We did it! We sailed past the seven-year itch, with a marriage that's full of vision and meaning and connection. Looking at me, radiant in red, smiling up at him in 2011, you would never have doubted it. But had you seen me in my ivory gown back in 1995, you might have said the same thing. Less than a year before that seventh anniversary, I was single again.
What made my two marriages so different? Was it wisdom that comes with age? Sadly, second marriages are even more likely to fail. Why? Because we take ourselves and our lack of relationship skills and our messy baggage into the next relationship, and the next, and the next, until we learn to turn baggage into luggage.
What is relationship baggage anyway? Is it the unsold assets, the children, the ex in-laws? The way I think of it, baggage is anything, said and done, that can't be unsaid, undone, and still stings with a venom that poisons our present.
People will tell you, "It's all in the past. Just move on. Time heals. It's over." There may be truth in those words, but until we leave the pain in the past, where it belongs, then it's not over. Each painful pang brings those past moments tumbling into the present like mounds of rubbish spilling out all over our shiny new lives.
So how do you get rid of the baggage? It takes time, but not just time. Research shows that when we suppress emotion, we also suppress our autoimmune system, setting ourselves up for problems in the future. So we need to allow ourselves to feel what we feel: to feel the shock and grief; to feel it give way to anger and regret; and eventually to feel ourselves let go and heal, as we return to ourselves and the freedom and joy come flooding back. Allowing ourselves to feel the pain is essential to healing fully. So is finding a way not to hang on to those feelings, but to transform them into something that no longer brings up the pain; memories you can live with and learn from.
One of the most powerful practices I learned to help leave that pain behind was a simple little mantra, taught to me by a wise woman, who I stayed with on the edge of the slums of Kampala. "Whenever you have a painful memory, say these words three times: 'I forgive him, I forgive him, I forgive him.' and you will see what happens."
I did what she said and each day for the next three weeks, I forced myself, with every angry thought (which came thick and fast at the start) to repeat the mantra three times. And each day, the memories faded at little, one by one. Boring my brain with repetition, it wasn't long until those sad old days and years became just an occasional whisper of a memory. It was as if I had picked up each ragged and crumpled memory, looked at it, remembered how it felt, learned what I needed to learn, and folded it simply away in my suitcase, ready for a new day and new Love. It happened. I learned. It's over.
So we don't have to bring our messy, painful baggage with us into our next relationship; just our beautiful, playful, creative, loving selves... and a neatly packed suitcase.