Friday, February 24, 2012

Grateful for Expert Marriage Guidance

Ours has been a rocky road over more than three decades of marriage.
But we are grateful we have stayed together and avoided the trauma of divorce. And now at this mature stage of life we are enjoying the sweet rewards of a loving, supportive partnership and a close intact grown-up family.
Our struggle and perseverance has been worth it. We are grateful to several brilliant books we’ve studied over the years that have illuminated the dynamics of marriage and explained the source of conflict and pain.
It is rare for couples to stay together happily long-term without expert guidance, knowledge and a commitment to personal awareness and growth.

The books that have sustained us on the rocky road, which I heartily recommend, include:

*Getting The Love You Want and Keeping The Love You Find by Harville Hendrix;
*His Needs, Her Needs and Love Busters by Dr Willard Harley;
*Why Marriages Succeed or Fail and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman;
*How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, Love Without Hurt and Living & Loving after Betrayal by Steven Stosny;
*Personality Types and Wisdom of the Enneagram by Don Riso and Russ Hudson and
*Effectiveness Training communication skills through the ETIA (Effectiveness Training Institute of Australia)

These books have been our salvation. They have explained clashing communication styles, biological sensitivities based on gender, personality differences and the alternating emotional states of attachment, disconnection and rejection that we all cycle through.
These books have taught us core values such as forgiveness and compassion and letting go of hurts and resentment and a host of practical skills.
I believe every couple should commit to learning and growing rather than clutching at divorce as a panacea (which clearly it is not from the countless divorcees who are still crippled by bitterness and blame for the Ex years later). Nor should a couple accept an unhappy marriage.
It is possible to learn to love well.

Here is a post of the Love Without Hurt boot camp we did in Washington DC in 2011. I wish you a happy, fulfilling marriage that lasts a lifetime.

Finding Love Again

One of the worst things you can do to your husband is psychoanalyse and pathologise him.
With every self-help book I pored over, I was exhilarated to find a new label. He was ‘reactive’, ‘defensive’, ‘hyper-vigilant’, ‘fearful avoidant’ ‘immature’ with ‘arrested development’, ‘passive aggressive’, ‘covertly hostile’ and quite simply out to ‘sabotage’ my happiness.
We had regular flare-ups. I would approach him for understanding and reassurance or just try to discuss a benign issue and he would resist and retreat. But the dance didn’t stop there. I pursued him and the hurtful exchange escalated.
Charged with the searing pain of rejection, I would retaliate with a screaming diatribe and inevitably end up a crumpled heap on the bed, howling and sobbing, grief-stricken.
The cycle was debilitating our health and derailing our stability. At these agonising low points I was full of misery and despair and he was full of anxiety and shame.
Our marriage seemed almost hopeless and we felt helpless to stop the habitual flare-ups. But we also knew we had so much goodness going for us; a deep devotion, a wonderful family we adore, our shared history and an exciting future if only we could crack this vicious little nut.
In over three decades together we had amassed an imposing stockpile of grievances, bad habits and emotional wounds that were opened up to bleed with every ferocious clash.
During the lull between fights we stood back and surveyed the smouldering mound of emotional debris and glimpsed the glowing coal of fierce and pure love struggling to stay alive and re-ignite.
We had to solve this problem. Like a comic knight, I’d been riding my horse called Hope on a desperate quest for decades. We had tried an assortment of marriage courses. But none of them could explain the deeper dynamics, the underlying dark forces of relationship destruction.
I finally ‘discovered’ Dr Steven Stosny. I like to imagine that I personally discovered the master. Actually Oprah did, and so did thousands before me. I devoured his books and blogs and knew in my heart this was IT.
Dr Stosny cast all labels aside and revealed the simple truth. We were both consumed by chronic resentment; a potent brew of accumulated anger laced with a burning sense of unfairness that poisons love.
The only catch for us living in London was that Dr Stosny’s couples boot camps are held in the States, in Maryland, outside Washington DC. Still we figured it was worth the cost of the flights and accommodation if a three-day training could save our marriage and our sanity.
So mid-March, as spring was tentatively breaking through the winter gloom, we grasped the nettle and boarded the plane on our way to transformation.
The room was full of stressed couples as desperate as us for respite and reprieve. They had come from all over the States and some from other parts of the world.
Dr Stosny has soft brown eyes, a kind face, and a warm, honeyed accent peppered with a quirky sense of humour from his New Jersey upbringing and Italian heritage. He is not a tall man. But he packs so much knowledge of psychology and biology into his compact form he fills the room. In a smooth, fluent delivery, he held us enthralled for endless hours as he unravelled the tangled mess of our marriages.
As he says, handling each other with care is not that difficult. Rats would get it and stop harmful behaviour instantly but humans persist in doing the same dumb stuff expecting a different result. To be fair, humans are at the mercy of unconscious triggers rats don’t have.
Through extensive research, Dr Stosny has uncovered how the Automatic Defence System (ADS), or fight or flight instinct, is easily activated in the enmeshed relationship of the twosome.
The ADS is continually activated by an underlying shame and fear dynamic with a gender twist that explains why husbands and wives don’t ‘get’ each other and inadvertently trigger each other’s vulnerabilities.
Females are biologically wired with fear of three things: isolation (rejection and disconnection from loved ones); physical and psychological harm and deprivation of security and comfort.
Males are biologically wired with shame about being inadequate or a failure. They are keenly sensitive around their rating as a provider, protector and lover. If a wife wants to hurt her husband she only has to taunt him about his poor performance in any one of these roles.
And so the dance begins. A wife inadvertently ‘insults’ her husband and he fires up or withdraws. She feels rejected and pursues him and he gets more defensive and lashes out. She is scared and feels unloved and retaliates with criticism, sarcasm, name-calling and put-downs that further increase his shame.
The cycle of fear and shame can escalate and spin wildly out of control until you are both thrashing around in intense emotional turmoil and disconnected from each other, seeing each other as an opponent, or worst still, the Enemy.
The endless cycle of painful flare-ups and stand-offs and disconnection leads to a build-up of resentment that becomes toxic. You blame your partner for ‘causing’ your emotional pain. You see him or her as the problem, instead of recognising that the feelings are happening within yourself.
Blind to your own faults, you start to psychoanalyse why he/she is doing this to you and reach for self-help books, advice from friends and even seek counselling and therapy. But all the delving into childhood issues does not solve the puzzle of why you react to each other in such a crazy way.
And you feel guilty and ashamed because your bad behaviour with your partner behind closed doors is out of sync with who you are in the rest of your life; a rational, capable and caring human being!
As Dr Stosny points outs, the problem is not so much psychological as physiological. The ADS becomes hyperactive, set on high alert, on a delicate hair trigger. It keeps going off constantly like a faulty smoke alarm and needs to be disarmed and re-set.
The ways you behave when triggered will depend on the habits entrenched in your relationship, originally adopted from the template laid down in your formative years from watching your parents. If your parents were expressive, fiery and explosive or conflict avoidant and prone to shut down, you might role model on their example. Or you might have a temperamental leaning (towards fear-based flight or anger-based fight) to do the opposite of your parents.
The extent to which your ADS is over-reactive to fear and shame triggers will depend on the intensity of your unconscious Core Hurts (formed through unresolved traumas and past wounds). Dr Stosny is specific about Core Hurts, which he lists as feeling disregarded, unimportant, accused, guilty, devalued, rejected, powerless and the very deepest hurt is either feeling inadequate or unlovable.
But exciting news! Dr Stosny has not only cracked the nut of why the madness happens, he has devised a solution; a way to give up blame and resentment and the cycle of outbursts through managing your own emotions and accessing a much better part of yourself that can override your destructive instincts.
He helps couples develop compassion for each other’s vulnerability. Dr Stosny defines compassion as simply: “Caring when your partner feels bad with a desire to help.” (Guys, ‘help’ does not mean fixing the problem, just listening, understanding, empathising, consoling and soothing).
Compassion allows the couple to stay connected and calms a woman’s fear of rejection and isolation and helps her lavish her man with nurturing and the appreciation, tenderness and support he craves.
Compassion is the most profound form of love that surpasses dizzy infatuation and will sustain you through a lifetime together. Once opened, like a beautiful flower, a compassionate heart will enrich everyone around.
Dr Stosny helps couples cultivate compassion through practising HEALS. The process re-programs the neural pathways in your brain to take a different track. When you feel resentful, angry or anxious you stop and experience the Core Hurt that has been triggered then you access your Core Values.
Your Core Value Bank comprises eight components; Basic Humanity, Meaning and Purpose, Loved Ones, Spirituality, Nature, Creativity, Community and Acts of Kindness.
By daily accessing and adding to your Core Value Bank you strengthen your goodness and can love yourself and solve problems from this compassionate, powerful state of mind rather than from the distorted, weak state of resentment, anger or anxiety.

