I’ve FINALLY found “THE ONE”!!! Why Wait?
I’m known among clients, colleagues and friends as a pretty positive person. I can find solutions. I did it for 20+ years in the corporate world for companies that needed help matching their products with the right customers and I do it now as a therapist for clients who need help matching their troubles with the right solutions. I am good at “Finding What Works” (one of my mottos). So… (wait for it) here’s a bit of advice that may (at first) take the wind out of your sails, or look like something other than the right solution.
If you were hoping for a ring for your birthday, and then over the holidays, and now you’re hoping for a ring on Valentine’s Day, consider hanging up the hope (for now). Here’s why:
Mr./Ms. “Just Right For Me” may NOT be. I recommend you need at least 18-24 months to determine if you and your partner are capable of working together long-term for the relationship. Please re-read that last phrase—capable of working together long-term for the relationship. It is not only, as many justly point out, that you may not know a person before those 18-24 months have passed–although that is true. You and your partner are likely always changing and will (hopefully) continue to grow and change until death do you part if the relationship is to make it that long. The point is you need time to determine if you both have the desire and the ability to work at the relationship through those changes.
Relationship success is largely based upon attraction, attachment, and attunement. Examples of each:
- Attraction: This is the sexual part of the relationship. You may meet for the first time and within 20 minutes feel drawn physically to each other.
- Attachment: You and your partner share a physical bond. Attachment is why you can “love” someone you don’t even “like”. Attachment can include missing your partner when he/she isn’t physically present. It can also include a feeling you’ve “always known” your partner even though you’ve just met.
- Attunement: This is very important and takes TIME to discover. Attunement involves you and your partner sharing thoughts and feelings. This means when you and your partner are having a discussion, you are as aware of his potential feelings and reactions as you are of your own. It is important BOTH OF YOU are attuned to each other—not just one of you and not the other. It is also important that you not subsume your own thoughts/feelings at the expense of your partner’s or vice versa. This is the characteristic that requires time—time to experience bumps in the road, to respond to them, to witness your partner’s response, and to see what happens in the same situation next time. Are you able to modify your responses to each other for the sake of the relationship?
Three areas where more time allows us to assess relationship staying power are 1. Rebounding, 2. Assumptions, and 3. Reactions.
You meet Mr. “Just Right For Me” a few months after finalizing your divorce. This is often where the “rebound” phenomenon comes in. Your new partner may be the polar opposite of your “Ex”: Calm, not angry; collaborative, not dictatorial; new school, not old school; playful, not rigid. But individual characteristics are not as important to relationship success as your and your partner’s ability to manage the differences BETWEEN YOU.
An example of (not) managing the differences between you: It is holiday-time. You hand your (now ex-) husband a long string of tangled lights from the decorations box. He flips out: “Why didn’t you roll them correctly when you took them down last year??!! How do you expect me to untangle this mess?! Just throw them away!” You respond: “Wow, honey! I’m sorry you’re so upset. I was in a hurry last year when I took them down and I guess I’m just not as organized as you.” He responds: “Well, don’t expect my help with the lights!”
Your ex-husband’s temper is not (necessarily) the problem. Take this same scenario with a new partner and a new template for relational discourse: You hand your partner the long string of tangled lights from the decorations box. He flips out: “Why didn’t you roll them correctly when you took them down last year??!! This is a mess! How do you expect me to untangle this?! Just throw them away!” You respond: “Wow, honey! I’m sorry you’re so upset. I was in a hurry and I’m just not as organized as you.” He responds: “I’m sorry, honey. I have a hard time handling it when things are out of order.” You respond: “And I have a hard time putting things in order. Will you help me organize the lights when it’s time to take them down?” Your partner responds, “Sure, or I’ll just do it myself, no problem.” [You both smile, hug, and untangle those pesky strands of light together.]
It is not necessarily the characteristic that needs to change from one partner to another—it is your and his/her ability to manage your relationship given whatever characteristics are there. Figuring out if you and your partner are able to do this takes TIME. Why, you ask? Because in the honeymoon phase you are much more likely to put your own needs aside. It is only when the stars and sparkle fade that you and your partner are able to gain the clarity you need to see what true tools, characteristics, and willingness are there.
A rule of thumb to keep in mind: It takes 25% of the time you spent in your previous and/or failed relationship to be ready to engage in another. Keep in mind that if your last relationship FAILED (sorry for the negativity), he/she may have been the problem, there may have been no other alternative but divorce…whatever. The fact is you successfully married the WRONG PERSON. Don’t do it again.
Your Mr. Just Right For Me loves a home-cooked meal–just like his mother used to make. You oblige (willingly, lovingly) with turkey dinner and all the fixings on a Tuesday night, after work. Your man is amazed and appreciative. You then repeat the process on Friday night—this time with a prime rib dinner, again, homemade after work, despite your being tired at the end of the week. Again, your man is appreciative.
Here is the under-lying reality: You may be a little annoyed. (And trust me, and sorry for the bad news, but: It’s your own fault.) He didn’t request this four-star service. You decided on your own that this is how to express love to the man you want to hold onto. Maybe you got this idea from watching your parents at work. Maybe you got this idea from your first (failed) marriage during which your husband continuously expressed a fierce expectation of home-cooked meals.
Given time, you can: 1. Experience this effect, 2. Modify your template, and (most importantly) 3. Witness how your partner responds to your ‘true self’ (the one who doesn’t make full-on homemade meals twice a week). Maybe he will make YOU dinner. Unless you have the time to take actions and witness reactions, change course and witness results, you actually have NO IDEA what your relationship is like. You may have an idea of who your partner is and who you are at a moment in time, but no good idea of how able you both are to MANAGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP as it changes over time.
Reactions (If at first you don’t succeed…)
Another reason for needing time to assess relationship staying power is to allow for a failed exchange to recur as either 1. A successful exchange or 2. Another failed exchange. An example:
Early in your relationship with Mr. Just Right For Me, your dog (sadly) dies. Your partner responds with, “I’m sorry your dog died. He lived a good life. Twelve years is the equivalent of 84 people years and that’s old. You’ll get over it.” You were expecting your partner to be there, to listen, to sit with you in your sadness. You express this to your partner. Now, a year later, you lose your job. Your partner responds with either: A. “I’m sorry honey. If you’d like to talk, I’m here. When you’re ready, I’ll help you with your resume. We’ll get through it together;” or B. “Why didn’t you couldn’t see that coming? How soon can you find another job? Our bills are already sky high.”
Now you have some good information. It is (actually) NOT true that response B. means your guy needs to pack his bags (although hopefully you’re NOT cohabitating as this does not bode well for marriage success down the road—but that’s a subject for another blog!). Response A. indicates your guy is able to manage his relationship with you and ATTUNE to your needs. He is responding based upon your previous input. It is not natural for him but it is what you need so he is walking this walk. Response B. indicates that your guy, though he knows full well what you need, is not willing or able to accommodate in this type of situation. He may have other areas of attunement with you and this is simply not one. You need lots of experiences with him/her—good and bad—to assess where you are able to support each other and where you are not.
Finally, know that you don’t necessarily need couples therapy, an Enneagram seminar, or an attachment theory class. You need TIME and INSIGHT and PERSPECTIVE. I help my clients with insight and perspective if they are stuck. Allow yourself the time you deserve to allow the insight and perspective you need to make longer-term decisions about the relationship.