How to make a relationship work the second time around—for good.
In the midst of a break up, the last thing most us might think about is walking down the aisle—unless maybe you've broken off an engagement. There were guys I've dated for years, and yet marriage would've been the last thing I thought about after breaking up. But when Joe, a boyfriend of only six months, and I called it quits, I couldn't stop thinking that things weren't supposed to turn out this way. I must've been on to something because in just a few months Joe came calling and his "let's get back together" speech was heavy. Something like: "I want to make this work. Get married. Have kids." Could it work after our difficult break up? And for good? Well, in under a year we were engaged. And as I sit here today I can say we've been happily married for almost two years. But what was different that second time around? What made it work? Well, first and foremost it was important we didn't fall into our old habits.
Things started great with Joe, but before I knew it we had stopped communicating and letting small resentments fester into bigger problems. It would've been much easier to deal with those small troubles when they happened than to tackle the built-up monster of problems we'd created. Heather, 29, says that a lack of communication and not spending enough time with one another was what lead to a break-up with her long-term boyfriend as well. "We weren't talking about the things that actually mattered," she recalls. "It started there and just continued to spiral."
When Joe and I got back together, dealing with our problems head-on took work, but it has lead to better communication and understanding over time. Sometimes that does take compromise. The solution might not always be agreeable. For instance, if I start to feel like Joe isn't helping me around the house enough, or perhaps he feels that I'm nagging too much for his help, we talk about it and make some compromises. In our old ways we might have let it go on—him not helping and me continuing to bug for his help—until it erupted into a larger fight than those original issues ever warranted."
When Heather, and her now-husband, Craig, got back together compromise was key. "We decided to make a real commitment," says Heather. "We realized that we were a team and we had to compromise in order to become stronger." The couple also made a concerted effort to spend more quality time together. "We turned our cable off and decided to make special nights to do things that we have always wanted to do," she says. "We both made lists of things we wanted to do together and started going through them."
For Jennifer, 32, her break up was a result of conflicted priorities and difficulty managing arguments. "He loved to go out and party but when I went out, he complained," she says. "We also argued a lot. We had dated in college but after we graduated the arguing continued even though I'd thought it would end." The arguing eventually led to the couple's break up. But after Jennifer went through a traumatic experience, which her ex found out about, he rushed back to her side. "He wanted to talk about our relationship and we ended up realizing that we had both acted immature," she remembers. "We discussed that if one of us does something to upset the other, it should be brought up without screaming. The other person should not respond right away but instead think about it for 10 minutes."
Dealing with problems right away, making compromised solutions, and working things through without screaming can all help make it work a second time around. Just don't expect these changes to be a breeze. The second try can actually be more difficult and it's easier than you may imagine to fall back into old habits. Implementing change is never easy. "At first it was more challenging to make it work a second time," says Jennifer. "It is hard to change the way you react to things when you are used to doing it a certain way. But we ultimately learned to respect one another and were actually communicating and listening to one another."
Of course, despite the success of many relationships that have gone from ditched to hitched, it can't work for everyone. Certain wounds, such as an instance where a partner cheats, can be too hurtful to fix. And in any situation where abuse was involved, you are most definitely better off broken up. Trying to force a broken relationship into repair will not work, and unless problems are truly mended, it will only break again—perhaps making a second breakup even messier and more difficult, especially if there was a marriage involved. If you find yourself bringing up past problems and fighting about them all over again, you're not headed down the right path. Making it work the second time means not only forgiving any past wrongdoings, but forgetting them too.
Advises Heather, a true ditched-to-hitched success story: "Time apart is not always a bad thing. Sometimes you need that time before marriage to know it's what you really want. My relationship is stronger than it ever was before because of what we've worked through."