When the past interferes with the present


October 30, 1994|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"Five years ago this month, Neal, my first husband and college sweetheart, was killed when the small company plane in which he and his supervisor were flying crashed somewhere in the mountains of Colorado," says Leah, 29, her blue eyes filling with tears. The two men were returning from a routine check of one of the company's remote power plants when a storm came up suddenly and the pilot got lost in the dense fog. The bodies were never recovered.

Leah thought that by now she would have gotten over the tragedy, especially because she's been happily remarried for three years to Jim. "In the beginning, everything was fine. But lately, the painful memories worsen with each passing day," Leah explains. She's depressed, and continues to have nightmares that Neal will return to find her married. "Some days," she adds, "I just don't know if I can go on."

Leah says Jim, a kind, optimistic man, is a wonderful father to her two daughters from her first marriage as well as to their new baby daughter. Though Jim helped her get over the horror and loneliness of Neal's death, Leah confesses that she can hardly bear to let Jim touch her anymore. In fact, she says, she doesn't really feel close to anyone. "And that horrifies me," she says, "because my own mother was a cold, domineering person. I would never want my children raised as I was." Leah wouldn't be surprised if Jim leaves her.

"My life is a total failure," she says. "He deserves better."

Thirty-two-year-old Jim, an architect, is baffled. "Leah acts as though I were a stranger," he says. "We live in the same house, but she might as well be a thousand miles away." Jim fell in love with the brave young mother who was valiantly struggling to raise two small children on her own. "I wanted to sweep her up in my arms and shield her from pain," he recalls.

But Leah no longer wants his love.

"The vivacious woman I married is a zombie. The housework and child care have fallen by the wayside. What's happened to our marriage?" he wonders. "I'm doing everything to make this woman happy, yet she insists on being miserable."

Bad memories

"Leslie is consumed by guilt, grief and fear," notes Gail Carr Feldman, a psychologist in Albuquerque, N.M. "Since Neal's body has never been found, she has unconsciously refused to acknowledge his death and has thus been unable to grieve for her loss." No wonder she's finding it impossible to be truly connected to Jim; she began her second marriage before ending her first.

She's also afraid that if she loves Jim too much, she might lose him as well. "It's imperative for someone as depressed as Leah to seek professional counseling and perhaps take medication that can help her through depression," says Ms. Feldman. Once her psychological condition is stabilized, she can begin to re-establish closeness with Jim and her daughters.

Many couples find that the ghosts of past relationships haunt a current one. Whether the old love has died or the relationship simply ended, it can be hard to free yourself from obsession rTC about what has been lost.

Leah learned, much to her astonishment, that she was actually ** furious at her first husband for "abandoning" her. Once she understood that, she was able to move on and share her life with Jim. Keep these ideas in mind, too:

* Give yourself time to mourn the end of a relationship. Expect to be flooded by a range of emotions: shock, sadness, anger, despair. While it can take a long time to process all these different emotions, knowing that this is normal can make the passage easier to navigate.

* Promise yourself you'll give a new relationship a chance. It won't be the same, but it can be just as good, perhaps better, even though it's different. Make an effort to replenish what has been lost by becoming involved in your new relationship. Establish new traditions, new activities to look forward to.

Once Leah was able to stop dwelling on the past, she had the courage to face the future with Jim and her children.

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