Dear Thomas,
I was recently divorced after a 22-year marriage. I feel I tried everything to make my marriage work and I have been hurt very badly. I would like nothing more than to have a relationship again and to love and be loved, but the trust thing is so hard to overcome. Any suggestions for overcoming this fear of trusting again? Thanks very much.

Dear Cautious,
Certainly it can feel devastating to lose a relationship that you have worked at and have enjoyed for many years. But you have to be careful not to indulge too much in hurt feelings. I suggest you reflect carefully on just what the feeling of being hurt means to you. Does it put more weight on your former spouse for the break-up? Does it hint that throughout the relationship you may have been the passive and receptive one? To get the most out of a divorce and move on to other relationships, you have to ask yourself some hard questions.

Occasionally, I see a marriage in which one person is clearly unconscious, immature, or simply stupid. But most of the time both partners are responsible for the way the marriage went. It's often more difficult for the one who forces the separation than for the one who feels abandoned. The key is not to let this situation get polarized. Own up both to your efforts on behalf of the marriage and to your failures to make it work out.

From your description I can't tell exactly what went on, but I notice your words "I have been hurt very badly." These words tell me that you are identified with the victim side in this scenario. As long as you feel this way, you will be caught in a fog that will prevent you from trusting another person. But if you give up the pleasure of being abandoned-it can be quite masochistic (enjoying pain)-you can become more active and even aggressive, in a good way, in future relationships.

Trust is not a passive thing. You trust with your intelligence and your strength, as well as with your vulnerability. You will be trusting again when you learn the essential paradox about love: You can only open your heart effectively when you are strong and insightful, when you love your own life and take care of yourself.

You describe yourself as cautious. That's a good word for where you are and where you should be. Trust need not be naïve. It can be both open and cautious. Think of this divorce as an initiation, not as a failure, as a gift to you and not as sheer abandonment. Painful rites of passage help us grow up and become more interesting, more lively people. This divorce, painful as it is, is your opportunity. Don't deny the hurt, but don't give too much to it.

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