Expert Q&A: Remarrying Your Ex
Q: Should I remarry my ex?
A: We all like second chances in life. Rarely do we get them. Remarrying your ex is one of the few opportunities for a "do-over." There are no divorce statistics for people who re-marry their ex. However, the divorce rate for all second marriages is about sixty percent. Oops-not very good odds.
But remarrying your ex does not have to end in the chaos of Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. Here are some tips from my clients who have succeeded in remarrying their ex.
1. You and your ex are older, wiser. When Jane and John remarried after splitting up for seven years, they both said they had matured. "We both married young and in haste. We thought we could take on the world, and when we each failed to realize our impossible dreams, we blamed the other. We needed to grow up."
Dora and Dan learned a similar lesson. "I don't think we knew each other or ourselves when we married. Looking back, I think we were lucky to have chosen each other at all, given what a great match we are now!"
Both these couples discovered that their second chances worked because each person faced his or her issues and succeeded in developing new values and behavior.
2. You both dated many others before re-uniting. There's nothing like life to teach you about reality! The couples who found love with each other the second time around learned that the other fish in the sea weren't so wonderful. These couples gained a new perspective on tolerating quirks, picking your battles, and compromising.
Tina and Tom used to fight about anything whenever they had a difference in opinion. "We fought to the death to be right about issues from what kind of car or carpet to buy to what to eat for dinner. Neither one of us could bear losing an argument. It all seems so silly now, especially when I got into other relationships and found even worse problems in others and saw myself as a big part of those problems."
Dating lots of people is a great instructor. You learn about your needs, values, interpersonal style-and what kind of fish are really out there! If you are fortunate, you can get a second chance at applying your lessons.
3. You already know about each other's maturity because you stay in touch through things such as sharing child-rearing or running a business together. Mary said that one of the biggest hints that her ex Marty had changed was his new behavior in their shared child-rearing. "One day, he actually apologized for not being consistent regarding bed times for our twins. He could have knocked me out with a feather."
Staying in touch with your ex, in any form, can give you a window into his or her maturity-and vice a versa. But don't be fooled into thinking that an ex who is a good parent or business partner makes a good spouse. Too often, people compartmentalize their roles. Think about mobsters who kill but who insist on going to church and maintaining family values. Or, consider the preacher who cheats on his wife.
The trick is to learn about his or her past and current intimate history after your divorce. Find out what each other has learned about love and see whether his or her sterling behavior in other areas also applies to romantic relationships.
4. You know and accept each other's quirks, habits and issues. Don't trade an upset stomach for a headache. If you followed the advice in the second suggestion and dated lots of others after your divorce, then you are more able to accept and tolerate those annoying habits that you allowed to drive yourself crazy!
"I hated that he left his dusty work shoes on the steps. It caused all kind of arguments because I thought that it meant that he didn't respect me," Katy said. "After we got back together and talked about it, Ken admitted some of it was the laziness of taking his shoes out to the garage sink. But he said that most of it was just being so overwhelmed in starting a new business that he was absolutely exhausted when he came home. I admit, I was just so scared in those days, the smallest thing set me off."
Both Katy and Ken learned key lessons in getting along better the second time. They each gained a more flexible perspective on what to tolerate and what to discuss. And, like many of my other couples, they also were happy to discover that some of the quirks had disappeared!
5. You know why the serious problems existed-and what you each did to fix them. Some of the most common issues in the first marriages of my couples were love-busting behaviors such as bad tempers, cheating, drinking and drugging, over-spending and remaining too attached to their parents. When Zoe and Zack divorced, she was still a Daddy's Girl and expected her husband to turn the other way whenever she overspent. The divorce was a major wake up call for her. "I discovered that I was actually depressed and scared of being on my own. I wanted someone to rescue me. It never occurred to me that I could take care of myself."
Valerie and Victor overcame another major obstacle. Drinking brought them together and then drove them apart. When Victor was fired for drinking on the job, Valerie divorced him. "And that's when my drinking got worse," Valerie said. Ten years later, they met at a party and learned that they each had been sober for eight years. "We shared a mutual fear of life and setbacks. We both drank to ease the pain," Valerie said. "But being on our own taught us how to weather things from the inside."
If you and your ex had serious problems, make sure you know the source of the problem and the steps that produced positive change. If you or your ex can't explain the problem and the cure, then you might risk reproducing the same marriage.
6. Get counseling. You might think you understand yourself-and you just might. But why risk another unhappy ending? Use counseling to fine-tune your awareness and your coping skills. "Stan fought me all the way on going to therapy," Susie said. "It didn't work the first time, so he was really turned off. But we found a great therapist, and he was really helpful in giving us new tools."
7. Take your time and use it wisely. There is no need to rush into marriage. Yes, the high of falling in love again and the thrill of "getting it right" are tempting. But think about the pain of the divorce. Take your time to discover whether you each have really changed. Don't move in together or get engaged in the hope of fixing the problem by making a commitment. Focus on the relationship first before going to the next step. Get used to the "new" you with the "new" partner. Practice being a loving, respectful problem-solving team who share common values.
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