Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I am a 30-year-old woman who has been divorced for five years. My ex-husband and I were married in our early 20s and divorced two years later. It was not a bitter divorce – we are both good people who realized a few months after we got married that we wanted very different things out of life. Because we really cared for each other and enjoyed being together, we tried very hard to make things work. After a year and a half of frustrating struggle, we realized we really weren't right for each other for the long term.
So here I am, five years later, gun-shy about getting married again, even though I really want to be married and have a family. I have started dating, but I am wary of letting a relationship develop – and as a result I'm not giving the men I go out with much of a chance.
What can I do to overcome the nagging thought that the same thing will happen to me again?
We're glad you wrote because we’ve received a number of letters from people in similar circumstances – they had a brief first marriage and want to get married again, but are afraid to make the same mistakes the second time around.
It sounds like you and your ex-husband had two very good reasons for marrying: you cared for each other and enjoyed each other's company. But there is another crucial element that was lacking – common goals in terms of what you wanted out of life. We'll venture to say that you may never have discussed your long-term goals and expectations in depth while you were dating. Or if you did discover some basic differences, you elected to delay addressing them until after marriage, optimistic that everything would work out.
Many people assume that love conquers all, but, as you had the misfortune to discover, it doesn't. Enduring marriages are built on a foundation that includes compatible values, goals and expectations. These are key areas that every couple must explore – long before they decide to tie the knot. We've seen many couples who didn't do this, and struggled in their marriages because these basic differences eat away at a couple’s ability to make plans for the future and even to experience harmony in daily life.
Marriage needs more than love and compatibility. We have found that couples with the strongest marriages also respect and admire each other, feel a close sense of friendship and trust, accept each other's imperfections, feel safe with each other, are attracted to each other, and have compatible goals, values and expectations for the future. If even one of these elements is missing in a relationship, it's likely that this will become a source of conflict once the honeymoon period fades and the couple settles into a daily mode of relating to each other, and looks toward building their future.
Now let’s address things going forward. What about your fears? First of all, we'd like to reassure you that they are not uncommon. It's natural to worry about repeating a mistake you regret making. But the fact that your first marriage didn't work doesn't mean that you have any less of a chance to have a successful marriage with the right person. It might even be that the lessons learned from your previous mistake will help assure your future success. Indeed, many people whose first marriage didn’t work out go on to have a successful and fulfilling marriage.
In the past, we've written about the process of finding someone who is right for you, so we’ll highlight a few points here.
Do research before agreeing to a first date.
An important step – before even agreeing to a first date! – is to do some preliminary research to determine whether he shares similar life goals and has personal qualities you want in a life partner. Don't date someone who has values or personal qualities that clash with what's important to you, or who is clearly going in a different direction than you are.
The second key point is that when you begin to date someone who appears to have potential, give each of your dates a purpose. Think of a few new things you'd like to learn about him. Ask questions and share your own perspective. Date long enough to really get to know him. As you begin to talk about the possibility of a future together, be sure to discuss any aspects of your goals, values and expectations that you haven't already explored together, and be certain that your differences can be resolved (or can co-exist). If there is something significant that divides you, work it through before making any permanent commitment.
We think that with your new clarity, you’ll do great the second time around. If you’re feeling "gun shy,” however, consider enlisting a dating mentor to give you the emotional support you may need.
We wish you success in navigating the dating maze.
Rosie & Sherry