What We Can Learn From Brad and Angelina About Reconciling After a Divorce Filing

In what has become one of Hollywood’s most talked about divorces, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie-Pitt are again making headlines as rumors circulate that they are getting back together. According to TMZ, sources close to the couple say that news of a possible reconciliation is false, citing Angelina’s allegations of child abuse by Pitt as the primary reason why. Following an investigation, authorities eventually cleared Pitt of all wrongdoing. Still, it appears the damage has been done, at least as far as the Jolie-Pitts are concerned. But what about for others embroiled in a divorce? Is it possible for some couples to come back from circumstances and events severe enough to lead one of them to file? The answer is: maybe. Even among the strongest marriages, couples are bound to hit bumps in the road, Brad and Angie included. Bumps can include anything from trouble at work and financial woes to boredom and cheating. How well a husband and wife can find each other again after experiencing these issues among others turns largely on how solid the foundation they built for their marriage early on was. When push comes to shove, a struggling couple may need to dig their heels in deep, right down to that foundation, to survive. If you are thinking about marriage, now or sometime in the future, it is therefore critical to put a strong base in place before trouble hits, not after. Despite counseling clients about how they can disengage from a marriage that is unworkable for them, I also take a proactive approach and teach men and women the steps they must take to build a stronger, more satisfying marriage the next time around. Unfortunately for us, healthy marriage habits are not intuitive. In other words, we are not born knowing how to interact with a partner in a way that will enable them and us to maintain their independence while we both function as a unit. In my newest book, “The Pre-Marital Planner (to stay happily married),” I discuss what it takes to build a stable foundation for a happy marriage and provide exercises for those couples embarking on that journey to help them accomplish exactly that. If you are considering marriage, the first concept you need to understand is that you cannot change anyone, so it is time you stop trying. If you don’t like your partner as he or she is, leave. Now. Getting married won’t cure your dissatisfaction. Instead, marriage will only make it worse. Added stressors like co-mingling finances and problems with in-laws tend to bring other issues to the forefront, and you need to prepare for that possibility today, which brings me to this. If you see a red flag, pay attention because your intuition is usually right. The time before getting married, although a time when you are excited and hopeful for the future, is also a time to be on your toes and looking out for your best interests, not only your partner’s. It is wonderful to be able to give, but if you feel your partner is taking advantage of you now or you are setting yourself up for that to happen, or if you believe your partner is dishonest, you need to address those issues before walking down the aisle. Put your partner first, but not at the expense of yourself. To protect yourself in the ways I describe, you have to love yourself. You cannot feel that way for anyone else (which must happen in a rock-solid marriage) until you love yourself fully and accept yourself unconditionally, flaws and all. If by chance your partner is criticizing you and pointing out all that he or she believes is wrong with you, that behavior should be put at the top of the red flag column, too. Be honest about what you are listening to, both from your partner and from inside your head. In much the same way, also be honest with your partner and yourself about your baggage. We all have wounds from our past, as far back as our childhood. Past loves and issues with our families are among the top culprits. Don’t project such baggage onto your partner. Instead, deal with it. Talk to him or her and, if necessary, a mental health professional. Then discuss with your partner how you feel and how you can heal your past wounds. Be open and honest. Get naked. As the expression goes, the truth will set you free. As for the Jolie-Pitts, only they know their truth. Whether they ultimately decide to divorce or stay together, I wish them and their children comfort.