For years, I’ve marveled at couples who appeared to connect on a deep level while I struggled to save my second marriage from the brink of divorce. I was determined to beat the odds and avoid a second divorce but was cynical and lacked the skills to deal with the baggage leftover from my first marriage.
While many couples see remarriage as a second chance at happiness, the statistics tell a different story. According to available census data, the divorce rate for second marriages in the United States is over 60 percent compared to 50 percent for first marriages. These facts fueled my fears and pessimism.
In hindsight, my fear of failing was a major obstacle to achieving emotional attunement and intimacy in my second marriage. However, my fears also propelled me to search for ways to avoid divorce the second time around. When I turned to the experts, I was able to reconnect with my husband and regain the love we had early on—before ghosts from our past relationships cast a dark shadow over our marriage.
A Sense of Secure Connection Is Key to Positive Romantic Relationships
One of the most influential authors on this topic, Dr. Sue Johnson, posits that one of the primary reasons why we fear intimacy and lack connection with our partners is that we don’t feel emotionally safe with him or her. Lacking confidence in our partner’s trustworthiness can cause us to feel disconnected and distressed a great deal of the time.
Perhaps we are too distracted to hear our partner’s bids for attention and to speak the language of attachment, according to Dr. Johnson. She explains that we fail to give clear messages about what we need or how much we care.
By being vulnerable, you can achieve a level of emotional safety with your partner. It is the primary way to enhance your bond with him or her. Thus, you will be able to re-establish a secure emotional attachment and preserve intimacy between you. Dr. Johnson writes: “If we love our partners why don’t we just hear each other’s call for attention and connection and respond with caring?”
In other words, instead of focusing on your partner’s flaws and looking to blame him or her, try spending your energy fostering a deeper connection. Stop assuming the worst of your partner and put an end to demanding your partner change.
Dr. Johnson identifies the pattern of demand-withdraw as the “Protest Polka” and says it’s one of three “Demon Dialogues.” She explains that when one partner becomes critical and aggressive the other often becomes defensive and distant. Renowned relationship expert Dr. John Gottman’s research on thousands of couples discovered that partners that get stuck in this pattern the first few years of marriage have more than a 80 percent chance of divorcing in the first four or five years.
Truth be told, when I focused on what I needed to feel connected with my husband, he became less defensive and our marriage improved. We were able to turn things around and stop the dysfunctional dynamic of me pursuing him in a manner that usually increased his tendency to distance himself – leaving me feeling distressed.
Bringing an End to the Pursuer-Distancer Dance
Why is this relationship pattern so common? Dr. Gottman discovered the tendency of men to withdraw and women to pursue is wired into our physiology. Perhaps it reflects a basic gender difference. In his classic “Love Lab” observations, he has noted that if this pattern becomes deeply entrenched, both partners will provoke and maintain the behaviors in one another.
A typical example is Kate and Brian, both in their mid-thirties and stuck in a vicious cycle of pursuing and distancing for several years. “I’ve asked Brian to be more attentive, but he doesn’t appear to be changing,” complains Kate. To this Brian laments: “Kate is always unhappy and I can’t do anything to please her.”
Kate feels increasingly frustrated with her attempts to draw Brian out. Meanwhile, Brian resorts to his classic distancer strategy—becoming defensive and stonewalling her attempts to communicate. If this pattern doesn’t change, Kate and Brian might begin to feel criticized and contempt for each other – two of the major warning signs that their marriage is doomed to fail, according to Dr. Gottman.
Stop the Blame Game
According to author Harriet Lerner, Ph.D., “It’s always easier to point the finger at our partner than to acknowledge our part in the problem. In order to truly connect with a distant or distancing partner, we need to identify the problem and take steps to change it.”
Here is what it looks like when your intent is to learn about the other person and grow together:
- “I feel hurt when you don’t talk to me about what’s going on in your head, and I’d like to know what you’re thinking.”
- “I feel left out when you watch TV when we’re eating dinner because I’d like to catch up.”
- “I feel uncared for when you don’t include me in financial decisions. I’d like to be kept posted, even if you prefer to make some decisions on your own.”
Rather than expressing criticism or contempt, this type of dialogue can help you to foster positive communication since the intent is to get information rather than to criticize or nag.
8 Ways to Make Your Second Marriage Last:
· Gain awareness about how your past can impact you and your partner’s preferences for emotional attunement.
· Think back to when you felt more emotionally attuned to your partner, earlier in your relationship, and try to recreate that level of emotional intimacy.
· Accept that negative patterns exist and need to be repaired to improve the long-term stability of your relationship. Work on changing your reactions to your partner and take responsibility for your part in interactions with him/her.
· Don’t let your fear and shame of failure keep you from being vulnerable with your partner.
· Accept your differences and try to understand rather than criticize your partner. In his 40 years of research, Dr. Gottman showed that happy couples have a 5:1 ratio of interactions during conflict—meaning for every negative interaction, you need five positive ones.
· Stop the blame game. Practice tolerance and forgiveness for real and non-intentional acts or hurtful words.
· Focus on repairing things that go wrong and building trust rather than miscommunication. Every couple, in their daily life together, messes up communication, according to Dr. Gottman.
· If you feel flooded during a disagreement, walk away and take a short break (not in anger or blame). Disengage as a way to restore your composure not to punish your partner. Attempt to resume a dialogue when you feel refreshed and able to talk calmly and rationally.
My second marriage is stronger since we’ve been able to establish emotional safety and emotional attunement. Further, when experiencing problems in my marriage, I don’t look to fix my partner or play the blame game (no one wins). I’m convinced that self-awareness and being aware of my partner’s needs for attachment are key to ensuring a lifetime of love.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website.
Originally published on The Huffington Post