Dr Stosny says compassion is empowering. My husband and I have discovered this is true. Just a week after the boot camp my intense feelings of hurt and disappointment, frustration, anger and judgements and Andrew’s anxiety, walking on eggshells, defensiveness, resentment and blame have evaporated as if we have woken up from a bad dream.
We are feeling connected and attuned to each other. We have fallen in love again and celebrated with two days sight-seeing in Washington DC where we didn’t have one argument! A miracle!
We are committed to practising the HEALS process 12 times a day for six weeks to re-program our brains. Real change comes not from learning external skills, but from the inside.
We are grateful for finally finding the way out of painful interactions back to true love, care and compassion.

Dr Stosny runs Compassion Power boot camps for couples at the Wyndham Gardens Gaithersburg Hotel in Maryland, United States every six weeks.

He also runs boot camps in Perth, Australia. Contact

Dr Stosny’s blog Anger in the Age of Entitlement is featured on the US Psychology Today website

His best-selling books include How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It (co-written with Dr Patricia Love); Love Without Hurt and The Powerful Self. He is currently writing Toddlers In Love.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kicking the Co-dependence Habit

Marriage should never mean becoming two halves of a whole. Being a healthy couple requires two fully developed individuals to unite to complement each other, not complete each other.

It is the distinction between the inter-dependence of working together smoothly as a team and co-dependence, where you are psychologically crippled.

In inter-dependence, you rely on each other for support in everyday life but not to fill in missing parts of your character. It is never too late to discover the difference and correct an imbalance.

Andrew and I have been a couple since our early 20s when we were barely formed as independent adults. When the baby arrived we fell into traditional roles. I played the Earth Mother at home on a little farm we were house-sitting while Andrew got stuck into his first teaching job. The whole time I was pegging out nappies on the line while carrying my baby in a sling, I was straining inside to return to the newspaper office as a cadet reporter, where I had just began my career as an intrepid Lois Lane.

It was the classic inner conflict of the ambitious young woman in her 20s, wanting maternal and relationship fulfillment while also longing to forge a professional identity and make her mark on the world. I was a self-styled feminist, always banging on about my need for independence but not realising I was merely expressing the forces of a developmental stage; I was trying to grow up.

And here we are in our early 50s, three decades later, and we are still struggling to grow up! Not just because we are eternally infantile Baby Boomers but maybe because habits get fixed in a long-term marriage and require awareness and deliberate effort to change.

Yes I certainly did return to my interrupted career when my toddler was happily launched into pre-school and I did go all-out to become a responsible adult and was promoted to Women’s Editor at the tender age of 29. Well it seems tender now, looking back!

We both worked hard through our 30s. We moved interstate, from one end of Australia to the other, had another baby, got top jobs and both earned good money while juggling the demands of parenthood, as you do in your turbulent 30s. You think the stresses will never ease off and while striving and struggling like you’re climbing a mountain, you yearn to reach a plateau to draw breath.

When the plateau came in my 40s, with our son having left home for Uni and our high achiever daughter still excelling her way through high school, I decided dramatically to opt out of the proverbial rat race and throw myself into studying psychology; seeking answers about human nature and the meaning of life. Little did I realise that by giving up a full-time income, I was not only losing social status but tipping the precarious balance of power in my marriage.

For an entire decade, Andrew became the main provider, with me scraping up a minor income as a counsellor and freelancer and no matter the depth of knowledge I gained in all my intensive studies, I was still playing second fiddle in the financial arena.

I made my contribution by making savvy decisions about investing in property and project managing the building of two houses but somehow the bigger picture didn’t rate against making a reliable weekly income. Meantime Andrew grew more and more stressed under the weight of the lop-sided financial burden.

‘Co-dependency’ is a system operating between two people whom have a dynamic of ‘co-dependence’ where one person is dependent and the other person enables the dependency by taking excessive responsibility and playing the role of the ‘co-dependent’. However, I discovered when I teased it all out, that it is possible for one partner to be dependent in certain areas while the other partner is dependent in other areas.

