Many of us have trauma from former relationships that makes us fearful of innocuous behaviors we might see moving forward. You may find yourself defensively telling a dating partner about something your former spouse used to do that hurt you, warning your partner that what they said or did is eerily close to the behavior that destroyed your first marriage. If you find yourself doing that, it is time for some self-reflection and thought work. Thought work includes taking a really look hard at the behavior and deciding whether it is innocuous or genuinely abusive. Be aware that you may be inclined to be afraid of a lot of things that are not genuinely dangerous.
Your brain is a complex mechanism that is two million years old and designed for your survival more than for your happiness. Fear has a genuine survival function. Your brain learns things to avoid from past experiences. But the brain overlearns this lesson and overgeneralizes. It errs on the side of caution. It tells you a lot of things that are not true. We call these cognitive distortions. If we are to make healthier relationships in the future, we need to learn better how to heal trauma, work on how to choose our thoughts more intentionally, and think critically about our fears.
It is tempting to tell myself the story: “I could have had a good marriage with the right person. But since I married the wrong person, it broke up.” That message assumes two things that are not necessarily true. First, it assumes that compatibility determines your outcome more than intention. Second, and even more dangerous, it assumes that you did the marriage right and your partner did it wrong, and all you need to do is choose a better partner next time and, voila, you will have a better marriage. That kind of blame ignores the reality that mortal life is a journey where we learn and develop new understanding.
Putting all the blame on someone else is disempowering. I cannot hold any hope of changing anything if all of the problems are someone else’s fault. I understand that most of us went through a time after divorce where we felt frustrated that our best efforts were not enough to save the marriage. Of course, it takes two people agreeing to maintain a relationship. But we can only do our own half of that relationship. When we start trying to change or correct the other person, we create frustration for ourselves and our partners. It is more empowering to focus on our own way of showing up in relationships. Read books, talk to others who have been down this road, use a good life coach or therapist, and otherwise prepare for new and better relationships by altering your paradigm of marriage. The statistics on second and third marriages are not very encouraging. To overcome those statistics, we need to be self-reflective and very intentional about how we show up in marriage and what we are striving to create with our partners.
If you are inclined to think, “My partner always pressed my buttons and made me mad, so next time I’m going to find someone that doesn’t make me mad,” that simply fails to own your own part of the relationship. You can learn to control your temper, internally and externally, regardless of your partner’s actions. You can apply this same thinking to a wide variety of unhealthy thoughts and behaviors in marriage. You can be humbler. Adam’s first words to God after he ate the forbidden fruit were words that could be interpreted as blame, directed at his wife. “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat” (Genesis 3:12, emphasis added). Blame is one of the most insidious results of our fallen world. The sooner you can get out of a blame mindset and think less about whose fault things were, the sooner you will begin to heal from the fall, create more peace, and live a happier life.
Do your utmost to intentionally eliminate the blame mindset and rid yourself of the idea that all you need to do is marry a better partner next time and things will be great. You will marry a complex person with opinions and a will every bit as real and independent as your own. Your partner will not always agree with you and often will not even go along with your ideas or desires. He or she is a fallible human being just like you. As Dr. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife said during our podcast with her, you need to be self-reflective and marry someone who is also self-reflective. Your primary focus should be on yourself and how you show up in relationships. Focus on how you can bring goodness and light to a relationship, independent of any choices by the other person. And keep doing thought work to lighten the load of trauma you are carrying. I promise, it will bless your life.
About the Author
Jeff Teichert and his wife Cathy Butler Teichert are the founders of “Love in Later Years,” which ministers to Latter-day Saint mid-singles seeking peace, healing, and more joyful relationships; and the authors of the Amazon bestseller Intentional Courtship: A Mid-Singles Guide to Peace, Progress and Pairing Up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jeff and Cathy each spent nearly a decade in the mid-singles community and draw on this experience to provide counsel and hope to mid-singles and later married couples. Jeff and Cathy are both certified life coaches and have university degrees in Family Science. They are the parents of a blended family that includes four handsome sons and one lovely daughter-in-law.
Purchase Jeff & Cathy’s book at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09KMXXJN7?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420