Why will it be different this time?
Cautiously, so as to not shut me down, my mom tip toes a question, “So… I know you think he is special but what makes him, this relationship, different from the last two relationships?” She is referring to marriage #1 and marriage #2 and possibly my ability to justify and rationalize any inane decision I have made over the last 43 years (well, 41 years, bad decisions in those first two years can’t possibly be my fault). As in any post-divorce relationship, you hope to get far enough into it, under the radar, before the questions begin… “So, how many kids does he have? How long has he been divorced? Where does he live? What about his ex? Are you really ready? Is he really ready?” And, really, all those questions are skirting around the key question, the one my mom got right: “Why will it be any different this time?”
In the past, my answer would have focused on the man in question, how fantastic he is, how well suited he is to me, and how I admire who he is. While all these things are true about my current beau, my answer now focuses on me.
I am now at the point where I can communicate my needs. For as long as I can remember, I have been a caretaker. I take care of my three kids, my business, my staff, my previous husbands, basically, everyone around me, but me. Thinking about having needs, much less expressing needs, raised a single, very loud, word in the space between my ears – selfish. I was so focused on others, thinking it noble, I didn’t realize that unless you take care of yourself, there is no balance, no happiness, no center, no self-love. I am slowly moving into a place where I can get quiet long enough to realize my needs and then calmly communicate them. This, for me, is an astounding difference in who I am today compared to who I was when I entered my last two marriages.
I am aware of my patterns. I am triggered when intentions are not clear, when feelings are nebulous. I am uncomfortable in places of uncertainty. While I strongly believe in Pema Chodren’s concept of being comfortable with uncertainty, I am simply not so good at it. We really don’t change too much over time, but we can become more aware of what triggers us and work to be less reactive.
I know the type of person I work well with. Calm, reasoned, honest, clear, passionate, consistent, loving, present. These are things I work well with. Elusive, mysterious, hedging and cold are things that done jibe with me. I now pay attention to who and what I work well with.
I listen to my intuition. Another thing I have traditionally been good at is moving forward, relentlessly, regardless of what was going on around me. This led me into two marriages. Now, I sit or stand still, and listen to my body and pay attention to how I feel around another. Do I feel calm, anxious or warm? Are there red flags or things that make me feel uncomfortable?
I am continuing to do my work. And, I think the key to all of us really engaging in healthy relationships is for us to keep the focus on ourselves, on building our awareness and learning more about what we can do to be a good partner. We can engage in therapy or coaching when we need the perspective of another, can journal or reflect when we need to make sense of our own thoughts, and do yoga and meditation when we need to learn to quiet and listen to ourselves. Being in a healthy relationship is a practice, a daily practice in which there is always room for refinement.
So no, I do not know where this new relationship will be six months from now, and no, I do not need to. What I know is that we are communicating honestly, enjoying each other’s presence, and paying attention to how we feel as we take each step forward.
But to answer my mom, this relationship has the potential to be different this time because I am different this time.
As you consider your next relationship, I invite you to consider the following…
1. Can you communicate your needs clearly?
2. Are you aware of what moves you, what triggers you and what feeds you?
3. Do you know what type of person you work well with?
4. How do you feel when you are around him or her?
Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.
Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator. Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships. She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world. Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years. She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective. She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well. Contact her now at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-200-3970. More information here. localflamesmaine.com