As a relationship researcher, I'm well aware that a TV reality show isn't the best way to find love. Nevertheless, I'll admit that I'm a Bachelor/Bachelorette junkie. I'm a sucker for the romantic adventures and first dates. I love to see what questions the bachelorette asks the men, who gets eliminated and why, and which pairs have chemistry that won't quit.
This season, for the first time, the featured bachelorette, Emily Maynard, is a single mother with a 6-year-old daughter (Ricki) who is trying to find love "again" the third time around. On the program, she consistently says, "I'm finding someone for me and Ricki!" I'm glad that the program executives decided to finally pick someone like Emily, because many single parents share a common fear that they won't be attractive to a new partner.
Some quick background: Emily's first love, Ricky Hendrick, was a professional racecar driver she had been dating seriously for four years when he was killed in a plane crash in 2004. A few days after his death, she discovered she was pregnant with their daughter Ricki. Her second love was Brad Womack, the bachelor from season 15, who picked Emily for his wife. Rumor has it that Brad called it quits last year because he was not ready to be a "father" and take on parenting responsibilities.
Despite the fact that Emily's heart has been broken twice, I can state with absolute confidence that Emily can find love again. How do I know this? Because in my long-term study of marriage and divorce, which has been ongoing since 1986 and is funded by the NIH, I have seen many brokenhearted singles find happiness with a new partner, seemingly against all odds. In fact, 71 percent of the divorced singles in my study found love again.
I have studied hundreds of divorced spouses to see if we could learn their secrets of repartnering success. Our research team uncovered some significant findings that Emily and other singles can put into practice, which are presented in my latest book, Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship.
Here are six strategies that Emily can try that will get her in the right frame of mind to look for and find love again with someone new. Some of these strategies are relevant for widows or widowers who want to find love again, others are for those who are divorced, separated, or single again after a long-term relationship has ended.
1. Believe and it's more likely to happen.
In my landmark study, singles who believe remarriage is possible when they're dating are more likely to find a committed relationship than singles who think "I'll never get married again," or "I'll never find love again." Interestingly enough, the single women in my study were significantly more optimistic about their dating life (and were more likely to believe that they would find a new partner) than the men -- even those with children!
Emily is a great example. She seems to believe that finding love again (and not just love, but a husband and a "father figure" for Ricki) is possible through the reality show process. She's wonderfully optimistic and hopeful. That belief and positive attitude greatly increase her odds of success.
2. Take your emotional "temperature."
My study found that if a single has unusually positive feelings, memories, and associations, they may be over-romanticizing the former relationship. On the other hand, if the person has unusually negative responses to the ex (tenses up, frowns, or feels strong negative emotions when the ex's name is mentioned), it affects their readiness to be open to a new person. In both cases, such strong emotions shape their current behavior and attitudes toward intimacy, commitment, trust, and other aspects of love and dating.
Emily appears to have unresolved anger toward Brad, which is why she seems to overreact to any of the bachelors who say something negative about her daughter or about fatherhood. She will need to find ways to get over Brad completely so she doesn't make incorrect assumptions about the men she's dating. She also has strong, positive feelings about her late fiancé Ricky, which is understandable. She doesn't have to talk about Ricky on her first dates, but as she becomes closer to these guys, she can. The goal is not to be so emotionally attached to the past that she can't live in the present.
3. Find positive ways to release those emotions.
If one doesn't release excess emotions about one's former love partner, it hinders the process of finding a new one. Some constructive, positive ways to release emotions associated with an ex or deceased partner include: vigorous physical activity; staying active and busy with friends and family; doing volunteer service that takes you out of your self-absorption; engaging in creative activities that allow you to express yourself; screaming your anger, frustration, or grief in a safe place, like your car; hitting and kicking a mattress; and writing down your feelings in a letter to your former partner -- then throwing it away.
Emily really has two sets of unresolved emotions to purge. One is associated with losing her fiancé ("It's not fair. If only...").The other is about Brad ("Why did you lead me on? How could you do this to me and Ricki?").
4. Change the object of your blame for the breakup.
More than 65 percent of divorced individuals in my study blamed their spouse for the divorce. ("He/she did something wrong.") Women blamed their exes more than men did. But spouses who were able to share responsibility for the breakup or who blamed the relationship itself ("We grew apart," or "We were ill-matched.") fared better in terms of emotional healing and were more likely to find a new partnership. When you can replace an "I" or "he/she" statement with a "we" statement, your emotions about your partner will quickly diminish.
When Emily thinks of her past relationship with Brad, in order to move on and find love again, she too needs to blame the relationship. ("It's understandable. We can't always know if we're right for each other until we've been together.") If she continues to feel bitter and blame Brad for their breakup, her anger will prevent her from being present to find new love again.
5. Avoid excessive emotional and memory triggers.
You can't rewrite history and completely wipe out all memory of your past, especially if the two of you share children and friends. But you often can take action to minimize objects in your immediate environment that remind you of your ex, as well as people who upset your equilibrium. Scan your home for items that remind you of your ex -- then have a tag sale or donate them. Avoid places where you and your ex used to go -- at least until you have truly moved on. Keep contact with your ex to a bare minimum.
Emily has the dual task of removing triggers that remind her of Brad, while preserving memories of Ricky for the sake of her daughter. However, people who are grieving the loss of a spouse find that it can be a great relief to remove lots of everyday reminders of the deceased -- clothing, personal items, even favorite furniture. Emily has to strike this balance, and I'm confident that she can.
6. Don't go it alone.
After a big breakup or the death of a spouse or fiancé, it's tempting to curl up on the couch with a pint of Ben & Jerry's and wallow in your misery -- and then to sleep all weekend with the shades down. It's okay to grieve, but don't do it alone. Ask for help. Read a self-help book. Seek out the advice of trusted friends and family members who won't mind lending you their shoulder and their ear. If you're feeling really distressed, by all means see a therapist or counselor. A compassionate, neutral perspective can really help.
Emily has taken this idea and run with it! She's shared her grief with millions of viewers, who are all rooting for her. At least, I am!
My study supports the idea that once you are able to feel less, or very little, about your ex, you will be more mentally and emotionally prepared for meeting a new person, choosing new patterns, and discovering a new life. The big message for Emily and others like her is that you can find love again.
For more by Dr. Terri Orbuch, click here.
For more on relationships, click here.
 Terri L. Orbuch, The Early Years of Marriage Project. University of Michigan, Institute for Social Research. Supported by a grant from NIMH (MH41253).