Divorce Recovery and Your Next Committed Relationship: To Ask or to Demand? This is the question

Divorce Recovery and Your Next Committed Relationship: To Ask or to Demand? This is the question

The record for “Listening to Your Heart” is terrible

We are told to “just listen to our heart” to find “true love”. However, no matter how carefully we ‘listen’, 42% of first marriages, 66% of second marriages, and 75% of third marriages end in divorce.

Logically, we would expect the divorce rate to decrease, not increase, with each subsequent marriage. However, the percentages are going up, not down. Why is that? The most likely reason is that we don’t learn from our past experience with divorce and choose a new relationship using the same criteria we previously used in our failed relationships.

Requirements: What people logically need to make their relationship successful

Any successful relationship must meet the specific requirements of both partners if it is to survive and thrive over time. This is the main purpose of the Pre-Commitment1 stage of relationship development.

If listening to our heart is incomplete, what should we listen to in addition to our heart? Our head! You should choose a partner who not only excites your heart, but who can give you what you need. Therefore, it is your responsibility to (1) understand logically what you need in a relationship and (2) have the courage and discipline to stick to your requirements when looking for a new partner.

As defined by David Steele, Requirement2 is “a non-reviewable event or thing required for a relationship to work for you”. It is a characteristic of a relationship that is absolutely necessary for the relationship to survive. By definition, the relationship will die without it.

Steele uses the metaphor of air and water to describe the requirements of relationships. Humans need both air and water to live. Possession of one but not the other will result in certain death. Relationship demands have the same quality of need everything your requirements are met if you want the connection to continue. That is, if you have five requirements for a connection and only four are met, the connection will die, sooner or later, one way or another, if it really is a requirement.

Problems arise when we confuse what we “want” with what we “want.”

Wants: Nice to have, but not necessary for the survival of the relationship

Wants3 are “objects and activities that provide stimulation, entertainment and pleasure”. They are characteristics of a relationship that are desirable but not necessary for the relationship to continue and be successful.

Requesting is like eating dessert after a meal. It tastes good and makes the dish more enjoyable, but you won’t die if you don’t have one. Likewise, it wants to add fun and pleasure to our relationship, but it will not jeopardize the relationship if it is not fulfilled.

Requirement vs. Desire: Why is the distinction so important?

Many relationship problems can be traced to a confusion of wants and demands.

Why is the distinction important? The answer has to do with avoiding two types of mistakes:

1. Ending a good relationship you should keep by treating an unsatisfied want as an unsatisfied demand, or

2. Maintaining a disaster-prone relationship that must be terminated by treating an unsatisfied need as an unsatisfied want.

One Woman’s Close Call

A client of mine had been dating a man for nine years. He wanted to get married, but she was hesitant. She wanted to have an emotionally intimate relationship with her partner where they could freely reveal their deepest feelings to each other, but he refused. Periodically she asked him to talk about his feelings. He refused. Over and over in the nine years they were together, she begged him to express his emotions to her. He claims that his father did not talk about his emotions and neither would he.

Everything else about him and their relationship was wonderful. He finally wore her down to the point where she concluded that while it would be nice to have a partner to open up about her feelings to, she could live without him since everything else about the relationship was so great. She chalked it up to “that’s the way men are” and began planning their wedding.

Then, six weeks before the ceremony, during an innocent night out with her girlfriends, she met a man playing pool. They struck up a conversation and it hit her like a bolt from the blue. He was actually talking about his feelings! Not only was he willing to share his feelings, but he genuinely enjoyed revealing his emotions to her. They talked for hours until closing time.

Out the window went her rationalization that “that’s just the way men are” and the dilemma of what the hell to do now that a wedding was on the horizon came into her life.

Two weeks before her wedding, she realized that wanting to be married to someone who shared her feelings wasn’t just a nice-to-have. wantbut in fact it was complete, non-negotiable requirement. Fortunately, she had the courage to end the relationship before it turned into a legal and even bigger emotional mess.

What was the key to her knowing that her desire for a husband who would talk about his feelings was a requirement, not a desire? She asked herself, “Now that I know that men i can talk about their feelings, will the relationship eventually die if he continues to refuse to do so?” She reluctantly answered “Yes.” It was a requirement for her, not just another wish.”

So what’s the point?

Finding a good relationship requires both chemistry and brains.

While chemistry speaks from the heart, requirements rule from the head. Both must be taken into account if we want the relationship to stand the test of time.

The persistent problem is that our culture gives us bad advice. It tells us that “true love” must no requires some brain power. Such thinking sinks over 66% of all remarriages.

So your challenge is to listen to your heart, think with your head, and ignore your friends and family who tell you that you’re “thinking too much” and risk losing a great partner.


1 David Steele, Conscious dating (Campbell, CA: RCN Press, 2008), pp. 301-320.

2 Ibid., p. 337.

3 Ibid., pp. 301-320.

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