Broken Hearts

Exploring myths and truths about grief, loss, and recovery.

The Absence of Emotional Completion “Sabotages” Marriage

Second and third marriages: Logically, it doesn’t make sense to fail again when in theory you should know so much more the second or third time around. Of course it might make sense if love and marriage were a rationally-based undertaking. But let’s face it, the essence of marriage is emotion, not logic. Read More

Your book...

As one of those broken-hearted in the 40, or 50 percent, or whatever the number is... I just have to say that I would not have survived that first year without the Grief Recovery Handbook. When I picked it up, I had no idea I would benefit, but I was so broken that I figured it couldn't hurt. And the lessons apply to anyone who has ever suffered any loss or been hut in any way.

That and Eve Wood's The Gift of Betrayal are my first recommendations to anyone going through midlife divorce. Thanks for writing, your gift to me was priceless. Truly, Lisa

The Grief Recovery Handbook

Dear Anon,

Thanks for your kind comment about our book. We know from tens of thousands of units of feedback that it has, and continues, to help people every day. There are over 700,000 copies in print. And just think, in 1986 when John released the first, self-published version, people said no one would be interested in a book with the word "grief" in the title.

Warm regards,

Russell -and for John

I don't believe divorcerate's

data. I once read, and can't find a link to (I'll keep looking) that an analysis of the ACTUAL percentage of marriages was done by taking the actual number of marriages and the actual number of divorces from between 1960 and 2000. Instead of the way it is usually calculated by dividing the number of marriages in a given year by the number of divorces in a given year and averaging that out.

In the 40 years from 1960 to 2000 -- 61% of those who had ever married during those 40 years were divorced by the year 2010. Those were first marriages. This, the researchers said was the only way to determine the true divorce rate.

I personally don't think that's a bad thing. I do think we should look at what Denmark and those countries are doing differently than us. Mainly, it seems to be that they marry less and since marriage is the leading cause of divorce, that would certainly lower the divorce rate.

This statistic that 75% of

This statistic that 75% of second marriages fail varies state by state in the US and by country the rest of the world.

Here is a UK artivle claiming second marriages are indeed happier.

divorce rate

I think the increasing rate of divorce with each additional marriage makes perfect sense. I know very few people who seem completely satisfied with their marriage. And the ones I speak to most openly and frankly are well and truly dissatisfied. That said, no one's leaving, yet. It's a leap. It takes faith and courage and no doubt some willingness to be selfish--to be honest enough to say I'll only live once and my own needs and happiness are important and worth shaking things up over.

It's hard for me to imagine that once you've come to that conclusion, gotten over that hump and left your marriage, that it wouldn't be easier to do again. If you felt it was the right thing. What shocks me is not that someone who's been unhappy and done something about it is more willing to make that choice to divorce again. It's surprising to me that someone who's been unhappily married would ever wed again.

divorce rate

Divorce doesn't make you good at marriage, it makes you good at divorce - thus second and third divorces do happen at a higher rate than might be expected.

Again, if you don't take actions to "complete" what was left emotionally unfinished in earlier romantic relationships [whether formalized by marriage nor not, you are most likely doomed to repeat the failure.

Warm regards,



That was exactly my point. Someone who's learned it's better to leave than live unsatisfied is more likely to leave the next time they're unsatisfied. I'd hardly call that a failure.

Repetition Compulsion

which is what I think Mr. Friedman is talking about. People either repeat what they know or attempt to undo it, and often both at the same time. Patterns emerge from repetition. We don't exist in discreet, experiential increments since we live on a time continuum. We bring our past into our present, then to our future until it becomes our past. I agree that without settling our experiences by gaining perspective and increasing self-knowledge, we will repeat scenarios which we create to manage thoughts and feelings that stem from the past. Marriage is the crucible where we meet ourselves with another. What metal comes out of that meld is what we bring of ourselves and our individual histories. The quality is based on what gets poured into the mold. I think divorce stats from second and third marriages are so high because so many people have not clarified, reconciled and cleared themselves of things that need to be dealt with internally. They remarry too quickly, expecting it will be different and better even if they aren't. And now, I have to sit and think about the first real boyfriend I ever had and what that relationship taught me.

Hi CJ, Well put -

Hi CJ,

Well put - particularly: "... what we bring of ourselves and our individual histories."

