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Relationship Do-Over: Good Idea or Not?
"What are your thoughts about ex-spouses getting back together again...."
This column answers questions submitted by our readers. Submit your questions to Tara@relationshipcoachinginstitute.com who will forward them to our coaches all over the world. Each issue, we'll publish a few answers from our RCI coaches.
My ex and I were married for 7 years and then we divorced. We loved each other, had a child together (share custody now), but we were having a lot of issues at that time. We were both in graduate school, money was tight, things were busy, and we were both building our careers. It was just too much. We fought a lot, didn't spend much intimate time together because of the stress and responsibilities, and just focused on our work.
It's been 4 years since we divorced. We've both dated here and there, but we have remained close friends and, of course, we're trying to create the best environment for our young son. We've talked about getting back together – because we're both in a different place now. We're considering a "do over." What are your thoughts about ex-spouses getting back together again – getting married? What can we do to make this work? Any thoughts?
Jill from Jacksonville
Randy responds …
It is absolutely okay to get back together if you determine from an objective standpoint that (a) there are strong feelings of attraction, and (b) you have grown enough to make the relationship work.
Many people get divorced for the wrong reasons, and it sounds as though yours might be one of those situations. The "right" reasons for a divorce are (1) insufficient true attraction, i.e. having gotten married while still in the clutches of infatuation and imagination, and (2) insurmountable maturity deficits.
Unfortunately many people get divorced because they are unwilling to work on maturity deficits, even though they might be surmountable. The reverse is also true, many couples stay together when there is insufficient true attraction and they would be better off getting a divorce.
The problem is separating in your mind what is false attraction, what is true attraction, and what is immaturity masquerading as low attraction. If you have determined, based on the test of time, that there is true mutual attraction, and you have grown enough to work on overcoming maturity deficits, then by all means I support getting back together.
An important word of caution: Just getting back together, with true attraction and more maturity than before, is not a guarantee of success. You must continue to work together, to learn more, to grow, and this will almost certainly entail some pain. Don't just quit at the first sign of pain, but use it to figure out what is going on and make good decisions accordingly.
Randy Hurlburt | www.partnersinloveandcrime.com | 858.455.0799
Jerald responds …
I heartily applaud your wisdom for soliciting input on how to proceed. Things are very different now. Neither of you is the same person you were four years ago, let alone eleven. Plus, history has presented you with a big piece of baggage to deal with and integrate. The old relationship can't be dusted off and resurrected as it was, hence, any relationship you might forge will be new and different.
The past relationship must be finished. Ending a relationship often gets confused with finishing a relationship. The judge ended your marriage relationship. It is incumbent upon you to finish it. This involves dissolving the pain and disappointment of dashed dreams, unrealized hopes, and unmet expectations caused by the divorce. You also must confront the fear of the unknown inherent in any marriage.
Dissolving these attachments is especially important when ex-spouses are considering remarrying each other. Otherwise, the source of agony will remain an omnipresent reminder of past failure as it sits across the breakfast table from you and inhabits your bedroom daily. It is crucial that these emotion-based attachments to the previous marriage be faced and dissolved.
Requirements and needs rule supreme. What are your requirements and needs for a new relationship? Can your requirements be met in your remarriage? Can your needs be negotiated and met by each other? Your divorce implies the requirements and/or needs were not fulfilled initially. A successful relationship requires they be met this time. I wish you a conscious, happy, and successful future.
Jerald Young, Ph.D. | www.SmoothDivorceRecovery.com | 651.280.9660
Rick and Jo Harrison respond …
What an awesome possibility! Imagine creating a solid family for your son and a loving partnership with your husband. We're all for it, subject to the following: Place your relationship above everything, but God, (even your son), and hold it sacred as the space within which anything can be resolved and miracles can happen. Identify and release any resentment that you each may be clinging to.
Do the groundwork to lay a strong foundation for certainty by working with a RCI coach to create your vision as individuals, as a couple, as a relationship, as parents and as a family. Your coach will also help you identify the issues that caused the fights and how to resolve these through effective communication. Create structures with your coach to ensure you are walking the talk of your vision. Finally, be realistic and get advice on how to handle this "project" with your son.
Rick and Jo Harrison | www.SecretstoSoulmateSuccess.com | +61.3.5420.7366
Judith responds …
First, I want to acknowledge you for wanting to do the best you can for your son. It sounds like you want to have a good stable home and a great marriage. However, before you decide on a "do over," there is so much to consider. In a situation like this, it is of the utmost importance to have clarity. It could be devastating for all involved if the relationship fails a second time.
