Divorce Recovery and Your Next Committed Relationship: Want or Demand? That is the question

The history of “listening to your heart” is terrible

We are told to “just listen to our hearts” to find “true love.” However, regardless of how carefully we “listen,” 42% of first marriages, 66% of second marriages, and 75% of third marriages end in divorce.

Logically, we would expect divorce rates to decrease rather than increase with each successive marriage. However, the percentages go up, not down. Why is this? 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 used before in our failed relationships.

Requirements: what people logically need for their relationship to be successful

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

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

As defined by David Steele, a Requirement2 is a “non-negotiable event or thing required to make a relationship 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 her.

Steele uses the metaphor of air and water to describe the requirements of the relationship. Human beings require air and water to live. Having one but not the other will lead to certain death. Relationship requirements have the same quality of needing everyone their requirements are met if the relationship is to last. That is, if you have five requirements for a relationship and only four are met, the relationship will die, sooner or later, one way or another, if it really is a requirement.

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

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

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

A wish is like having dessert after a meal. It tastes good and makes eating more enjoyable, however you won’t die if you don’t have one. He also wants to add fun and pleasure to our relationship, but he will not threaten the relationship if it is not fulfilled.

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

Many relationship problems can be attributed to the confusion of wants and requirements.

So why is the distinction important? The answer has to do with avoiding two types of errors:

1. End a good relationship you should have by treating an unfulfilled want as an unfulfilled requirement, or

2. Maintaining a disaster-prone relationship that should end up treating an unfulfilled requirement as an unfulfilled want.

Close call from a woman

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 would ask him to talk about her feelings. He said no. Over and over again during the nine years they were together, she begged him to express her emotions. She claimed that her father didn’t talk about her emotions and neither would he.

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

Then, six weeks before the ceremony, during an innocent night out with her friends, she met a guy who played pool. They struck up a conversation and he hit her like a bolt out of the blue. She was actually talking about her feelings! He was not only willing to share her feelings, but he actually enjoyed revealing her emotions to her. They talked for hours until closing time.

Out the window went his rationalization that “that’s the way men are” and into his life came the dilemma of what the hell do I do now with a wedding looming on the horizon?

Two weeks before her wedding, she realized that wanting to marry someone who shared her feelings wasn’t just a nice thing. wantbut in fact it was a complete, non-negotiable requirement. Fortunately, she had the courage to break off the relationship before it turned into a legal and emotional disaster.

What was the key to her knowing that her desire to have a spouse who would talk about their feelings was a requirement and not a wish? She asked herself the question: “Now that I know that men may talk about your feelings, will you end the relationship if he continues to refuse to do so?” She reluctantly replied “Yes”. It was a requirement for her, and not just another wish.”

So what is the point?

Finding a good relationship requires chemistry Y brains.

While chemistry speaks from the heart, requirements rule from the head. Attention must be paid to both if the relationship is to stand the test of time.

A persistent problem is that our culture gives us bad advice. It tells us that “true love” must not they require any mental power. Such thinking sinks more than 66% of all new marriages.

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


1David Steele, conscious quotes (Campbell, CA: RCN Press, 2008), p. 301-320.

2 Ibid., p. 337.

3 Ibid., p. 301-320.

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