring, Amanda has carved out a life for herself that is based on having the courage to trust others worthy of her trust. During a recent interview at her favorite seaside coffee shop, Amanda radiated confidence as she shared these words of wisdom: “My relationship with Brian is very different from the one I had with my ex. He treats me with respect, love, and consideration – and accepts me for me.”
Do you question your ability to embrace love, trust, and commitment in your intimate relationship? It’s key to examine your expectations. Amanda knows that she needs to adopt realistic expectations of herself and others. Tough patches in a relationship can either bring people closer together – or tear them apart – depending on how they’re handled. Couples are wise to avoid giving up, shutting down, blaming, criticizing, or being extremely self-reliant. Amanda’s positive intention of building a loving relationship with Brian is an important first step. While there are no guarantees in any relationship, Amanda has not allowed fear to stop her from claiming the love that she deserves.
It’s important to realize that you can have a successful long-lasting partnership even though the odds seem to be stacked against you. For instance, there is growing consensus among researchers that parental divorce approximately doubles the odds that adult children of divorce will experience their own divorce. Further, second marriages have at least a 10% higher divorce rate than first marriages.
But with courage and persistence, you can defy the statistics that say that your romantic relationships are doomed to fail and learn to trust yourself and others again. The key ingredients to a successful marriage are selecting a partner who is a good match for you and both partners willingness to work through the inevitable hard times of a marriage.
Author Rachel Weinstein writes: “But the bottom line is, marriage is a chance to experience the wild ride that is life with an open heart. Knee surgery, sleep deprivation, creative pursuits, accomplishments and setbacks — there is something profound about continuing to build love and trust through the wonder of it all.”
Your divorce experience can make you stronger, more realistic, and better prepared for the requirements of love. You have it within your reach to create satisfying relationships and to achieve personal happiness. Keep in mind, it’s never too late to restore your faith in love.
More from Terry