Have you gone through RCI's Conscious Dating workbook with a relationship coach? I cannot say enough about this program. It adds clarity around the type of things you will need to know if you and your ex are going to have a strong beginning the second time.
Relationship coaching would help you answer the many questions that you will want to ask yourself. Here are some things to think about:
• Am I thinking about dating my ex for the right reasons?
• Do I still feel that chemistry (if that is important to you)?
• Am I taking the easy way out to be safe?
• What are my values and are his in alignment with mine?
There is much to think about so you will truly want to take your time and be sure this is what you want. Even though you are not now in the stressful situation you described, other pressures are always present and you want to be sure your relationship won't suffer again because of them. My best to all three of you.
Judith Geiger, CUG, ACC | www.beinloveagain.com | 315.497.3059
Hazel responds …
The first thing I would ask you to do is ask yourselves "why" you want to get back together. Are you in love, is it just because you have a child, or is it easier than staying out there and perhaps meeting someone else?
If it's for the sake of your child, once he grows up, it will just be the two of you. If it's because either of you is afraid to end up alone, please work on this. Don't get re-married just because it seems like a good idea (and it will give your child two parents together). You both deserve to have the kind of relationship and life you want for yourself -- so only get together for the right reasons.
If it's because you truly feel the kind of love for each other that can sustain a marriage, start by dating as if you had just met. Bring in romance (not sex), get to know each other on a new level as the adults you are now.
It's possible for second-time-around marriages to work if it's for the right reasons -- and that's the secret. If it is, I'm sure you can make it work, too. Whatever you decide, you have friendship and that's probably the most important thing for all of you to build upon.
Hazel Palache | www.sayyestoyoucoaching.com
Michelle responds …
Jill, I've known couples who divorced and remarried successfully. What made them successful, as opposed to those whose remarriage did not work, was their maturity level and their commitment to take a serious look at what happened that led to their divorce in the first place.
If you are both willing to discuss the problems, the pet peeves, the reasons you believe you got divorced, and so on, you stand a good chance of staying together the second time around. It's so important that you create a plan to work together so that your marriage continues to be happy and successful.
Keep in mind that you have both made changes in the four years you've been apart, but there are some behaviors that you each have that probably drove each other nuts that most likely still do. While this is minor, it's a good idea to decide what you're going to do differently when these behaviors surface. How you deal with the small annoyances will reflect on how you address larger problems.
I recommend Michele Weiner-Davis's book, Divorce Busting, to come up with some solutions to problems that may resurface as you delve into this important decision. Don't do it alone. You know how costly divorce is. Invest in some work with a relationship coach to get you started on your path.
Michelle E. Vásquez, MS, LPC | www.trueloveafter40.com | 714.717.5744
Getting Together ... Again!
This month, I interviewed RCI Coach Katherin Scott about couples who have experienced a breakup or divorce and who now want to consider getting back together. She discusses the pros and cons and what to do should they choose to reunite.
Tara: Let's say a couple comes to you and wants to get back together. What's the first question you ask them?
Katherin: When a couple is contemplating getting back together after a breakup or a divorce, I begin by asking them three key questions, namely:
1. What worked well in the relationship -- prior to the breakup?
2. What didn't work in the relationship (what were the underlying issues)?
3. What has changed since your breakup?
The couple's answers to these three questions give me insight very quickly as to their ability to communicate and how aware each person is of the positive and negative aspects of their prior relationship.
Are they only seeing the good – now that they want to get back together? Is anyone placing blame on the other without owning their share of the relationship problems? And, more importantly, has anything changed since their breakup?
If nothing has changed, and if neither person has grown or made progress in working through their personal or relationship issues, then the couple is doomed to repeat the past.
However, if the couple has matured and each has made constructive changes in their lives and both parties are willing to own their part for the positive and negative aspects from the previous relationship, there is a very good chance the couple will share a wonderful life together.
Tara: What are some of the positive aspects of getting back together with someone?
Katherin: Being in a healthy relationship has many positive aspects: companionship, social connection, sex and intimacy, increased health and longevity, and possibly even financial gains (for example, if the couple shares household expenses).
By already knowing the positive qualities of their previous relationship, the couple can experience those wonderful aspects of the past and now build upon them. Also, the passage of time may allow a person to appreciate traits in their partner they may not have acknowledged previously.
And, if children are involved, reuniting the kids with both parents is definitely a plus.
