The old adage “once bitten, twice shy” may hold true for some people after a relationship fails. However, some people jump quickly into new relationships instead of taking the time to heal from the pain and anguish of being left or feeling rejected. The need to feel loved, and worthy of being loved, overrides the caution of being hurt again.
Without taking stock of what happened in the previous relationship and what role each person played in the demise of the relationship, it is highly likely that the same patterns of relating and behaving will plague the new relationship. The rate of second marriages ending in divorce is higher than the rate of first marriages, likely in part, due to repetition of mistakes made in the earlier marriage. Jumping into a new relationship too soon is not unlike putting a band-aid on a deep infected wound without examining it.
Much as examining and cleaning out the metaphorical wound might hurt and sting in the short run, keep in mind that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Continuing with the metaphor of the need to examine the old wounds, here are a few questions you may want to answer honestly:
- What part did you play in the relationship not working out? Remember that there is some responsibility each of you had in the relationship not working out. Our relationships teach us more about ourselves than about the other person, if we choose to learn.
- What circumstances led up to the relationship deteriorating? Sometimes, new stresses of life are added that test the relationship (for example, job change, arrival of children, illnesses, etc.).
- How has your life improved because you ended the relationship? Even if you are at the receiving end of this decision, have you come to terms with the relationship ending?
- Has life improved for people around you too? Your other relationships often serve as mirrors of your growth and change.
While you are looking at the problems that infected your last relationship, don’t forget to look at the healthy parts of you and take stock of your strengths:
- List the challenges you have overcome.
- List the positive people in your life and the people who will remind you about your truth.
- Remind yourself of the positive consequences of leaving or ending the last relationship.
- Keep track of your emotional health by journaling.
For the next relationship to be more successful and happier, here are seven ways to stack the odds in your favor:
- Take the list of things you have learned about yourself and recognize the patterns you don’t want to repeat.
- Define for yourself what you do need in a relationship.
- Recognize the red flags early on in the relationship. Someone who is easily triggered and reactive, drinks too much, or doesn’t have the money for basics, will likely stay that way.
- Take your time to get to know someone.
- Be on the look out for people who may be married to their divorce. Let them get over it before you invest in the relationship.
- Know what issues are negotiable in a relationship and what issues are non-negotiable.
- Finally, know your triggers and vulnerabilities well.
Becoming aware of your vulnerabilities and your tendency to react unconsciously can be made easier with the help of a mental health professional. The objectivity of someone who is not a close friend or a part of your family is helpful to gain a fresh perspective. For keeping track of your journey use the help of therapists, journaling, or apps like Divorceworks to monitor your emotional journey.
Dr. Gitu Bhatia is the co-creator of the Divorceworks app, a tool to help people manage their emotional journey through divorce.