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Making a List and Thinking about Divorce

I heard today from yet another woman who found herself with a long list of unmet needs, divorced, and then found herself in the same position all over again after a few years with her next partner.

It would be very easy in this position to conclude men are to blame, and they're all alike. Some of the others I've known who reached this point decided after two rounds of this to live alone and keep from getting attached to any of the men they dated.

Lots of these women are following the same dumb path I was on unlike my husband's sudden death woke me up. They commit themselves to a man who meets a lot of their needs -- their current needs. Over time, they notice other needs go unmet. They ask (or nag) their man to meet these, too. He doesn't. He can't. She thinks he can, but his talents, his strengths, his motivations lie elsewhere, and he doesn't feel loving or loved doing these things for her.

So, she leaves. And the next guy she hooks up with is the one who can meet the items on her needs list that she felt so deprived of in the earlier relationship. She feels relief, until she starts noticing all those others on the list, including a lot her first husband or partner had been meeting. And this is where she concludes commitment to a single partner is worthless.

Commitment is not at all worthless. It's a source of some of the best feelings in life. Giving love makes us feel great about ourselves. Being cared for through a grave illness or a job layoff feels terrific. Getting our needs met feels great, if we focus on the ones getting met, instead of the others. And treating your children's other parent as the center of your universe puts you at the center of theirs.

So, what to do with that list of unmet needs? Start meeting them. And enlist your partner in brainstorming strategies for meeting them yourself, instead of demanding he meet them. Want more money? Start a business or take a job or ask for a raise instead of advising him to do any of these on your behalf. Living in his home and feeling like it's not really yours? Start saving up a down payment, because you'll need a place that's worth both the financial value of the current one and its sentimental value to his.

Want to travel and he won't go? Join (or start) a travel club. Want to ski and he hates the cold? Find some skiing buddies and hit the slopes. Don't want to get stuck with washing the dishes any longer? Switch to paper plates. Your anger and resentment over what he won't do is very likely leading him to want to do less for you, not more.

What you need has nothing to do with your marriage. Those needs go with you if you leave. And you could shop from now until your 64th birthday and never find a human being who could and would meet every one of them for you. So, unless he adds nothing to your life at all, pick one of those needs and get started taking it off your resentment list. You'll find your spouse looks a whole lot better without that list between you.

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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