The key to dealing with unresolved grief, as well as not replicating it, is to go back and complete what is unfinished for us within our unique histories, which is what allows the possibility of change, and with that the ability to choose differently [and better]; as well as give us the possibility of acting differently ourselves within a relationship.



Divorce Rate

Hello Russel, your article on The Absence of Emotional Completion "Sabotage" Marriages is spot on. This is my third marriage and for the nine years my current wife and I have been married. I have been and am victimized daily by her in ability to be honest about her true feeling. She tell me often that she can't even be honest with her close girl friends who often look to her for guidance. I have gone through grief recovery and it has changed my life and made me whole. My wife has too, but she did not get complete with some things from her past and they are sabotaging our marriage. I am starving for intimacy at a deeper level with her, but we can't get past her fears of being honest. She pretend she ok or alright with decisions, conversation, etc. but her facial expressions, body language, and action/follow through tell a different story all the time. I have done all i know how to do to help her deal with this issue. But, for my own physical and mental health I feel I must move on. Again Russel, your article his the nail on the head for me. Peace

Divorce Rate

Thanks Anon, Yes, people rarely change at the same rate, pace, and depth, even when they both have access to our program - or any other disciplines for that matter. The other reality is that we can never really help anyone else. The help they get and take is the result of their choices,not ours, no matter how much we love them. Best, Russell

Divorce Rate

Thanks Anon, Yes, people rarely change at the same rate, pace, and depth, even when they both have access to our program - or any other disciplines for that matter. The other reality is that we can never really help anyone else. The help they get and take is the result of their choices,not ours, no matter how much we love them. Best, Russell

Better late than never at 58

I think I might have died of a broken heart if I had not read and worked in the book(s) and taken your class last year. I grew up in a very abusive alcoholic home and married at 19 primarily because, for the first time in my life, someone seemed to want me. That marriage lasted 9 years + 2 children. I left because I could no longer tolerate living with someone who put holes in walls, fought in bars, and threatened suicide. 6 years later I remarried and had 2 more children thinking I finally had a loving and stable family and my children had a fether. 16 years of betrayal and abuse later, I left but waited 8 more years for him thinking he meant it when he said he wanted to work things out - then he married someone else.

Working through your program has helped immensely. I no longer cry most the time and feel such despair about life. I also have my sense of humor back. I also see that I did indeed marry into familiarity - most importantly my own tendency to play victim or martyr and make someone else responsible for my happiness and reality.

Better late than never at 58

Hi Sharon, Yes, the old myth is that we marry our mother or father, but the reality is that we marry what we're familiar with - the good, the bad, and sometimes the ugly. Really pleased to hear that you've gotten yourself back including your humour. Hugs, Russell

Repeating the Past

I've been in several long-term relationships in my life - ranging from 3 to 8 years- and after each one, I try to identify the crucial issues and to a) either change my own actions or b) look out for the 'types' I usually pick. It hasn't seemed to help. As life goes on, and I get older, I find people are definitely less trusting and afraid to give a relationship their all. With the inevitable result that they fail.

repeating the past - how to break the cycle

Hi Clare,

We agree with your conclusion, but not necessarily with your reasoning. Although it may sound simplistic, we believe that subsequent relationships fail because either or both of the participants [usually both] are incomplete with their romantic pasts. The inability to trust fully is based on prior unresolved hurts, which dictate caution so as not to get hurt again. Of course that backfires, having exactly the opposite of the desired effect. If relationships are based on trust and honesty, but either or both participants hold back for fear of getting hurt, there really is no chance for long-term success.

Your ration and logic about looking at your own actions within prior relationships, and analyzing your “picking” criteria, are noble, but by your own admission, haven’t altered the outcomes. Even though those are excellent things to do, they do not
substitute for getting emotionally complete with your priors.

Keep this in mind: “In a crisis we go back to old behaviors and old beliefs.” When we go into new relationships, tucked away in us may be the fear of getting hurt again, with the implicit suggestion that the new, potential partner will not be trustworthy. And the game of self-sabotage is already in place.


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may quote other posts using [quote] tags.

More information about formatting options

Russell Friedman is Executive Director of The Grief Recovery Institute, and co-author of The Grief Recovery Handbook, When Children Grieve, and Moving On.


Subscribe to Broken Hearts

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.