People often get into a new relationship during the painful ending of their marriage or soon after their divorce. How wonderful it feels to be desired and appreciated, to no longer feel rejected. What a welcome relief from empty weekends and lonely nights, from feeling so restless and so single. A spark of life replaces despair and self-doubt. There is even the return of romance and sex.
The future now has some glimmer of possibility rather than the grim blankness of nothing-to-look-forward-to. Your new partner seems just the opposite of your old partner: attentive, kind, interested. You are having more fun than you have had in years. You are reexperiencing a bit of adolescent energy that you may have thought would never be rekindled. It makes you smile and you feel your spirit rebounding from the pain of your marriage and divorce. Could it be that your ex and all that went wrong is being Xed out?
If only this new relationship could keep going as smoothly and happily as it began. Some new relationships do, but it frequently happens that problems begin to crop up in the new relationship and that they are typical enough to be somewhat predictable. What could go wrong?
It is common for there to be a crisis as the enthusiasm of the new relationship leads to emotional attachment and the relationship moves toward the possibility of commitment. All of a sudden, anxiety arises, and the “wonderful relationship” hits the skids. What is the source of this anxiety?
One possibility is that you have detected a new wrinkle in the relationship. There are moments when it seems as if you don’t even know your new partner. Traits emerge that had never been seen before. And then, suddenly, there is the awareness that what you are seeing and experiencing is all too familiar. Haven’t I been here before? What is going on? Why do I feel like I am back in some version of my old relationship, reexperiencing the nightmare with the “ex” and feeling abandoned or pressured or disrespected or abused, just like I used to feel?
In this case, the new relationship is no longer masking old problems. It may be that the emotional impact of the divorce is resurfacing in the midst of this new relationship. Perhaps new emotional attachments and commitments are anxiety-provoking because we are still scared; after all, it didn’t work out well last time. And then our fears are really set off when “similarities” begin to occur. When our new partner, who initially was the opposite of our old partner, disappoints us or begins to get demanding or starts to pull back, it is as if our old partner has returned and we have fallen back into all our old issues.
Often this awareness is enough to jinx the new relationship. Many new relationships and many second marriages do not make it for this reason. Some people will continue to cycle through unsuccessful relationships, but typically, at some point, most people back off from “serious” involvements while they continue to heal emotionally and try to get their lives together in other respects. For instance, divorce typically causes a financial crisis, and it usually takes several years before people feel they are able to stand on their own two feet with confidence. This accomplishment is usually accompanied by well-deserved pride and by a sense of enjoyment and empowerment deriving from the experience of being the decision-maker in one’s own life.
New self-confidence, achieved in other areas of life, can form the basis for a new and healthier love relationship. Of course, old problems will threaten to resurface and new anxieties often come into play. Will diving into a new relationship wipe out my feeling of greater independence? Will moving back into a relationship threaten the hard-won accomplishment of having become the chief decision-maker in my own life? For some, there is a determination never to give up the independence that has been attained at such a cost and through such an effort. Can I once again be a partner without losing myself in the process? These questions can only be answered by venturing once again into the challenge of a new relationship. Hopefully, the lessons learned about the value of relationship and the value of independence will see you through and provide a firm foundation for a more emotionally and psychologically satisfying partnership.