Is it “3 strikes and you’re out” or “third time’s the charm?”

After decades of working with married couples, I have realized that there’s not much I can do if peoples’ mindsets are focused on being right instead of making their relationship better.

As a result I now focus on partners that are motivated to make their marriage a success and are willing to give up having to be right to do so. Those couples are often the ones where both partners are marrying for the third time or at least one is for the third time (usually the moneyed one) and the other for at least the second.

It doesn’t always hold true, but it seems that a couple in a first marriage often doesn't know what to do when each person grows in a different direction and apart from the other. Rather than accepting this as a reality, they launch full bore into making the other person wrong when in fact they are just different and growing into who they are meant to be.

Then the second marriage is about doing the opposite of the first as a reaction to the other person being wrong. It is not about admitting and actually taking personal responsibility for problems in that first marriage. In other words, the narcissistic part of each person’s personality is alive and well and entitled. If they haven’t taken that personal responsibility for problems, they are often just as likely to run into problems –maybe different ones, but problems nevertheless – the second time around.

The third time may be the charm because after being a two time loser, it becomes more difficult to keep blaming the other person entirely. What’s the saying? “Have a failed marriage once, shame on them; have a failed marriage twice, shame on you.” And when you get older, just not wanting to fight is a legitimate resolution to arguments, whereas when you are younger that would seem to be too avoidant and there is often an obsessive need to deal with and resolve all the issues. Also by the time you're on a third marriage, you've gone from believing you're invincible to wanting to make it to the finish line of life with peace of mind.

Now there are many who will not remarry a third time. For the ones that do, there are usually habits they have learned that will help their third marriage to succeed (and ones that first and second marriages would do well to learn as well).

12 Habits of Healthy and Happy Third Marriages

  1. Talking “with” instead of “at” your mate. Let their body language be your guide. When you're talking "at" your partner, they'll tense up. When you're talking "with" them, they'll most certainly relax.
  2. Tuning in -- instead of tuning out -- to what your mate is saying. When you mind begins to wander, stop and remember that what your partner is saying is important to them whether you're interested or not.
  3. Remembering to thank your mate. Not thanking your spouse for being considerate, thoughtful or kind makes them feel unappreciated and foolish for caring about you.
  4. Saying, "I'm sorry," instead of becoming defensive. When you mess up, the sooner you sincerely apologize the sooner your mate can stop resenting you.
  5. When you say, "I'm sorry," follow through. An apology buys you another chance. However, if you keep making the same mistake, apologies not only seem empty, but annoying as well.
  6. Being on time. Frequently keeping your spouse waiting is not only inconsiderate; it's arrogant.
  7. Not Jumping to conclusions. Presuming that you know what your partner feels -- and why -- without first getting all the facts is only going to push them away.
  8. Not playing the victim. This behavior not only accuses your spouse of hurting you, but adds insult to injury by implying that they're doing it intentionally, when that may not be the case.
  9. Not making the other person wrong. Rather than realizing and accepting that it takes two to make a mistake, they always blame problems on the other.
  10. Talk well about your spouse behind their back. When you bad mouth your spouse to others, this not only adds to the list of secrets you keep from your mate, but also tells others how little you respect them.
  11. Have ground rules for dealing with a difference of opinion – Having ground rules such as agreeing to not use words like “never” and “always” or agreeing that neither person can become abusive and unrelentingly accusatory – a couples’ disagreement will prevent a disagreement from deteriorating and sometimes reaching the point of cruel words or an action that can’t be taken back.
  12. Knowing that doing something once is not enough. If you only temporarily do the above -- and don't continue to monitor yourself to keep from slipping back into bad habits -- you're teasing your partner with changing. You're also kidding yourself that you're committed to improving your marriage, when really you're not.

The 6 Secrets of a Lasting Relationship: How to Fall in Love Again...and Stay There (Perigee, $15.95)

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