Explore and repair

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After I got married, I was so depressed that I could barely stand to be alive. I screamed at my husband, cried, avoided him and overate. Nothing made me feel better. Eventually, we divorced. I went to therapy and figured out my issues. Two years ago, I fell in love. He has asked me to marry him. I’ve been anxious ever since. I know I am not the person I used to be, but how do I avoid remaking past mistakes?

You are engaged in the right action right now. The willingness to ask for help in choosing a new path reveals how different you are today. Be grateful for this change. Thank yourself for the courage to step off the well-worn road and forge fresh possibilities.

Let’s examine your first marriage. The intimacy of living with a partner often catapults buried pain to the surface of our lives. Traumas suffered in childhood, adolescence or young adulthood ripen, so we know it’s time for therapy. If we ignore that pain, our issues rot, and we feel as if we are dying. Why would this occur after a couple commits and moves in together? The partnership operates as a safe space for emotional issues to be explored and repaired. When that doesn’t happen, people act out, including in the ways you described.

Of course, you might also have been grieving the loss of independence. The transition from being single to being a partner is bittersweet, like any other new chapter. While embracing life as a couple, you must release your identity as a single person. True partnership demands interdependence. That’s the capacity to depend on someone else and meet his or her needs or desires, even if it means sacrificing your own. To prepare for your second marriage, savor every last second of the single life. Then, step into marriage as an opportunity to give selflessly and to support your partner in giving to you.

After 20 years of marriage, my wife is leaving me for a woman. I am devastated, embarrassed and confused. How did I not know something was going on? Our kids are grown, and all but one has warmed up to my wife’s girlfriend. Was my wife always attracted to women and just pretended with me? Is she having a midlife crisis? Is this normal?

Yes, your fears and questions are normal. Midlife crises do happen. And, yes, sometimes, women (and men) who are not yet free to accept reality pretend to enjoy sex that does not satisfy. Now, please stop obsessing about your soon-to-be-ex-wife. Her actions are not a reflection on your capacity for love or your skill in lovemaking. Focus on acknowledging the end of your marriage so you can embrace this situation as an invitation. You have been called out of marriage. So (to quote the poet Mary Oliver), “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

My daughter and her boyfriend are living together. I remember reading that couples who live together before marriage have higher divorce rates than couples who don’t live together. My daughter insists she is different. What do you think?

Studies show that couples that decide consciously to live together actually have high rates of success, both in cohabitation and in marriage.

Couples who slide into cohabitation—leaving personal belongings at each other’s home until moving in together seems like the thing to do—tend to fail long-term.

The central issue is not cohabitation, it’s commitment. At the core of the commitment is friendship built on communication. A couple that connects emotionally through conversation on a regular rhythm is better prepared for a lifelong commitment than a couple that only has great chemistry. But all three—friendship, chemistry and commitment—are necessary for a dynamic and lasting partnership.

Meditation of the Week

“The worst flaw is cowardice,” says a character in the French film <i>Breathless</i>. What courageous choice do you need to breathe life back into?