To my shock, I had become dependent on my husband in three keys areas; finances, technology and transport. Not only did I rely on him to bring home the bacon, I had appointed him my personal IT guy and screamed loudly for help every time I had a computer problem and I relied on him, with my defective sense of direction and tendency to day dream while driving on motorways, to chauffeur me around.

In exchange I had become solely responsible for the three survival needs of food, shelter and clothing. I did all the grocery shopping and all the cooking, despite my pleas for him to muster some culinary interest and whenever we entertained, I morphed into the unpaid caterer and waiter. To my disappointment and frustration, having friends over for dinner or a barbie was no longer an enjoyable double act as attentive host and charming hostess.

I took on the role of Homemaker Extraordinaire, in charge of furnishings and décor and most of the housework (Credit where it’s due, Andrew is a whiz with the floors and embraces ironing his own shirts as a form of meditation!)

And finally, with Andrew’s aversion to shopping and minimalist approach to garments, I have even ended up shopping for his clothes! How embarrassing!

Okay, so you spotted the typical gender division of labour. Did you also spot the unhealthy parent-child roles? Yikes! Yes I felt like mummy in all of this feeding, tending to the home and dressing him.

Yes, sadly for romance, co-dependence is not sexy. (Although I must clarify, we have always been fully adult and hot to trot in the bedroom!)

Co-dependence in marriage is in fact a continuation of the dynamic between the parent and child who has not properly experienced the ‘Separation’ or ‘Individuation’ stage of development, when the young adult breaks free from the parental hook-up and forms healthy boundaries. This is especially true in the case of teenage sons growing up with single mums.

Another symptom of co-dependence, is ‘enmeshment’ where one partner has such porous boundaries they absorb their partner’s emotions and moods and take her/him personally instead of seeing their partner as an imperfect individual.

The enmeshed partner even takes on the other’s opinions and mannerisms and doesn’t experience him or herself as a clearly-defined individual asserting their own views, feelings, needs and wants. The submissive, non-assertive partner often feels controlled, dominated and downtrodden but fails to take responsibility for speaking up.

So now I am in midlife and asking why has it taken so long to figure this out? It seems that growing up is a lifetime process. I am seeking empowerment in money-making, handling computer problems and finding my way around.

I want to become a whole person, a complete woman, responsible for every facet of life. Andrew is going back to basics to master food, shelter and clothing and together, as capable individuals, we will make of strong, equal partnership. That’s the plan. Very sexy.

Finding the Middle Ground

We have been together 30 years but only recently I have noticed a fundamental difference between us. My husband likes to write really tiny in pencil. I write big and bold in thick pen. I scoop dollops of luscious raspberry jam onto my toast. He scrapes on a smidgeon so you can barely taste it. He can become absorbed in a jigsaw puzzle for hours. I consider puzzles and games a waste of my precious time. He can immerse himself in minutiae, the fine details of life, poring over receipts and counting pence with intense earnestness. I am a Big Picture gal; gravitating to the broad sweep of grandiose visions, always dreaming and scheming about future adventures.

I am a yeller and screamer. I express my feelings loudly with drama and eloquence (I like to think my diatribes are eloquent!) When I crack, I will stomp through the house, ranting and raving with a strong urge to kick walls, throw things and pound pillows. When not mad, I am at times sad. Not only do I cry big blobs of tears at other people’s tragedies, I can weep and wail and moan and sob when really miserable and grief-stricken. This is good for the soul. My husband, in contrast, tends to repress and bottle up his emotions. Long-gone traumas lie dormant in the recesses of his mind, rendering him frozen in shock with a stockpile of unresolved inner pain. Any psychologist worth their salt, will tell you, this is damaging to the soul.

My husband is conflict-avoidant whereas I am always spoiling for a fight. You might say I lean towards the aggressive, while Andrew leans towards the passive. Andrew can’t stand arguing and becomes defensive and reactive instead of fired up by the prospect of a hearty stoush. This is very annoying! Whereas me, I relish the parry and thrust of a fiery debate. I am confrontational; which I like to call, euphemistically, ‘honest’. I say what I think. I can be blunt as a meat axe.

When it comes to decision-making, I am the dominant one. He would hate to be described as ‘submissive’ but this is the technical term, also called non-assertive. So throughout our marriage I have made demands and forcibly insisted on my own way and Andrew has given in, to keep the peace. I am not boasting. It is not nice to be on the receiving end of a controlling bully. (I am sorry to admit I learnt this from my Dad.)
The tendency to embrace one or the other of the two extremes is expressed in personality traits.

The delicate Pencil Person has immense patience with fiddly things. They can do stuff like crafts and fine drawings and they have the ability to learn complex skills like how to hold a tennis racquet correctly and gracefully place a serve in a precise spot or how to play a musical instrument with dexterity and finesse. They have the disciple to practise every day for years. Me, the Bold Scribbler, I have little patience and I’m easily frustrated. I get bored with repetition. I couldn’t possibly do the same thing over and over, like play scales every day, ever if the worthy reward is to master the piano. I’d love to tickle the ivories, but really, it’s just too hard! What am I good at then, besides arguing? Good question. I’ll get back to you on that one!

And so we have the extremes. The shy introvert/the flamboyant extrovert; the careful and cautious/the adventurous and reckless; the frugal and parsimonious/the generous and excessive; the person who is fearful of change and prefers the security of familiar surroundings and predictable routine/the person who thrives on new experiences, variety and spontaneity.

How do you explain all this? These extremes have a biological basis in the flight and fight mechanism in our brains. When we perceive a threat, humans, like animals, react with the instinct to either flee that crazy scene or stay and brawl. The Automatic Defence System (ADS) activates the adrenal glands in the kidneys to secrete adrenaline and noradrenaline to give us the prowess to run like the wind or fight like a demon.

The choice to flee or fight evokes different emotions; fear or anger. These become our core underlying emotions. Anxiety and fear drive nervous types while frustration and anger drive fiery types like me.

We get wired up with a tendency to one or the other. It starts when we are young when faced with threats: hearing mum and dad argue, being berated or hit by an angry parent, being bullied at school, being the victim of some form of neglect or abuse. We adopt coping strategies as children. These coping strategies and defenses are about survival and are essentially selfish; designed as self-protective tactics or a means to get our needs met.

