Confessions of a Twice-Divorced Marriage Counselor: Love Lessons From Provisional Adulthood


I met my first wife at U.C. Santa Barbara in 1965. I was a senior and she was a freshman. We were both young, but sure we had found the partner of a lifetime. We got married the next year and had a son and adopted a daughter as we had planned. Our marriage lasted almost ten years. Our divorce was contentious and remained so for many years. I remarried a woman I met in the baths at Harbin Hot Springs who slept with a gun under her pillow. Our marriage was incendiary and nearly ended in a violent death. I was lucky to get out alive and so was she.

            My present wife and I met at the Aikido dojo in Mill Valley in 1980, the year after I joined a men’s group, and we’ve been together ever since. She had also been married and divorced twice before. We are still in love, still growing and changing, and still learning how to have a great marriage that lasts through the ages. I hope by sharing our journey, you will find some nuggets of wisdom that will help make your own relationship journey less stressful and more joyful. We look forward to hearing from you and answering any questions you might have for us.

            In order to have a great relationship that lasts through time, we have to understand and come to peace with our past relationships, including what we came to believe about love and life based on what we learned from our parent’s relationship and our own childhood wounds.

            I’ve developed a theory about the stages of life that has helped me make sense out of the challenges we all face in learning to love deeply and well:

  • Stage 1—Childhood. Given the world we live in, most of us will have what are called ACEs or “adverse childhood experiences” that impact our adult health and relationships.
  • Stage 2—Provisional Adulthood. We think we’re adults when we turn 18 or 21. The truth is we enter the “adult world” either doing what our parents and society wanted us to do or rebelling against the edicts. We usually find a partner, make vows about supporting each other through sickness and health, until death do we part, and are disappointed when things don’t work out the way we hoped.
  • Stage 3—Early Actual Adulthood. I don’t believe we even have a chance of becoming an adult until we are at least 37 years old. Since most of us don’t wait until we are 37 to make a long-term commitment to another person, most of us make vows to another that we are not likely to be able to keep.
  • Stage 4 and Beyond—Mature Adulthood. The Years of Learning the Secrets of Real Lasting Love. Becoming a real adult human takes a lot longer than we imagine and learning about real lasting love takes a lifetime.

            My first two marriages occurred in “provisional adulthood.” I thought I knew who I was and who I could love, but I had a lot to learn.

            Periodically, I’ll share what I call “diamond points” that capture some things I have found helpful to remember.

Thinking about the four stages of life and love, it is good to remember:

  • We all have childhood wounds. Remembering them, accepting them, and healing them is important to having successful adult relationships.
  • Although we are responsible for our actions before age 37 when we have our first chance to become an adult, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves for the decisions we make. We should, however, learn from them.
  • We need supportive mentors to become a healthy adult. Accepting that we are only provisional adults until we are at least 37 years old allows us to reach out for support from true elders.
  • Living and loving fully takes time. There are no mistakes, just opportunities to learn. Judging and blaming ourselves and others for who we were before we were adults restricts our ability to learn.

            Sigmund Freud said,

“Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.”

Love and work go together. We all are on a life-long journey to learn about love. We must also find our calling in life and do the work that will fulfill our unique destiny.

            There is a story in the Jewish mystical tradition that the angel Lailah, the teacher of soul wisdom, imparts her wisdom to each baby before they are born. Lailah lights a candle allowing the spirit to see from one end of the earth to the other. We each learn all about life and love and all the things we will do in our lifetime. Just before birth Lailah lightly strikes the child on their upper lip and we forget everything.

            The philtrum, the little groove on our upper lip, is the mark left by the angel and the reminder that it is our job to re-remember what we are here to learn about love and work and all the mysteries of life. We all need mentors, teachers, and guides along the way to help us remember the wisdom that we each have inside us. Learning to love takes time. Be kind to yourself and others.  

I look forward to your comments and questions. Let me know if my “confessions” have been  helpful to you. If so, I’ll continue to write them. You can leave comments at the end of the article or you can write me directly at and put “Confessions” in the subject line. If you’d like to receive our regular newsletter you can join me here.

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