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Baggage From The Past - Part 3

  • Dr. Neil Clark Warren for the eHarmony Research Library
  • 2003 23 May
Baggage From The Past - Part 3

Most clinical assessments of grief judge death of a spouse, death of a child, and divorce as the three most traumatic events a human being can endure. And while we usually have no control over death, divorce dogs it's sufferers as both cause and victim. The pain and guilt are so enduring that it's little wonder why I'm often confronted by divorced persons wondering how they can heal their wounds and create a new relationship with a better chance for success. 

In this series on Baggage from the Past, I'm offering you ten healing steps that I believe each person must complete before committing to a new person and a new marriage. So far I've discussed Resolving Your Grief, Gauging Your Anger Towards Your Ex, and Restabilizing Your Self-Esteem. Today we look at three more steps:

Accept Responsibility for Your Part of the Failed Relationship

Point number four: Are you clear about the contributions you made to the marital failure you experienced? If you think you didn't make any, you are probably denying your own role in the breakup. I ask people all the time who have been married before and are thinking of getting married again, are you clear about the contributions you made to your marital failure? And sometimes, fairly frequently actually, people will say to me,

"I don't think I really made any contributions to that marital breakup."

It's at that point, inside myself, I'm going, "Oh boy, I don't think they've looked closely enough." I have never seen a marriage break up when I didn't think both people contributed to the breakup. At the very least, they made a serious mistake in the person they chose to marry. But more than that, most people make all kinds of contributions to the difficulty. They may not physically abuse the other person. They may not have sexually abused them, or verbally abused them, but sometimes they egg them on. Sometimes they trigger the response that they later hold up as the cause that the marriage broke up.

If you did any of that kind of subtle triggering of the other person, if you regularly pouted or sulked or distanced yourself emotionally, then that likely contributed to the breakdown of the relationship. You need to know about that. Are you clear about the contributions that you made to the marital failure?

Confront Your Own Shame and Guilt

Point number five: Have you sufficiently dealt with your own shame and guilt? Many people in this society are ashamed and guilt ridden about a prior marital failure. Understandably, it's a big area in which to fail. If you're ashamed of it, that might not all be bad. If you feel guilty about your contribution to the breakdown, that's probably okay. But over time you should deal with your shame and guilt. You should develop the capacity to understand what you did wrong. The capacity to forgive yourself for what you did that was problematical. Until you have sufficiently dealt with your own shame and guilt, you're not ready to move to a new relationship.

Rebuild Your Support Community

Point number six: Have you managed to rebuild your support community? There are a lot of people I know who say that when their marriage failed their support community fell apart. That's particularly true for men in this society. It may also be true for a lot of women. The couples you socialized with, very often, related primarily to one of you. And if you're the one with whom those couples did not relate so closely, you may have been left out in the cold.

At this point you may find yourself lonely and feeling like everybody got influenced by your ex-spouse, so your task is to rebuild your support community. It may not be with the same people that you had before, but everybody's got to have a support community. As a matter of fact, I think that until you've rebuilt your support community, you're not ready to move on into another relationship.

It is absolutely crucial for every person on earth to have a group of persons with whom they feel comfortable. I encourage all the people who see me to have three to five close relationships with persons of the same sex. Three to five and one or two close relationships with persons of the opposite sex. Those persons support you from close in. They may not be your total support community, but these are persons with whom you feel comfortable to talk about your most intimate inner thoughts and feelings.


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