Then we grow up and it’s not appropriate to be purely selfish. We have to learn to be considerate and care for others. But the well-worn coping strategies kick in. As adults entering a relationship, each partner assumes their position at the start and a booming voice only they can hear issues the command ‘Let The Games Begin!’

You might have two anxious, passive, non-assertive types huddled in one corner who both avoid expressing their emotions and confronting problems, and as a result, both avoid intimacy. Or you have two hot-headed, volatile, abusive partners who slug it out, verbally or even physically, like Liz and Richard in the classic play, Who’s Afraid of What’s Her Name.
More often, you end up with polar opposites, one at each end of the spectrum; the passive, submissive partner and the aggressive, dominant partner. In the beginning, the dominant one will test their partner to see what they can get away with. Secretly bossy types want and need boundaries. When your partner doesn’t set boundaries, your pushiness and selfishness becomes a habit and a pattern.

What to do! What to do! Usually the dynamic goes on for some time and each partner becomes rather comfortable with their role until the arrangement runs into trouble. The submissive person, with the pay-off of being able to blame their partner for all mistakes, starts to feel simmering resentment at constantly being told what to do. The dominant partner grows weary of making all the decisions, like a benevolent dictator, and fed up with being responsible for steering the Relation Ship (sorry, corny pun!) solo.

The goal of any mature relationship should be for both partners to give up their extreme positions and shift to the middle ground. As rational humans, not animals, with our bulging neo-cortexes and free will, we don’t have to be run by our instincts. Intelligence can override our automatic reactions.

With enough determination and practice, it is possible to learn the skills of negotiation and shared decision-making. The anxiety-prone, submissive partner has to muster the courage to become assertive and the easily-angered, aggressive partner has to learn to tone it down and dial it back to find the middle ground of healthy assertiveness without resorting to bullying.

Psychologist Steven Stosny identifies three modes of underlying motivation: avoid, attack or approach. The real challenge in our relationships is to move out of avoid or attack modes into the peaceful space of the approach mode. This is easier said that done; after a lifetime of hard wiring. That’s why Dr Stosny’s Bootcamp re-trains couples in the gentle art of being undefended and approachable and how to develop empathy and compassion for each other.

I yearn for the gentle sanctuary of the middle ground. Developing mutual compassion is the only hope for overcoming our animal instincts and allowing us to become fully human.

Why Would A Sporting Hero Sabotage His Marriage?

WHY would a sporting hero, a man blessed with spectacular success, wealth and fame, the adulation of millions of fans, sporting brilliance, a beautiful, loving wife and three gorgeous children, risk all this for sordid sexual encounters? Why would he bother with something as inane as sex text messages?

One theory about infidelity claims that the husband, or wife, is not getting all their emotional needs met by their partner and seeks to get them met outside the marriage in an affair. This is the motivation for many affairs; however there is another reason, which explains bizarre, destructive sexual behaviour.

It might simply be that a man is childishly self-centred and believes he can have whatever he fancies, oblivious to consequences. However sometimes past sexual abuse in childhood is the underlying cause of sexual misconduct as an adult.

Someone who has suffered sexual abuse in childhood or adolescence can have a deep-seated, unconscious compulsion to sabotage and shame himself or herself. Having been sexually violated at a crucial development stage, the person carries buried shame and “acts-out” this shame in grimy sexual encounters, which have nothing to do with love, and everything to do with re-enacting the abusive scenario.

The shaming is accompanied by a compulsion to sabotage their life, driven by a faulty core belief such as “I don’t deserve love, happiness and success” and a desire to punish themselves for their ‘badness’.

The acting-out adult might experience a “transference” on the sex partner, who represents the abuser. They might even repeat a ritual of what was done to them as a child.

In other cases, the adult who was neglected as a child might experience an infatuation with an ideal mother figure or father figure, who represents all the affection and attention they didn’t get growing up. The idealised figure is fantasised as a “rescuer”, who will meet all their needs and transform their life.

Someone who is sexually abused as a child often grows up to believe that the only way they can get affection and attention is sexually. They sexualise most relationships and have poor boundaries.

Another psychological driving force for promiscuity can be that the victim of abuse becomes the perpetrator, acting out retaliation against men or women for their past suffering.

Most of these motives are unconscious, as the acting-out adult goes into a kind of “trance”, where all rationality is lost, without any concern for the consequences and harm being done to those they love.

Given the statistics that as many as one in four girls and one in six boys experience sexual abuse, there are millions of adults who might have “a secret second life” of acting out their sexual shame. They often get away with it for a while, by deception and cover-up or confess to a forgiving spouse, however the crunch usually comes when their destructive behaviour becomes intolerable.

Casual sex is promoted in our culture through music, movies and the mass media and made widely available through cyber sex, pornography and sex services, making it easy for vulnerable people to stray.

Our popular culture lacks fundamental values and morals about sexuality and the media presents hypocritical, double standards when it acts shocked and outraged by the sexual misconduct of our heroes.

Not all victims of sexual abuse become promiscuous. Many go the opposite way, suffering a deep-seated fear and aversion to healthy, normal sexual intimacy with their spouse.

But sexual abuse is just one kind of abuse. I believe that no one grows up in a 100 per cent healthy, functional family. No parents are perfect in every way. All families are unhealthy and dysfunctional in varying degrees, in different ways.

Most adults can look back on their childhoods and realise they experienced some kind of “abuse” in the broad sense of the word. Abuse includes the categories of physical, emotional, sexual and neglect, where basic needs are not met.

We can all act out unresolved childhood issues in adult life, using the faulty beliefs and coping strategies devised by immature minds. No one can be smugly judgemental about the bad behaviour of others. Who can cast the first stone?

Sporting heroes, like many thousands of others, need professional intervention to help unravel the underlying causes of sabotaging behaviour and start on the inner journey of healing and change, which takes much courage.

A life crisis can be either a catalyst for honest self-appraisal and growth or a downward spiral into further destructive acting out. I hope that the person who goes off the rails seizes the opportunity for growth. They would have to make a genuine commitment to never ever hurt their partner and family again.

I feel empathy for the pain the betrayed partner endures when they discover their husband or wife is acting out. The trauma can be their opportunity for growth by embracing forgiveness and compassion and staying together through the healing journey.

Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban Face The Reality of Marriage

Gorgeous Aussie super star, Nicole Kidman fulfilled her dreams of a fairytale wedding and is besotted with spunky new husband, Keith Urban. All Australians took delight in their love story and wished them lifelong happiness on their Big Day in Sydney in June 2006.

But the question back then was: What will happen when the euphoria of the wedding and romantic honeymoon is over and the newlyweds face a barrage of real-life challenges?

The first challenge was initiating Keith into the role of step dad to her two children, Isabella and Connor, then aged 13 and 11.

The idolised country singer was 38 when he finally got hitched and previously had little to do with children and instant fatherhood came as a shock.

When the couple had baby Sunday Rose in July 2008, their parenting challenges were compounded. Adjusting to the demands of a baby as well as older children could easily have sent the freewheeling star into a tailspin.

However it seemed the former wild lad was committed to changing his habits and had checked himself into the Betty Ford Centre in California in October 2006, just months after his marriage, and in January 2007 publicly declared that he had completed rehabilitation.

It must have been tough for the newlyweds to confront the demon of his drug addiction and clearly it was his priority to get clean before he embarked on the responsibility of fathering a baby.

Just as other famous dads such as Brad Pitt are revelling in fatherhood, the country crooner’s heart has been melted by the irresistible charms of a newborn. He has defied the cynics and shown he was ready to settle down into family life. However no doubt it has been a steep learning curve.

A radiant Nicole Kidman, now 42, is clearly devoted to her baby daughter, who’s just turned one. After a spectacular movie career, the acclaimed actor is enjoying her happiest role and making fellow Australians proud.

The couple continue to face the delicate business of dealing with her ex, the legendary Tom Cruise and his partner, Katie Holmes in juggling access visits of the two teenagers. As all divorced parents know, this requires flexibility and the ability to negotiate. It can take years to learn these skills.

Like all of us, the couple lugged their emotional baggage into their marriage. Nicole has some deep emotional wounds from her painful divorce and, depending on how much healing she did in the years between, she brought a high degree of vulnerability into her second marriage. Keith is no doubt required to offer lashings of understanding, consolation and reassurance.

Nicole was also insecure about his past sexual experiences as much as he was rattled by her former love life with Tom. In the three years since their wedding, they needed to cut all psychological ties with past partners and not succumb to curiosity or comparisons. Instead they needed to focus totally on each other while they strengthen their sacred bond of intimacy.

Perhaps the most serious challenge the couple will continue to face is Keith’s past drug addiction to cocaine and alcohol. As addicts know, it is never really past. Staying clean and sober is a daily battle. Does Keith possess the motivation and support to kick his destructive habits? If not, the sweet and fragile Nic is in for a rocky ride.

When cravings take over, addicts are self-centred and obsessive. The desire for the drug obliterates all other priorities, even devotion to a new wife and baby.

Former girlfriend, Laura Sigler has told media that Urban has an addict’s personality; an insatiable desire for the next high. With intoxication comes other irresponsible action. She claims he was unfaithful several times during their eight-year relationship.

This will be Nicole’s nerve racking challenge; having a monogamous marriage with the scruffy Bad Boy of country music.

By all accounts, while growing up, she was role-modelled a functional, faithful marriage by her parents Antony and Janelle.

Nicole has often expressed her strong moral values and would be devastated by adultery. Sadly, she is on shaky ground here. However Keith appears to be genuine in his commitment to reform.

Next challenge. Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman are bankable business brands under immense pressure to maintain their status through public visibility. For her, it means churning out movies and for him, it means a punishing touring schedule of concerts and festivals across the States and turning out quality albums and hit singles. The award-winning singer-songwriter has produced several solo albums, which have sold more than five million copies.

How will they juggle their demanding schedules and egos? Will they graciously play the support role when the other one is in the spotlight, the way Keith did at the 2006 Shanghai Film Festival (when Nicole was feted as a mega star and the locals didn’t know him from a Four X stubby!)

Nicole would be smart to keep close to her volatile man by emulating fellow Hollywood star, Gwyneth Paltrow, wife of Coldplay rocker, Chris Martin, who is happy to put aside her ego and follow the band with her two children in tow.

Girlfriend, Renee Zellweger has warned Nicole about the strain of touring commitments, after her marriage to country singer Kenny Chesney crashed and burned after just four months.

Lastly, what about the compatibility of these two Aussie icons? Granted they share the common ground of growing up in Australia however Nicole’s upbringing was prim and proper while Keith was a cheeky kid who dragged his guitar around the humble township of Caboolture, with a burning ambition in his young heart to move to Nashville and become a country star. It is a dream he has fulfilled since lobbing in the States at 25 and getting his breaks with country greats such as the Dixie Chicks and Garth Brooks.

It is a dream he is not about to give up, even for the most beautiful, successful, famous and wealthy actress the Land Down Under has ever produced.

And what about Nicole? Like many actors, when she is not playing a role, our Nic is not sure who she is. She is frail and insecure under the façade and maybe Keith, a headstrong larrikin, battling his own demons, will be the ultimate challenge. But, like all Australians, I hope that their powerful love will conquer all.

Celebrity Splits -The Aniston-Pitt-Jolie Triangle: How NOT to Marry, Divorce and Have Children

Now that Angelina Jolie has bagged her man in the old-fashioned way, the cosy Jolie-Pitt relationship is a done deal and fait accompli.

Meanwhile ex-wife, Jennifer Aniston is still reeling five years later from the rapid developments since their separation in January 2005 and is left to console herself with a series of unsuccessful relationships, while nursing her longing for motherhood.

Aniston and Pitt had attempted reconciliation in March 2005 but filed for divorce that same month. It was rumoured that Jolie was involved with Pitt during their attempt to save their marriage. The divorce was finalised just six months later.

The Aniston-Pitt fairytale wedding in July 2000 was a $1 million extravaganza with 200 guests, 50,000 flowers, a gospel choir, four bands, spectacular fireworks and a lobster and champagne feast.

It is a tragedy that, for all their wealth and fame, celebrity couples don’t get professional help for their marriage problems. The starry-eyed couple could have avoided the agonising ritual of divorce by consulting the best marital therapists in the States. They could have even consulted megastar television psychologist, Dr Phil.

Instead they suffered public heartbreak and role modelled distorted values and dysfunctional behaviour to the whole world. Although fabulously rich, famous, successful and photogenic, these idolised people are, in reality, still fragile human beings.

