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Relationship Advice: Grieving Before Going On

Q. I got married for the first time when I was 20, and it lasted less than two years when my wife left me for another guy. The day my divorce was final, I left for college and have not spoken about it since. Now, five years later, I've just graduated college, started a great job and will be marrying the woman of my dreams within the year. I should be happy and excited about my future, but I find myself getting more and more depressed, and now I'm even scared to get married. What in the world is wrong with me?

A. You didn't use these words, but I think you're asking: "How can I be feeling this way?"

My question to you is: How could you not be feeling this way?

You got married at 20, an age when most of us don't have a clue about how to do this marriage thing. This is why the failure rate for marriage at age 20 or younger is 85 percent. Your ex-wife left you for another man. That hurts, and not just a little bit. You immediately dived into college and tried to forget about the hurt. Sometimes that works, but most of the time it does not.

Now college is over and you're getting ready to try marriage again. So, again, how could you not be feeling depressed and scared?

There's at least two major issues here:

You are struggling with a delayed grief reaction, not having dealt with the loss of your first marriage; and, as you prepare to get married again, I bet you are more than a little frightened that all the bad stuff will happen again.

1. Delayed grief reaction.

Divorce hurts. Betrayal hurts. Not talking about it hurts, too.

Congratulations on your degree and all the hard work it took to get it.

But you still have a little bit more work to do, even though it's in the past. There are two things we need to do with the past - make a place for it, and put it in its place, which is behind you. You have to do the first one before you can do the second. If you don't make a place for the past, it comes back to bite you, which is what is happening now.

The good news is that you don't have to go through a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth to put this behind you. First, allow yourself to feel the sadness. Remember, this stuff hurts. Admit to yourself that you lost someone and that hurts. Talk to someone about it - a trusted friend or family member, a pastor, or even a counselor.

After you have talked about it, try this trick. Picture a movie screen. Divide the screen in two, vertically down the middle. On the left side, picture your ex-wife in black and white; on the right hand side, picture you and your fiancee in bright, bold colors. Now, begin to imagine the picture on the left getting smaller and smaller and more and more blurry, until it's about the size of a postage stamp. Next, imagine the picture of you and your fiance filling the entire screen in bright, bold, vivid colors.

This is a good exercise for helping you move from grieving the past to living in the present and looking forward to the future.

2. Fear

I hope you have chosen a mate a little more carefully this time. The older we get, the better we tend to be at picking a partner. That's one reason why the older you are, the greater the chance of a lasting marriage.

But don't depend on just having chosen better. There are two other steps you need to take. First, get your hands on everything you can about relationships, marriage and being a great husband. We're lucky that we live in a society where we have access to so much education about relationships.

Finally, if you and your beloved have not already had some premarital counseling, do so. Good premarital counseling can significantly increase the chances of success in marriage. You can learn so much about each other as well as tools to help deal with the challenges that come to all marriages.

In your case, it also would be a good place to voice some of the struggles and concerns you are having. I urge you talk to your partner about your struggles because she already knows there is something going on; she just doesn't know what it is yet.

It's better to let her know it has nothing to do with her than let her think otherwise.

Visit for tips and tools for creating and growing a great relationship. You can also subscribe to our f*r*e*e 10 day e-program on how to enrich your relationship today, from relationship coach and expert Jeff Herring.

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