Tara: What are some things about which couples should be cautious?
Katherin: Take time to evaluate the underlying issues of the earlier relationship. Make a plan to resolve the issues, with action steps and check-in dates clearly agreed upon. And, be able to forgive one another for hurtful things that may have been said or done.
Be honest in understanding both parties' reasons for getting back together. Loneliness, loss of finances, or "for the kids" are not healthy reasons to reconnect.If the couple had previously been intimate, I would caution them to wait before having sex.
Don't rush to have sex again just because you're familiar with each other. Make it special, just like it would be in a brand new relationship. If the couple wants to immediately have sex after agreeing to get back together, they may be confusing their physical needs with their true desire for a healthy relationship.
Be open to seeing your partner as a changed person. Do not make assumptions as to their reactions, their decisions, their preferences, or their emotions. Experience each other as individuals and take time to get to know your partner all over again without believing you already know everything about them.
And, if there were serious problems in the relationship prior to the breakup, such as physical abuse or misuse of drugs or alcohol, it is critical for the couple to honestly evaluate the length of time either one or both of the parties has been involved in changing their behavior.
Look for consistent behavior changes and understand the length of time the person has been practicing the new behavior. A few weeks of new behavior or a promise to change is not enough. Rehabilitation takes time. Consistent new behavior, for at least a year, is crucial if serious problems existed in the prior relationship.
Tara: What suggestions can you make to couples before getting back together if that is the direction they wish to take?
Katherin: First of all, I would encourage the couple to take it slow and take time for the courting process. Make sure to set aside time to talk about the relationship, at least weekly. Ask similar questions to the ones I recommended earlier, namely:
1. What is working in the relationship?
2. What is not working now?
3. What are some ways we can change to have a healthier relationship?
Give each other time and space. Constantly texting, calling or asking your partner to "see where they are" or "how they're feeling" or "what they're doing" is smothering. Take things slowly and re-create the magic you once shared.
Consider getting help to keep the relationship healthy for both parties. Learn how to communicate openly and honestly. Talk with a therapist or spiritual counselor if problems crop-up or linger. Work with a coach to create a blissful relationship. Take classes on Eastern tantric practices to increase the intimacy in the relationship.
And, if there are children involved, be sure to talk openly with each of them about your plans for the future. It's important for children to understand how their lives will change when you are back together.
Tara: How would you sum up your thoughts on this?
Katherin: The key is for the couple to continue to look at everything with "fresh" eyes, so as to not fall back into unhealthy patterns. Recognize the good things from the previous relationship and continue to do those. Understand the negative behaviors that contributed to the relationship demise, brainstorm solutions and make a plan for dealing with those.
And, as with all relationships, be sure to set aside time to check-in regularly to discuss the relationship and how each person in the relationship is feeling. If kids are involved, check in with them, too.
There are no guarantees in any relationship; however, if each person commits to working on the issues, focusing on the continued health of the relationship, and creating a happy future together, then the possibilities of a wonderful relationship are endless!
Copyright ©2009 by Katherin Scott. All Rights Reserved for all media.
Katherin Scott M.A., author of "ABC's of Dating: Simple Strategies for Dating Success" is an internationally recognized authority on dating and attracting love, coaching singles worldwide. She is a frequent featured guest on TV, radio and print publications. Katherin helps people empower themselves to find love and happiness. www.KatherinScott.com, 425.681.2620
Stop, Look, & Listen: The 3-Step Approach to Understanding Your Partner
by Brian L. Rzepczynski
Do you feel misunderstood by your partner? Do you seem to keep getting into repetitive arguments over the same things? Do you have hidden resentments toward him and a mountain of unmet needs? If you're like a lot of couples, chances are your listening skills might need a jump-start; and if it's not that, then fine-tuning your ability to listen can go a long way toward bridging the gap between you and your lover and bringing about more clarity and connection in your relationship.
Conflict is inevitable when you're a couple, but how you go about negotiating it can mean the difference between cuddling on the couch together or sleeping on opposite sides of the bed when you retire for the evening. Being able to productively listen and attend to your partner is key for effective communication, and listening is also a pre-requisite for conflict resolution.
As men in our society, we haven't been trained well in matters of emotion and communication. This can create a tenuous backdrop in a relationship and can be an obstacle to achieving true intimacy. It can also cause partners to withdraw emotionally, avoid dealing with problems, or become competitive towards one another if they are not careful.