Aniston’s parents had a stormy marriage that ended in divorce and she is quoted as saying that during her marriage she often felt “fear, mistrust, doubt and insecurities” and that “when your parents split up, it’s impossible to delude yourself about fairytale romance and happy endings.”

Without psychological help, she was doomed to repeat her parents’ marriage failure. No amount of wealth and adulation will protect celebrities from their own vulnerability and the suffering involved in a bitter break-up.

For all of us, famous or ordinary, breaking up a marriage or long-term committed relationship, where the emotional bond is deep, is nothing short of a tragedy. It is not a flippant decision, as our contemporary culture tends to suggest.

In chucking in their marriage so soon, Brad and Jennifer demonstrated to the public, especially impressionable young people, that marriage is disposable and if it’s not peachy you can bust up and instantly find a replacement.

Instead of working to reconcile, Brad Pitt got entangled with Angelina Jolie. His motives, I suspect, were multi-faceted. Suffering shock, rejection and anger over conflict in his marriage, he was vulnerable to the offer of comfort and escapism with another woman. He was boosting his battered male ego, and also lashing out at his wife, in his pain and confusion. Add to the mix, lax morals and he was unable to resist temptation on the film set from a manipulative seductress with her own agenda to trap this desirable prize.

Jolie is an aggressive woman who goes hard after what she wants and she won the cat fight for Hollywood’s most desirable leading man. And now the glossies are glorifying her as the doting mother, despite her role in destroying a marriage.

Brad Pitt, although ecstatic at becoming a father, was the victim of entrapment, the oldest female trick in the book. At a time of emotional turmoil, he blundered into parenthood, the most important decision in life.

While the talented actor is swept up in his role as Dad to an ever expanding brood, six at last count, he continues to be racked with guilt over the pain he inflicted on his ex-wife and admits to being burdened by a ton of emotional baggage.

Aniston’s story of humiliation was quickly relegated to old news as she tried to salvage her self-esteem with a fling with actor Vince Vaughn, her co-star in the movie, The Break-Up and previously Pitt’s best mate! That relationship is now history and she has since dated a series of celebs, including the much younger singer, John Mayer.

Rebound relationships are usually driven by retaliation and a desperate grasping at comfort to ease the pain of rejection and loss. It is far healthier to allow time to grieve. Starting a new relationship immediately on top of the suffering of a break-up is not an ideal foundation.

For relationships with traumatic beginnings, the future will always be uncertain. Statistics show that relationships born out of affairs or on the rebound often fail.

All of this dysfunctional behaviour only deepens the emotional damage and unresolved issues between the original couple. We saw two people, Pitt and Aniston, acting out their pain instead of dealing with it.

Angelina Jolie, revered for her adoption of orphans, has built her new family on a foundation of opportunism by jumping into another couple’s marriage crisis and swooping up the vulnerable Brad Pitt. All is forgiven and forgotten by the media and public eager to move on and devour the next tasty morsel of ‘news’ served up by that mesmerising enmeshed couple, ‘Brangelina’.

From all reports, Jolie is the dominant partner who wears the pants, a gross disappointment to the legions of female fans who swoon over Pitt as the ultimate rugged macho man. It seems he’s just your regular hen-pecked guy who lives in fear of being berated by the missus.

Working in the movie industry is dangerous to marriage. It requires an actor to live away from their partner while filming for long stretches of time. It throws them into romantic and sexy scenes with other attractive actors. Movie stars and other performers tend to fall in love with their own image and narcissism makes it difficult to consider someone else, especially when the partner left at home. That’s why Gwyneth Paltrow is wise to accompany her husband, singer Chris Martin on tour with his rock band, Coldplay.

But sadly, the much-publicised marriage failures of celebrities infect our culture with skewed values, which goes unchallenged in the media.

So here I go with some old-fashioned, counter-culture Dr Phil-style advice. It is wrong to leave your marriage for no good reason, just because it gets too hard, you get hurt or you wish to pursue your selfish interests. Couples experiencing conflict or frustrated that their needs are not being met within the marriage should make every effort to get help.

Ideally, divorce is only acceptable for serious reasons, in cases of abuse, where after the intervention of good professional help, the offending partner refuses to change.

If a couple decides to separate, the ethical track is to allow ample time for reconciliation, up to two years. It is wrong to get involved sexually with someone else while in a state of separation (and use a third person for comfort or retaliation).

If reconciliation fails and they divorce, then both partners and children need to achieve emotional closure before divorcees become involved with new partners.

The correct way to start a new relationship after divorce is the cautious, respectful, old-fashioned way. Start dating and get to know each other, and if you like each other’s character (not just physical appearance), enter into courtship and only become intimate once you are in a committed relationship, ideally married.

This responsible, ethical course of action protects everyone from exacerbating the pain of divorce.

Meantime, the rest of us should refuse to follow the bad example set by movie stars and other celebrities. In matters of marriage, they are usually not reliable role models.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Right Way To Break Up

Don’t get involved with someone who is separated. Make sure they are divorced. This is a controversial view in the ‘All is Fair in Love and War’ mature-aged dating game.
However when you pounce on an ‘ex’ who is still reeling from a fresh break-up, you are asking for trouble. Staying clear until a marriage is legally done and dusted, is the only way to avoid heartache all round.
As for the separated partner, give yourself time to consider reconciling or, if there’s no hope, work through your grief and reach emotional closure before getting involved in a new relationship.

In these times of disposable relationships, there is a common belief that the minute you break up you are instantly free to start another intimate relationship. It is a shallow code of conduct exploited by predatory opportunists who pounce on the fragile casualty still reeling from a fresh separation.

What is the right way to break-up? How long should you wait before getting involved with someone else? What are the issues and consequences to consider?


The objective facts are your partner has left you, she is gone, you’re on your own and you’re free to do what you like. You’ve probably been fighting and miserable for months leading up to the bust-up and she assailed you with a barrage of cruel insults. She screamed that she was leaving in a fit of despair over seemingly unsolvable problems. She flounces off, spitting the word ‘separation’ and callously started calculating the assets. So doesn’t this mean it’s over and final?
Well that might be the surface layer of your predicament but there are three other deeper layers to explore.


If you have been married or in a committed relationship for a long time the emotional bond or attachment between you runs deep. Even if you’ve been in conflict, you are still deeply attached and most likely still love each other. It can take years to break the bond and become detached and reach a state of indifference towards your ex-partner.

