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“I recently got divorced and want to get back into a relationship, but I’m not sure I would be a good partner for anyone. My self-esteem was very damaged in my 15-year marriage. I know everything wasn’t my fault, but I am one of those people who tends to take on all the blame. I wish I was anyone else but me. How will I know when I’m suitable for someone else to love?”

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Until you learn to love the girl in the mirror, no one else will love her either.

Marriage was never intended to be an institution of blame, ridicule, or annihilation. Oftentimes, however, when one party accepts all the accountability for its failures, the other party willingly transfers it. I’m encouraged, however, in your awareness of character traits you need to work on before entering in yet another round of love. Here are a few exercises you could put into place first.

Stop saying I’m sorry. Now, that’s not forever and always, of course. My intuition tells me that you likely apologize for everything—from a bona fide mistake to the weather. The next time you find yourself feeling guilty for something you don’t own, stop yourself before offering contrition. The best way to break an unbecoming and/or unhealthy habit is simply to cease doing it. Breaking these sorts of routine behaviors will not happen overnight. But if you make a daily pledge to yourself to work on this, you will soon find yourself free of something that keeps you encumbered.

Love who you are. You can wish your life away, but you will always be uniquely you. It’s a good time to reflect on the part you played in the failures of your marriage. I tend to believe a person knows his/her flaws without them having to be pointed out. I will concede, though, that one might not understand how irritating a flaw can become to someone else. Take some time to analyze those flaws you possess that contributed to the demise of your marriage. Then, get a plan on how you intend to change those behaviors. It’s time to polish up those positive qualities you possess and allow them to personify who you really are.

Raise the bar. Examine the aspects of your ex-husband that seemed to rob you of your valuable self-esteem. Make a list of the things you will no longer tolerate from a person who wins your heart. The best way to gain respect is to expect it. Set your standards higher than what you settled for during this past 15+-year relationship. You deserve to be loved and admired. When you are, confidence and self-worth never shrink.

Don’t rush into things. Your recently-divorced status gives me pause. I realize you’ve been devoid of love even before the marriage was over, but charging in for another “trial” relationship too soon is not advisable. Work on you first. Get a healthier opinion of yourself. Learn to accept only your shortcomings and not take on the guilt of the world around you. Decide you love yourself enough to expect to be treated kindly and respectfully. When your head is ready for love, your heart will be less likely to get trampled on.  

Love and marriage should be fulfilling in every way. Neither is always perfect simply because imperfect people are involved. Both work best when the parties involved respect themselves and each other.

Struggling with a relationship issue? Write Joyce Oglesby, and find a solution for life.

Extra tidbit: Three more tips on how to get your life back on track after a divorce.