If your first marriage didn’t work out, why will your second one do any better?
Half of first marriages fail, but it’s even grimmer the second time around, with two out of three not making it. If you’ve already experienced the pain of a major break-up, it’s not very encouraging to face such high odds.
What couples can do to have more chance of success the second time around.
Julie and Frank (not their real names) like many couples came to Imago therapy saying, “We feel a sense of hopelessness.” The couple had been good friends for many years before getting romantically involved so why had such a great friendship turned into an acrimonious marriage?
When they first got together, Frank had seemed like such a breath of fresh air especially after Julie had endured her first marriage to a brilliant, yet cold man. But now she found herself getting irritated. Frank is warm and amiable, but he would let slip some uninformed comments at parties, and quickly lost his charm when Julie tried to correct him.
Julie had chosen a completely different partner the second time, and yet in some ways it still felt like a re-run of her first marriage. In both marriages she found herself descending into a cycle of criticism and disappointment.
Imago therapist Carol Kramer Slepian explained why your new partner can be different but the story can still feel horribly familiar. Imago teaches that deep down we are longing to feel complete, whole and fulfilled, and that we choose a partner who we believe can make that happen for us, by loving us completely.
Of course in practice our partner never quite matches up to our hopes, and when they don’t it tends to make us feel anxious. Most of us have our own particular way to respond when we feel anxious; Julie’s was to be critical of her partner. This criticism tended to trigger a cycle of conflict which was pulling the relationship apart.
How can Julie and Frank pull it all back together again? Carol recommends five steps.
Step 1: Find out what is really going on
Whether it’s your first marriage or your fifth, when things start going wrong communication is often the first to go. You may feel that something is wrong, but not really understand why your partner is behaving in a way which is causing so many problems.
Carol teaches couples to start with a process of listening called the Imago Dialogue. It takes the conversation away from the blame and criticism that springs up when things don’t feel good. Instead Julie and Frank found a way to talk without confronting each other with how they felt about things.
The key steps in the Imago Dialogue that they used were to be careful when they spoke to each other to not criticize the other, but to talk about their own experience and feelings, while the other partner would simply listen, and mirror back what they heard.
“It sounds obvious” says Carol, “but we often forget that our partner is quite different than us, and this process helps people see those differences and see the positive side of them.”
Step 2: Find out why it gets to you
Carol suggests that couples ask themselves, “What is it about me, that causes me to react to my partner this way?” That’s a tough question to ask, but if you are just about to fail in your second marriage, you may be ready to ask yourself tough questions.
The answers teach us a lot about ourselves. For example, Imago teaches that everyone has a “lost self”. It’s the part of us that we would have loved to be, but weren’t allowed to be. Julie’s parents taught her to be very serious about everything, so there’s a part of her that just wants to be happy and laugh a lot. It’s her lost self that she wants back again, so she can live life to the fullest. But in the meantime, she can get a bit irritated with people who have too much fun at parties because she wasn’t allowed and therefore nobody should be allowed to.
“Julie realized that when she got irritated at Frank for not knowing enough, it was because she was brought up in a home where to be loved, you had to be smart and it wasn’t okay for her “not to know, or to just be,” explained Carol. “By seeing that the friction in the relationship was caused by “her lost self” Julie was able to understand herself more, and be more compassionate to Frank”.
Step 3: Hear without judging
Julie’s challenge was to step away from being critical. After first listening to him and mirroring back his concerns, she moved onto a step in the Imago dialogue called validation in which she would tell Frank how his story “Made sense” to her, and then in a third step called empathy, she would share with Frank how she imagined he might be feeling in response to her.
Step 4: Say Goodbye to the Old You
“I feel small and belittled when you correct me,” said Frank, and in her new place of openness, Julie realized how much she had been hurting him. “But you don’t need to be like that,” coached Carol, “You can say goodbye to that way of being.”
Carol explains that to really let go of an old way of being, an effective way to start the process is to begin to appreciate why it was unconsciously necessary in the first place. Julie had needed to be critical and demanding in order to create space for herself in her family when she was growing up. It was a useful trait, which helped her feel protected. As Julie came to understand it, she became empathic to the impact on Frank and using a process facilitated by Carol, she began to say “goodbye” to that out-dated way of being.
Step 5: Say Hello to what’s good
Once you have cleared the decks, it’s time to start ramping up the positive energy. “Discover what it is that brought you to love your partner, and focus on that,” advises Carol. She teaches couples a simple appreciation exercise that uses the Imago dialogue. “Do it every day if you can,” she says. One partner starts by finding something that they particularly appreciate, and tells the other partner, who mirrors back their words. “It’s a lovely ritual and very powerful if you make it into a regular practice.”
What’s this all add up to? Simply this: Love can truly be better the second time around if you are willing to do the work. One must commit to learning a new way of communicating their feelings to their partner as well as recognize and deal with their own emotions if they want to have a happy second union. The Imago Dialogue is an incredibly powerful tool for couples who are open to it and provides long-term, positive results when done in a supportive and loving way.
To learn more, please visit Imago at their main website by clicking here.