October 26, 2021

As many of you know, Cathy and I both had brief second marriages following lengthy first marriages.

In one case, the prior marriage was to someone who stonewalled (simply shut down and refused to talk about anything difficult or stressful). This is one of the Gottman's "Four Horsemen of the Marriage Apocalypse." After that kind of marriage, there was a temptation to find the opposite--a person who was not afraid to talk about hard things. However, that person turned out to be someone who could only discuss problems with burning rage.

In the other case, the first partner was not always honest and sometimes withheld important information. So the temptation was to make sure to find the opposite--someone scrupulously honest. The new spouse turned out to be honest alright. But often the honesty was expressed by losing their temper and screaming and yelling to the point that the police were called in on a few occasions.

It is a natural human tendency to believe that what we have already suffered is the most miserable thing possible. This has an important survival function. It is the way we learn to avoid the things that will harm or destroy us. We resolve that we will never marry someone with the same problem again. But we overlearn this. Looking for someone who is, above all else, not our former spouse, we can ignore or miss other essential information.

I acknowledge that some people keep attracting the same kind of person time after time, hoping for a different result each time. That is obviously a huge mistake too. It often results from relying unduly on emotion and making decisions based on how you are "feeling." Butterflies in your stomach do not mean you have met your soulmate. The person you have fallen in love with may be a great partner for you. But you need to look deeper than emotions and see into the person's character.

It is also often a huge mistake to focus unduly on one personality trait that we know we cannot handle--and miss other things. Remember what Dr. Malcolm said in Jurassic Park 2? The people creating the new park said, "we aren't going to make the same mistakes again," to which Dr. Malcolm replied, "No, you're making all new ones." In our second marriages, Cathy and I made new mistakes.

In saying this, I don't suggest that Cathy and I were perfect marriage partners and would have been just fine if we hadn't married people with anger issues. We still had things to work through too--to enable us to show up better and to see our partners more clearly. So, I suggest that the most important thing is to become the kind of person you want to attract. Focus on developing as a person more than on judging your dating partners.

I am also not suggesting that you should be paranoid and looking deeply for red flags. Those of us with trauma (pretty much all mid-singles) are prone to exaggerate or even see things that are not really there. We may even see our former spouses in people who are very different. It should be a warning to you that you are not ready for a new relationship if you find yourself throwing your trauma in your dating partner's face. For example, "After everything I went through with Horace, I can't handle anyone with any hint of a bad mood!" Well, your new dating partner isn't Horace, and making him into Horace will blind you to his real qualities, both positive and negative.

You don't need to reach some ideal before it's okay to start dating. However, you should be on the path of healing and able to self soothe and find your shalom after trauma upsets it. You should have healthy coping mechanisms that involve deep self-awareness, so that you can show up in a relationship as a wise and mature person rather than a damaged and deeply troubled one who is prone to either lash out or hide in a cocoon. Again, this journey is more about you and less about picking the right partner. You are the only person you get to control. An excessive focus on finding the opposite of your former spouse can get you into big trouble.
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