Divorce is painful. It can cause a kind of emptiness and leave us feeling like we’re damaged goods. After a divorce, sometimes for years, we feel that another committed relationship is impossible for us. When contemplating the idea of a new relationship, we find ourselves thinking, “I’ve been down that road before, and been burned. So why go down it again?”
But the truth is that finding a meaningful relationship post-divorce is completely possible. In fact, it can end up being better than our previous relationships. The secret is to learn from our past mistakes. As a divorcee entering a new relationship, you should feel like a seasoned veteran, armed with the experience of how not to do things and a deeper understanding of the dynamics that play below the surface of a romantic affair.
How do you do this? The first and most important tool for moving strongly into your next relationship is to realize that it’s more important to be the right person than to find the right person. Thinking back on past relationships, it’s easy to see the many ways in which our partners failed us. But there’s little to learn from that perspective. It’s far more useful to figure out the ways in which you could improve as a partner and work on those aspects in your new relationship. I started and ended a series of relationships before I realized that it wasn’t just them, it was me. I was the one who needed to change. So I suggest that you avoid my mistakes and work on perfecting yourself, rather than endlessly searching for that perfect other.
As you mature and grow, if you’re paying attention, you start to learn that the old adage, actions speak louder than words, is actually a very powerful guidepost, especially in relationships. People say all kinds of wonderful things to each other, especially when they’re falling in love. But when the going gets tough, how you act determines how much character you have and how trustworthy you are. I would guess that many of the problems that led to your divorce revolved around this key issue. When entering a new relationship, you have a chance to establish a new bedrock of integrity by matching your actions to your words. Don’t promise something you know you can’t or won’t do. And if you promise something, make sure you put in the effort required to follow through. Expect the same of your new partner and make that clear up front. This builds trust, and trust is the foundation of every good relationship.
Relationships often end when you find that you and your partner are conflicting on some kind of core issue such as children, political views, and/or money. Your values are revealed to be different or they’ve grown apart, and you discover that you may want different things out of life. As you move into a new relationship, it’s important to be clear about your core values early on so they don’t become sticking points later. That doesn’t mean you have to agree; it does means that you need to be clear about how you differ and how you plan to deal with those differences moving forward.
Anyone who’s experienced the breakdown of a relationship knows that it begins and ends with a breakdown in communication. And one of the most common forms of miscommunication happens when you or your partner expect each other to understand your desires and complaints even without you having to say them out loud. Let me disabuse you of that notion. Neither you, nor your partner is a mind reader. This is important to remember as you start a new relationship. If you’re upset about something, say so. If you want something, say so. And expect your partner to do the same. It will help you to avoid unnecessary tension and help resolve your disputes much more quickly when they erupt.
Finally, one of the single most important things I’ve learned about what makes a relationship succeed is cuddling. That’s, right, cuddling! As a relationship progresses, we often tend to take each other for granted. But a little physical contact - a hug, a soft pat on the back, a kiss, or a good snuggle can go a long way towards building or maintaining intimacy and healing tension that may have built up. The need for contact is a deeply human one, and we all respond to it on a biological level. It makes us feel safe, and allows us to put down our defenses. So as you enter into a new relationship, remember to spend a little time each day cuddling. I think you’ll be delighted by the results.