Broken Hearts

Exploring myths and truths about grief, loss, and recovery.

The Absence of Emotional Completion “Sabotages” Marriage

Surprise Alert—It’s Not A Gender Thing!

It’s commonly believed that the first marriage divorce rate hovers around 50 percent. According to divorcerate.org, a more conservative estimate puts the number at 41 percent. While that nine percentage point difference is significant, it doesn’t lessen the heartbreak for the millions of men and women whose lives have been torn asunder by those divorces, nor for the incalculable damage done to the children who are the collateral damage of the divorce.

What most people don’t know is that the second and third marriage divorce rates are substantially higher. The same organization that gives that conservative 41 percent estimate on first marriages, indicates that the second marriage divorce rate is 60 percent, and that third marriages fail at a staggering rate of 73 percent.

To the rational mind, those statistics just don’t compute. Logically, it doesn’t make sense to fail again when in theory you should know so much more the second or third time around. Of course it might make sense if love and marriage were a rationally-based undertaking. But let’s face it, the essence of marriage is emotion, not logic.

It may surprise you to learn that the failure of the first, second, and third marriages is predicated on something that probably happened when your first romantic relationship ended as a teenager. Even though the adults around you might have called it “puppy love,” most likely it was the first—and possibly the last—relationship into which you invested 100 percent of your emotional being. When it ended, your heart was 100 percent broken, along with your sense of trust.

When that first break up happened, most of us were told, “Don’t feel bad, there are plenty of fish in the sea.” That comment sets up two ideas that are in conflict with our nature. One, that we shouldn’t feel bad when we do. And two, that when we have a loss, we should just replace it. But relationships are not mechanically replaceable like light bulbs. And worse, most of us were not guided to take recovery actions to become emotionally complete with the person and the relationship that had just ended.

Given the advice by parents and others to “replace the loss,” we rush out and start dating someone new with hardly a gap. Enter boyfriend or girlfriend #2: We now engage in a new relationship, sometimes days or weeks after the last one crashed. At that point, our fear level is high and our trust level is low. With that deadly combination unconsciously dictating the proceedings, we hold back our true and honest selves for fear of getting hurt again, thereby guaranteeing the eventual failure of the new relationship.

Surprise Alert—It’s Not A Gender Thing

This also might surprise you: Girls and boys, women and men, are all told “Don’t feel bad, there are plenty of fish in the sea.” [For most of us, this was the first time we learned we’d been dating a fish.] Humor aside, almost without exception, we followed the advice and went out and found a new boyfriend or girlfriend. And when that one ended, we did it again, and again. By the time we got to our first marriage, many of us were very practiced at holding back who we really are, but we didn’t know it.

The key to successful relationships is to learn how to discover and complete what was left emotionally unfinished in each of your prior romantic relationships. The result of those emotional completions is that you’ll no longer sabotage a potentially successful relationship by dragging the baggage of your past—which includes the fear and lack of trust—along with you. Another benefit to emotional completion is that you can end the cycle of choosing badly which is always based on familiarity, not helpful intuition.

Yes, some marriages make it all the way through, but a 60 percent success rate isn’t really a very good number considering what’s at stake emotionally, not to mention children, property, and more. You probably wouldn’t go to a surgeon if he only had a 60 percent success rate, would you? Yet you’ll enter into life’s biggest single commitment with a severely limited chance of a happy ending.

No matter where you are in the relationship-marriage spectrum—in, or out, or hovering in between—it’s never too late to acquire better information about becoming emotionally complete. Even a good relationship can benefit when each of its partners deals with their pasts effectively.

Don’t let your relationship past dictate what does or doesn’t happen in your relationship future.

 

Russell Friedman is Executive Director of The Grief Recovery Institute, and co-author of The Grief Recovery Handbook, When Children Grieve, and Moving On.

more...

Subscribe to Broken Hearts

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?