How to Prevent an Unhealthy 'Second-Act'... Marriage II Pointers

In a healthy partnership, it takes three to tango -- two "I's" and a "we." The notion of "we" is talked about all the time, but often the strength of the "I's" are overlooked.
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Everyone remembers that iconic speech from the movie Jerry Maguire, the one that ends with: "You... complete me." How romantic, right?

Wrong. Sure, the notion that your soulmate is a person that completes you -- makes you whole -- sounds wonderful on the big screen, but the reality behind that idea is frightening and one of the biggest reasons for the climbing rate of divorce, particularly the second time around.

You may be a part of this epidemic, but instead of succumbing to same fate, try beating the odds. Overcoming this hurdle could be as simple as redefining what it takes for you to do your part to create a healthy relationship.

In a healthy partnership, it takes three to tango -- two "I's" and a "we." The notion of "we" is talked about all the time, but often the strength of the "I's" are overlooked. Without two healthy "I"s, there can be no successful "we."

An underdeveloped "I," or sense of self, can likely lead to reliance on your partner to assume your responsibilities as well as indirect and distorted ways of expressing your feelings. Your life is not like a movie so why should you expect your relationship to be? Misunderstandings will occur and fights will break out, but instead of looking to your partner as the sole reason for your relationship ups and downs, you must examine your "I" in order to understand your contribution to the problem.

Follow these steps to help strengthen your "I" and get you back on the path to a healthy "second-act" partnership.

"Get Grieving"

Grief seems inevitable when you have lost your partner, but in reality you might want to skip the grieving process because it hurts so badly. Instead of embracing it, you may find yourself circumventing the pain in any one of the following ways; quickly find a new partner to "replace" the old; develop psychosomatic symptoms, such as headaches; engaging in compulsive behaviors, such as drugs, alcohol, or overspending. What you must understand is that by foregoing or replacing grief, you are limiting your ability to trust and be open to another loving relationship, the very opposite of what you are seeking. In order to develop a secure and intimate bond with your second-act partner, you must let go of your first.

"Get Brutally Honest With Yourself"

Unlike movie characters, none of us are perfect. When relationships end, you may be very tempted to focus on your partner's wrongdoings or shortcomings. You might even have some legitimate complaints. When trying to understand the collapse of your "we" it is much easier to talk about your partner's intolerable behavior than it is to focus on your "I." The reality is that the only way for you to heal and honestly assess your "I's" contribution to the relationship collapse is to look within.

Chances are pretty good that your underdeveloped "I" brought some maladaptive dependency needs to the "we." Perhaps you were clingy or "codependent" and looked to your spouse to figure out what you needed because you didn't have the confidence in yourself. Did you find yourself thinking that you partner had to change in order for the relationship to get better? Or, were you more "counter-dependent" and resisted true intimacy with your spouse, always distancing yourself when your partner wanted to get close? Did intimacy cause you anxiety? Did your fear of abandonment cause you to short-change your "we?"

"Get Going"

Now that you've taken ownership of some of your vulnerabilities and inadequacies, there are several additional steps you can take to strengthen your "I." First, you might take a trip down memory lane to explore your family of origin and the roots of your insecurities. Next, after looking closely at your parents' way of interacting with you, likely you will see parallels between some of your childhood baggage and behaviors you brought to your adult relationship. Finally, you must identify the behaviors you need to change and do the hard work to make them happen.

Now, the rewards! For all of your hard work, you are the proud owner of an empowered "I." You have perfectly positioned yourself to seek out another empowered "I." Together, both of you will upgrade your "we" and develop a lasting second act. Remember -- a relationship is only as good as the two secure "I's" in it.


Author of the recently released book, "Who Am I Without My Partner? Post-Divorce Healing and Rediscovering Your SELF," Deborah Hecker, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist with over 35 years of private practice experience. She received her Master's Degree from Columbia University and her Ph.D. from The Union Institute. In addition, she is certified as a psychoanalyst and has extensive training in the following areas: addiction counseling, grief counseling, collaborative practice and mediation. For more information, please visit

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