I once heard someone say that for every four years that you are together with someone, it will take a year to recover. Twenty years means five years to deal with it!
Well, I'm not convinced that passage of time is enough. It takes a dedication to resolve issues, a realistic look at your own situation and a determination to learn healthier ways of choosing a new partner for the future.
Fifteen minutes to common-law just won't allow you time to recover and develop healthy skills so that you won't end up in a train wreck again.
You need to learn to live with yourself and become your own best friend before jumping into a situation that may bring further pain. Remember, the divorce rate for second and third marriages is as high as the one for first marriages.
The other day a client asked me what she needs to know before she enters a new relationship. Here are some of the things that I shared with her:
- Know yourself - Why do you want or need to be in a relationship? What are you hoping that another person can do for you? And what can you do for the other person? What have you learned about yourself through the last relationship? Take time to realistically examine the ideas that you have about what a good partnership can or can't offer. What do you need? Can you fill those needs yourself or through other means?
- Know the other person - Never believe what a person says. Only believe what they do. Anyone can make promises or present the image that they think you want or expect. Not everyone can maintain it. Only time will allow you to get to know the other person well enough to see whether they are genuine and someone you truly wish to be with. Many people tell me that there were "red flags" during the "getting to know each other" stage but they ignored them, thinking that they would go away. They don't!
- Know where to look for a new partner - So often I have heard people complain about the other person's drinking. I ask, "Where did you meet?" and am told "In a bar". Finding a mentally healthy person usually doesn't happen in a psychiatric ward or in a treatment center. That doesn't mean you can't have a good relationship. I'm just saying that you have to expect problems down the road if there are signs that there have been problems in the past. Be realistic. A person who spends all his or her time on a golf course likely will want to continue doing this. Someone who is obsessed with a hobby or activity probably isn't going to give it up or replace it with you. You won't find a tractor in a card shop. When you know what you are looking for you will go to the right place to find it.
- Know the other person's family - Whether you like it or not, you do marry the other person's family. Even if you don't spend a lot of time with them, their values and ideas are very much a part of the way your new partner was raised and will show up in the thoughts and actions of that person.I recommend that you "date the seasons". Spend a year getting to know how each of you and your families celebrate Christmas, Easter, birthdays and summer. This will help to prevent unwelcome surprises and the statement "I really didn't know this would happen".
- Know your own family - If you have children, their needs must be considered. No matter how hard you try to convince yourself, the children need time between your relationships to grieve and adjust. You can convince yourself that they like the new person that you have chosen but they still need time before you share a residence with him or her. You also need to think about your family of origin and extended family members. Will the new partner fit into the family? The last thing you need is to be caught between your family and your new partner. Taking sides or having to fight and choose one over the other is horrible. It's like having one foot on the pier and one in the canoe. You are going to get wet!
Whenever there is a serious accident you are hospitalized for a significant period of time. A long recovery usually follows, and it might take several months until you are able to state that you are healthy again.
It isn't any different in a relationship breakup. You need time to recover. Make sure you take that time to do the things that will help you to make better choices in the future.
Oh, and if your "ex" starts begging you to come back, remember what I said about promises. The only way that you will know that the person has truly changed is to watch them over time to see if the changes are lasting ones. Give them eighteen months and then decide whether reuniting makes sense.
One of the best choices you can make at this stage is to begin working with a psychologist who will help you get through the pain and build a healthy future. Remember relationships are not about short-time pleasure. You're in this for the long-haul!