Listening is a very complex communication skill that is best taught in counseling or coaching sessions and there are literally zillions of manuals and books out there on the subject. I will try to simplify this using the Stop-Look-Listen model that is typically taught to young children with impulse-control issues. This is a simple framework to operate from and I encourage you to read up on this issue.
Listening and communication problems are the number one reasons for conflict in relationships, both straight and gay, and this model will help you learn how to be fully present with your partner.
Step 1: STOP!
You and your partner are in the midst of a disagreement; you're both upset, tempers are beginning to flare, and the verbal lashings are about to begin… STOP! Remember that nothing of any positive consequence can come from an interaction where two people are angry and defensive.
You're not properly attending to the issues because you're too busy trying to convince your partner that you're right! The first step to productive listening is to defuse any potential conflicts by each of you setting the tone for positive communication and approaching each other with conscious intent for trying to understand each other and define the problem. You may need to take a "time-out" before proceeding with your talk to help calm yourself down and get centered.
Step 2: LOOK!
So now you've come back together again after your cool-down period all relaxed and ready to be attentive. Great! You and your lover should go to a place free from distractions so nothing will disturb you. Face each other, as you are now each going to take turns expressing your thoughts and feelings about your issue at-hand.
One of you will be the Speaker and the other will be the Listener. No interrupting, Listener! Speaker gets center stage right now—you'll have your chance later! Speaker should have 3-5 minutes to share his perspective to keep the conversation concise and focused, and this also avoids the monopolizing of "airtime" as, typically, one partner can be more verbal than the other and this allows equal sharing-time.
No matter how much you get the urge to break-in should your partner say something that you don't like, hold it back! It's not about you right now; it's about you demonstrating that you care and are invested in understanding life through his frame-of-reference, no matter how different it may be from yours.
Listening is not about agreeing with your partner and doing what he says, it's about being fully present and gaining clarity into each other's experience of your relationship. Be aware of any internal or external factors that could distract you and redirect yourself back to your listening responsibility. Nonverbal communication is integral as well. Make sure you have an open body posture, maintain good eye contact, give affirmative head nods and the occasional "mmm-hmms," etc.
Step 3: LISTEN!
Now it's time to respond to demonstrate that you really heard your partner's message and can articulate his thoughts, feelings, needs, and experience non-defensively and without judgment. Speaker goes through a three-step process now to enact this type of scenario. Relationship expert Harville Hendrix developed a technique called Intentional Dialogue to provide a structure for open communication. The steps involved in this strategy include:
Repeat what you heard your partner say in your own words. You might use a sentence stem like, "What I heard you say was…." Your partner will confirm if you are accurate or will help clarify the message for you until you can mirror it precisely. Avoid parroting back what your lover said word-for-word; instead, paraphrase what you heard in your own language for more meaning and depth.
Find some grain of logic in what your partner communicated and convey this back to him. "That makes sense to me because…" is a good lead-in. You don't have to agree with what your partner said, but it's vital to tell him how and why his experience makes sense to you for the ultimate in making him feel acknowledged and safe.
Put yourself in your partner's shoes and imagine what the experience must feel like for him, and say something to the effect of, "I imagine that might make you feel…." Then, the two of you switch roles, and you will become the speaker and your partner will become the listener and you repeat the process again.
While this may not feel like a natural way to communicate, be open to it and give it a try! It's harder than it looks, but it is an extremely effective way to build trust and intimacy in your relationship as you support each other through active listening. Sometimes solid listening is all that's needed to solve a problem; other times, we may just want to be heard without any intervention from our partner.
A client of mine once said, "I don't want my boyfriend to problem-solve or fix anything. Sometimes I just want him to listen to me and be a sounding-board without offering any advice or opinions." Listening can be very therapeutic for a relationship.
Listening may not solve all your problems, but it helps create an atmosphere of nurturance and safety in your relationship. Listening is a precursor for effective conflict resolution, so don't underestimate its power and avoid jumping into problem-solving mode at its expense, as we guys often do. Look for the positive intent in all your communications and you'll both enjoy a more fruitful and enjoyable sense of connection in your partnership.
For more information on the Intentional Dialogue technique, refer to the book "Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples" (1988) by Harville Hendrix, PhD.
Copyright ©2009 by Brian L. Rzepczynski. All rights reserved in all media.
Brian Rzepczynski, Certified Personal Life Coach, is The Gay Love Coach. He works with gay men who are ready to create a road map that will lead them to find and build a lasting partnership with Mr. Right. www.TheGayLoveCoach.com
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