The best way to avoid divorce, even before you get married, is to understand the power of the “R” word, i.e., rationalization. This is the process of trying to create a sense of logic for something that we know is wrong. Oftentimes it is the quicksand that devours our ability to reason in the first few weeks and months of dating.
When someone asks me to describe my new book, How to Recognize Your Future Ex-Husband in two sentences or less, this is what I tell them. The essence of the book is about understanding the rationalization process and how it obstructs our ability to identify the early warning signs of trouble ahead.
Here are three of the numerous “domains” of dating where rationalization shows up most
Anger: A man who is too angry too often (and too early in the relationship) may be emotionally unstable. Anger can make us feel less vulnerable and will often impersonate intimacy. Genuine intimacy is about trust and feeling safe, and it is impossible to experience either with someone who is angry most of the time. Rage should never be a first-line response. So don’t try to spin it like his ease in expressing anger is indicative of how he feels close enough to be authentic. In fact, if says something like this to you–run–he is definitely a future ex-husband!
Boundaries: While the nature of romance is about the blurring of boundaries (two become one, etc.), it is very important to establish boundaries early on because they ultimately provide a solid foundation in which to cultivate a deeper commitment. One time a friend of mine was dating a man who constantly ate off of her plate and sipped her wine whenever they went out to eat. On the first date she politely told him that she was a bit germ-phobic and didn’t like to share her food or drink. This admission made him feel hurt and put-off, so instead of respecting her request, he continued to sip her Pinot Noir and munch on her pickles and coleslaw. Don’t rationalize that this isn’t a big deal in relation to all of the other wonderful things he does for you. What is most important here is his response to your stated preference. If he doesn’t respect it, he is definitely a future ex-husband.
Money: In our culture, money is the code word for love and power, and we often worship wealth with complete disregard to character. Rich people can be stingy, and often cannot give easily of themselves emotionally. What seems tolerable in the beginning becomes a source of conflict later on. The other side the coin is buying gifts and showing-off. An expensive piece of jewelry on the third date should trigger an alarm. Again, don’t rationalize that he is simply a generous person who shouldn’t be demonized for having affluent tastes. His showering you with baubles or pricey dinners is more about him, and what he needs to do to feel good about him. This is a signal that there may be a huge amount of narcissism looming–a definite marker of future “ex-ness.”
There are many more examples of how this process and the destruction that it leaves in its path. However, it can be averted. If you have been divorced or repeatedly disappointed in love, it is important to understand how and why you succumb to the rationalization process so easily. Here, awareness is everything and can quickly halt unproductive behavior patterns.
Let’s practice. If on the first date he says something like “will the children have your nose or
mine?”–excuse yourself politely, call your best friend, and say “I think I’ve just recognized my
Debra Weiner is the author of How to Recognize Your Future Ex-Husband, and is a Managing Partner of Aventine Co., which produces the annual PAINWeek® national conference.