I’m probably not the best advice columnist you’re going to read. After all, I’ve been divorced. I also have a child out of wedlock and I wasn’t even very involved in her teenage years. I’m currently single as well. Clearly, I haven’t gotten this figured out yet. Perhaps what I can offer is that I’m not altogether unhappy about any of this. I made choices in my life and they had outcomes. Life happens. We live, and hopefully, we learn.

Perhaps the single most relevant statement I have heard concerning relationships is simply this; never make a priority of someone who considers you an option.

Taken to heart, this statement acts in two ways. First, it should teach you not to keep yourself emotionally involved and entangled with someone who seems to have your best interests as second to their own. Secondly, and probably even more importantly, it should admonish you not to seek entanglement with someone you’re not willing to give your best to.

If it’s more important to attend a ballgame, take the business trip, pursue that secretary or just hang out with the guys instead of attending to her, well, then that’s probably just exactly what you should be doing. Just plan on doing it alone because, ultimately, if she isn’t the first priority, then she’s just another option. Obviously, if she’s just an option for you, then your relationship is probably in trouble.

If you’re divorced, and reading this, then I’m just going to assume you are trying to make sense of one of life’s most confusing problems; how to get your needs met by the person you married, or how to make sure you get your needs met the next time around.

Well, for starters, don’t do it again. To avoid this, you’ll need to take a good, long, hard look at what you brought to the table to create the situation you find yourself in now. I absolutely guarantee that no matter how you might feel right now about your relationship, most of the problem is with you, not her.

You see, you chose her every bit as much as she chose you somewhere along the line. It doesn’t matter which one of you has left the relationship (or is preparing to), the reason the relationship ended (or is about to) is because one of you decided to stop bringing your best to it. The only question remaining is whether it is already too late, or whether you can change your behavior and perhaps salvage what has likely been a serious commitment of time and energy towards the other person? This I can tell you with assurance; if you want your relationship back, your partner is not going to change. You have to. If there is any part of that statement that gives you pause, then chances are good this person isn’t really who you need to be with. Sorry.

If you’re on the other end, the one who left the relationship, then first off, congratulations on being willing to risk your current unhappiness for a chance to find something that feels better. It’s a very hard thing to do, to acknowledge you aren’t getting your needs met in a partner. Of course, I’m going to challenge you that as much as you have had the courage to walk away, the fact that you ultimately felt you had to probably points to either poor initial choices, or a series of poor choices you made along the way that created an untenable situation. I invite you again to take a serious, extended time for self reflection and pay attention to how the decisions you made along the way ended you up here.

For the record, my marriage ended by my choice. There were many, many happy aspects to my marriage, and my ex-wife is a good woman and one I am always happy to see when we meet. She remarried shortly after our divorce to a man that has provided what I could not, and fifteen years later I still couldn’t be happier for them. The success of her next relationship has shown me over time that I made the right decision. Could we have saved our marriage? Yes, we probably could have. I probably could have learned to be better at asking her for what I needed, and she could have learned the same.

In some ways, upon reflection I truly do wish I had worked harder at it when it felt like it was slipping away. However, then as now, I had some good role models. What I saw the clearest was that I was unsatisfied and was looking for something more. I truly don’t believe she ever could have provided what I sought, because what I sought was change. She wanted stability. She found a stable man, and I found a dozen unstable women.

If you believe you can be happy with a person that is seeking to end a relationship with you, then you need to ask them what, specifically, needs to change, and then you have to change it. Period. If you are unwilling, or they are asking something of you that you simply cannot (or will not) change, then you can save a great deal of heartache by honoring them enough to let go. If, on the other hand, you feel you have just released yourself from an unsatisfying relationship, then the questions to ask are how to keep taking care of yourself in a way that makes you happy, and what needs weren’t being fulfilled in your last relationship that you can focus on improving in your next one?

Alas, I must conclude this short essay with a bit of a conundrum, but perhaps the most important question you can ask yourself; what makes you happy?

Answer that, and then perhaps you can be happy with someone. Clichéd and true, happiness comes from within.

 

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