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.