August 3, 2021

I very much relate to the idea expressed in this meme, which is that many of us have trauma from former relationships that makes us fearful of innocuous behaviors that 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. It is time to really look hard at the behavior and determine 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 from past experience what to avoid. But it over learns it. It over generalizes. 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.

Having said all of this, there is a certain  problem in the message of this meme too. It essentially says, "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 have to do is choose a better partner next time and voila you will have a better marriage.

Putting all the blame on someone else is disempowering. I understand that most of us went through a period of 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. I also understand that we can only do our own half of the relationship. However, it is more empowering to focus on our own way of showing up in relationships. Read books, talk to others that have been down this road, use a good coach (like me ), and otherwise prepare by altering your paradigm of marriage. The statistics on second and third marriages are not very good. To overcome those statistics, we need to be very intentional about how we show up in marriage and what we are trying to deliberately 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. Remember, Adam's first words to God after he fell from Eden were words of 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.) Blame is one of the most insidious results of our fallen world. The sooner you can get out of a blame mindset and worry less about whose fault things were, the sooner you will begin to heal from the fall, create more peace in your home, and live a happier life.

I counsel you to intentionally eliminate the blame mindset and rid yourself of the idea that all you have to do is marry a better partner next time and things will be great. Of course, you want to find the best partner you can. As Jennifer Finlayson-Fife said during our podcast with her, you want 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 that thought work to lighten the load of trauma you are carrying. I promise, it will bless your life.

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