My girlfriend and I are thinking about getting married. We are in our early forties and have never been married. We both had lousy childhoods, we have each had relationships that ended disastrously, and we are both incredibly anxious about taking this step. I know from reading your books that you talk about "core thoughts." When Erin asked me if I was happy, I said that my core thought is that there is always someone better. She got very upset about this and accused me of trying to sabotage our marriage before it begins. But I believe in being honest, and I had answered her question honestly. Do you think we should risk getting married when we both have histories of bad relationships? We really do love each other and we've been together for four years, but sometimes I think that I (we) can't do this.
-Barry in Tucson

In our opinion, marriage could be a good step, but only if you fully understand and accept the reason why it could be good for the two of you personally. Marriage is a new beginning, so one way of looking at your situation is that the two of you have traveled down a road together and that road has taken you about as far as it can. Now you need a new path--one that leaves behind as much as possible of what was limiting about the old one.

You both are aware that you have been carrying a considerable amount of baggage from the past, and we bet that you can each detail the damage quite effectively. What the new road can give you is the opportunity to help each other release the damage and embrace the possibility of lasting love and commitment. To do this would mean that you would have to commit to protecting each other from your individual pasts. You would need to be aware of the ways that you act out your childhood damage toward each other, and you would need to choose to respond differently in the future.

The fact is that you cannot both love and care for each other yet hold onto your damage. You simply can't love and hurt at the same time. So if you were to marry, you would have to consciously decide that you are truly going to start over. Obviously you will slip up and make mistakes, but what will be different is your determination to leave what was not helpful behind. Exactly what must be left behind is something you each must articulate for yourselves. It will not work to voice what you think the other person needs to relinquish. You have probably done too much of that and what you now want is to be able to lean on each other without fear of criticism, analysis, second guessing, or rejection. The new road leads to extended friendship and comfort. It will guide you toward making life easier for each other, or at least not making each other's day more difficult. Again, this is only something that you can see for yourself. You must not call Erin's mistakes to her attention. If you decide to marry, doing something quite symbolic can help you both commit to this new approach, this new road. For example, you might each choose certain possessions that represent the old road--your old relationship together plus your old life before you met--and bury these, burn them, or throw them off of a mountaintop--anything that symbolizes your relinquishing the past and committing to the future. You might also include a written list of attributes, habits, reactions, and patterns that you want to relinquish as well. Leave the old road behind and, through marriage, start fresh.

Good luck to you both!

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