There are six stages you need to go through to heal from a break-up: Shock, Hope, Anger, Despair, Indifference and finally Growth. It is a long and harrowing journey, as any divorcee will tell you.

If your partner does not take time to process the loss but jumps into an intimate involvement with someone else straight away, you will be shocked to discover that the emotional pain is excruciating, traumatic and heart-breaking; every bit as devastating as an affair. While you are still emotionally bonded, the heart and mind perceives the new involvement as a betrayal and violation, no matter what the objective facts and your official status of ‘separated’.

Breaking up a marriage is no trivial event. It is a shattering loss and tragedy for the couple and children, not matter what their age; youngsters, teenagers or grown-up. If you are to separate, it is wise and responsible to experience your grief, which includes a gamut of emotions such as anger, guilt and sorrow before ‘moving on’. You have to rant and rave and let the tears flow and do some serious soul-searching and explore faults in yourself and the marriage that led to the break-up. To feel your buried pain leads to an experience of empathy for those you’ve hurt, which brings on remorse and a cry for forgiveness and commitment to reform. This is how people heal and grow. This process takes at least two years and requires the help of a support group and a trustworthy counsellor.

Some couples separate and become ‘estranged’. They go their own ways, move away and lose track of each other. They sever the emotional ties and even though they haven’t gone through the formality of legal divorce, they are emotionally divorced and will be unaffected by their ex-partner’s new involvement. But for most couples, the contact with each other continues on a daily basis because of their ties through their children; making it is so much harder to reach emotional closure.

It seems obvious to anyone who understands the impact of loss and grief that breaking up a marriage and family is a horrendous wrench. So why would anyone choose to get involved with someone else immediately they separate?

It is called ‘acting out’. Rather than having the courage to feel the emotional pain, many people repress, deny or avoid the explosion of overwhelming feelings inside by taking action. It is a coping strategy but one that is destined to lead to more damage.

What is going on when someone acts out? If you are the one who has been left, you suffer the agonising injury of rejection and abandonment, like a stab to the heart that is intensified by evoking memories of childhood rejection. The pain can be almost unbearable. The first reaction is shock, which makes you unable to think clearly. The rejected partner will latch onto someone who ‘wants’ them seeking comfort from the blow of being unwanted by their partner.

The rejected partner is also seething with rage and an impulse to retaliate and hit back after being hurt and humiliated. He wants to prove he won’t be controlled by his absent wife and becomes like a defiant, rebellious adolescent, hell bent on revenge. The victim becomes the perpetrator.

His emotional needs are raw. He rushes to find a substitute for sex and his male need for admiration. He wants to be reassured that he’s still attractive and is susceptible to flattery; a sitting duck for a manipulative female who plays to his weakness. He wants to be wanted and, if he is co-dependent and lost without his wife, he needs female direction. Without a strong moral code, he will succumb to any offer when another woman’s availability collides with his vulnerability.

One confused husband explained: “My wife didn’t want me. She took off. She’d been putting me down and criticising me for a long time. I suppose I was flattered that a woman found me attractive.”

When someone experiences a trauma, they can become psychologically unhealthy and regress into being self-centred, childish, driven by needs and repressed pain and capable of harming others. They lack empathy and compassion for people they hurt, see others as objects to meet their needs, cannot see another person’s agenda and they are incapable of considering consequences. People in the grip of acting out in a rebound relationship are usually in this low-level state.

As in an affair, this type of infatuation is not real love. The attraction is temporary and based on the fantasy that you have found an ‘ideal partner’ who can meet all the needs that your ex-partner failed to meet. But it is fake and deluded as each person stages a brilliant performance turning on their romantic charms. The attraction is not based on knowing a complete person with all their faults. Middle-aged ‘singles’ are desperate to impress for the narcissistic satisfaction of a conquest that proves they can still attract someone. Demonising both ex-partners heightens the appeal of the new lover. They sympathise with each other, bask in bitterness and blame of their ex-partners and enable each other in denial of their own flaws that contributed to their marriage failure.

‘Sexual passion’ is also temporary and phoney based on the thrill of illicit sex, the novelty of someone different and desperately trying to prove your prowess. The fantasy image of your new catch and an inner cauldron of rage, anxiety and shame fuel the intensity.

Once the sexual involvement has started it is difficult for the entrapped man to extricate himself. He is driven by a belief he won’t get back with his wife and will never have to report his guilty secrets. He is out to prove that his ex-wife or the concerns of his children, family and friends won’t control him. He becomes hooked on the sordid rendezvous’ and takes the free sex while he can get it, without considering the future. And he will be increasingly pressured by the Other Woman to continue the relationship and make a commitment. She has entered a vicious contest with the ex-wife and is out to win.

The wife doing the leaving is also in an unreal state, hyped on self-righteous anger and psychologically unstable. She is likely to act out rather than process her loss and face the magnitude of her actions. She will be driven to hit back at her husband for all the wrong he did her and at the same time desperate to find someone new. If she acts out sexually she will make reconciliation extremely difficult.

Why would a woman get involved with a husband who has just separated? A woman who gets involved with a man fresh from a marriage break-up is exploiting and taking advantage of the couple’s crisis and his vulnerability.

Often the divorcee in her forties is panicking about her age and fading looks and in a frantic rush to trap a new partner for herself and new Dad for her kids. In the highly competitive second-time-round singles’ market, she is willing to try all the tricks in the female handbook of male manipulation. Driven by desperation, she is likely to resort to using sex to get leverage over a new man. If he is just separated she will ruthlessly exploit the opportunity.

I know of one woman who was so calculating she make reconnaissance visits to the couple, who were good friends, knowing they were having problems and even set up meetings with the husband on the pretext of business. She waited until the couple split, then within two weeks of the wife leaving, invited the husband for dinner and laid her trap. She swooped like a vulture and yet she defended her actions claiming he was free and available.

The predatory woman jumps into sex immediately believing she will obligate the shell-shocked guy into a committed relationship. She also schemes that her intrusion will hurt and outrage the ex-wife and ensure she doesn’t take her husband back. It’s her attempt to put a final nail in the coffin of their marriage. However often this strategy backfires because the wife experiences a painful wake-up call and realises how much she loves and wants her husband and his fling becomes a catalyst for their reconciliation.


The second layer to consider is allowing time for the possibility of getting back together. Because divorce is such a tragedy, if you are caught up in the turmoil of separation, allow time to work through the tangle of emotions, get help and do some soul-searching and growing. Give yourself time to miss each other and realise what you’re at risk of losing.

