by Hilary Smith
Can I have one that works this time?
So your relationship is over. You feel what you feel about it – sad, glad, mad, or painfully bad. You might feel relieved, or devastated, or furious. And, in your own time, your perspective may shift. Perhaps you’ll start weighing up how much you miss the good parts with how much the bad parts hurt.
Trying out another relationship is pretty common. About 1/3rd of New Zealand marriages include at least one partner who has been married before. (Statistics NZ) And that doesn’t begin to count the re-used partners in de facto, civil union and other more informal relationships.
So the chances are - at some stage - you’ll start thinking about trying out another one yourself. And maybe you start to wonder what it will take to make a new relationship work out better than the old one.
You don’t want a repeat of what ever problems your past relationships might have had. So how do you make sure that something is going to be different this time?
Roughly speaking, there are three possibilities:
- you can hope that this time you’ll get lucky,
- you can choose a better partner,
- or you can learn from your own experience and be a better partner yourself.
Perhaps a mix of all three might be good!
Hanging your hopes on good luck alone is a bit like taking a ticket in the relationship lottery. The prize is fantastic, but not many people win.
On the other hand, luck is handy in the aspects of your life that are outside your control. Random chance happens to everyone, and sometimes it affects relationships. Things like earthquakes, redundancies, and some health conditions - you can’t prevent them or change them. A little luck might help a relationship survive them. But you wouldn’t want to have to count on it.
Your choice of partner bears some thinking about. If your past partners treated you poorly, you might want to think about the qualities to look for this time and how to recognise them. So if someone was treating you with respect and consideration, what sorts of thing would they say and do?
Focusing too much on your choice of partner can present a few difficulties as well. You are both in the relationship. So you both have an influence on how good – or bad - the relationship will be.
If you worry too much about whether this partner is the ‘right one’, you can start to see them as more responsible for the relationship than you are. And it’s a short step from there to thinking anything that goes wrong is their fault.
That’s a hefty load of responsibility to land on someone. It might also turn out to be an overly generous share of blame, depending on how things work out.
Too much emphasis on the find-the-right-partner strategy can significantly reduce your influence on the relationship. It’s a bit like voting for the government - you participate in the initial choosing, and then it’s all down to them. Thinking in that way makes you less likely to recognise, and work on, what you contribute to the relationship.
Using your experience to learn how you can be a better partner puts you in the driving seat. You have some control over how you behave. You can learn new skills to expand your choices about how you will behave in future.
You can’t make your luck change or your partner change, but you can change yourself. That’s a pretty good reason to focus on how to be a better partner if you want to make your next relationship more satisfying and sustainable than your last one.
Talk to one of our counsellors if you want help to be a better partner in your next relationship. Find a counsellor here