Why would one partner leave? It is common for someone to hit a point of their psychological development when they assert their independence and freedom. This is called the ‘separation’ stage or individuation stage of development, which first happens when the toddler ventures out from the safety of mum to explore the big, wide world. It happens again when the teenager separates from mother to form his or her own identity as a young adult.

If this ‘separation stage’ does not happen, an adult can stay in a state of enmeshment with their mother and project this dependency onto their partner. If an adult has never properly developed as an individual, there’s a strong impulse to break free. This can hit in your 30s or 40s and your unsuspecting partner can be on the receiving end of your delayed attempt to grow up and psychologically leave your mother! It is common for men to feel smothered and controlled by their wives when they haven’t fully psychologically separated from Mother. And sadly, they think that leaving their wife is the answer when really they need to do some psychological work in maturing.

Sometimes the wife or husband is acting out being a five-year-old throwing a tantrum, packing their suitcase and running away from home to get mum and dad’s attention! Or they are an over-grown adolescent in a middle-aged body leaving home for the first time. Sad but true.

A marriage bust-up can also signal another type of psychological baggage. You can be struck with the compulsion to repeat parental patterns. When your child reaches the same age you were when your parents split up, a husband or wife will often follow the template laid down in the recesses of their brain and set about leaving their own marriage. Only by becoming aware of these unconscious issues and processing the repressed pain, will you avoid repeating your parents’ destructive patterns.

Separation can represent the culmination of underlying problems in a marriage. The impasse over an on-going conflict: over where to live, career moves, one partners’ upsetting or abusive behaviour and refusal to change, parenting styles, sexual problems or financial worries. The specific issue is usually symptomatic of an inability to solve problems and reach decisions together; an inequality in the power dynamic with one partner dominant and the other submissive. It might be a passive husband who can not assert himself and show leadership or a passive wife who is unable to set boundaries with a domineering mate.

Another chronic problem is a fabric of dishonesty, secrecy and leading disconnected lives without openness, transparency and trust. When two people drift apart and do not air their complaints, they can turn to outsiders and start plotting escapism, instead of dealing with problems.

One partner can leave as a result of festering old wounds, past disappointments or past infidelities that have never been treated and healed. Only forgiveness can free you from the chronic ache of old injuries. Letting go of bitterness takes conscious effort. If betrayals are stockpiled over the years they become like toxic waste that eventually erupts.

A failed marriage is always the result of emotional needs going unmet for a long time. Acclaimed marital therapist, Dr Willard Harley outlines 10 core emotional needs of the husband and wife: sexual fulfilment, affection, honesty and openness, conversation, recreational companionship, an attractive spouse, admiration, domestic support, financial support and family commitment.

Clearly separation indicates something is wrong with the marriage or with the inner world of one partner or both. Separation does not have to be a disaster. It can be a catalyst and opportunity for healing. Marriages can recover and thrive.

It is important for friends and family to encourage a separated husband and wife to take time to come to their senses and commit to reconciliation and do the necessary work on themselves and their marriage to heal old wounds, learn new skills and fall in love again.


The Christian view holds that having sex with someone else while married is adultery. There is a reason why adultery is considered a cardinal sin and prohibited in the Old Testament’s Ten Commandments and why Jesus was so strong in condemning adultery. Jesus considered sex within marriage a sacred act and knew that adultery caused immense pain. He warned people against causing each other such heartbreak. Jesus was first and foremost full of compassion for human suffering.

Television psychologist, Dr Phil is also in agreement with this moral stance. He started emphatically when confronting a woman in a relationship with a ‘separated’ husband that a man must be divorced before you enter a relationship. He maintains that it is wrong to become involved with someone who is separated. The marriage must be legally over and the divorce final before someone becomes available.

Such strict morality is not about preventing your fun. It is based on protecting all parties from pain; ex-partners, yourself, the new partner and your children and her children. If you rush in, you might enjoy immediate gratification and sooth your bruised ego but at a huge cost of becoming trapped in a new relationship you didn’t rationally choose. If you dump the rebound woman when the novelty wears off and her flaws inevitably start to show you will suffer lasting guilt and regret. Meantime two sets of children and ex-partners also suffer from the hasty involvement.

Sex is not as flippant as our culture would have us believe. Sex creates a bond of intimacy that once experienced is painful to break. To have a casual fling then discard the Other Woman to return to your wife is deeply damaging for her. It will take a long time for her to recover from being used as a bit player in another couple’s drama.

Why should you protect an ex-partner from pain, if she has king hit you by leaving?
Human nature has a strong urge to retaliate when hurt; to get revenge out of vindictiveness. To retaliate against your wife with sexual betrayal, even stooping to having another woman in your marital bed, amounts to abject cruelty, a shattering sledgehammer blow. I spoke to a wife who described her husband’s act as like having her heart smashed into a thousand pieces. Another wife said: “I know I did the wrong thing by leaving but I wasn’t prepared for his instant involvement. It’s like he took a knife and gutted me. We got back together but it took ages to recover from the sense of violation, the blow to my confidence as a woman, the insecurity. It was hard to believe he could be so cruel to someone he loved.”

It is up to you to be the bigger and better person even when you are treated badly and not simply treat your partner badly back. This is the true measure of character. Not striking back out of animal instincts or giving tit for tat out of childish reactivity is to behave from intelligent adult ethics. Have the courage to experience your pain and take positive steps to reconcile rather than act out.

Behaving with ethics and integrity is to honour and respect your marriage and the years you have shared, in the same way you would honour your wife’s memory if she died. Your partner might be hurting you by leaving but she has also loved you and cared for you, shared your life, dreams and struggles and raised your children and deserves a second chance.

If attempts to reconcile fail and you end up divorcing, the mature and moral man wants to see his ex-wife set up in a practical sense, having sorted out houses, material possessions and finances and he ensures that both of you and the children are secure and stable before starting a new life. This is the decent way to behave.

During separation and after divorce, allow ample time for soul searching, grieving and achieving emotional closure. Remember the process takes at least two years. For some it takes many years. Once you have worked through a healing process, then you are ready to start dating in the old-fashioned way. Go out and meet new people but get to know someone’s character before jumping into bed and committing to a new relationship. Maybe when you’ve done the hard yards, you can find love that is real and honourable with someone else and not based on compounding the trauma of break-up.