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Elizabeth Taylor: Eight Is Enough

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Getting married takes courage; getting divorced takes even more. But that is exactly how Elizabeth Taylor, who died on March 23 at the age of 79, lived her life: courageously. She led with her heart and the strength of her convictions. She had the optimism to get married eight times, and to get divorced seven times, neither of which is easy to do.

Interestingly enough, eight is the number that represents infinity, and that symbolism carried over to the great star's love life -- she had infinite love to share. Elizabeth was able to shirk the things that can hold people back: the fear of giving up their independence, the fear of commitment, and not wanting to make the room to share with another person because it feels like a sacrifice. She suspended judgment, being impervious to what people thought of her choices or actions, as well as being completely nonjudgmental of the partners she chose. She married young men and older men, rich men and a blue-collar worker. She was always willing to follow her passion and take risks in an attempt to move forward.

For many, being divorced can feel like a failure and they may be embarrassed or ashamed by it, but Elizabeth never did, she was never stigmatized by it. During her lifetime she faced many trials and tribulations, including multiple health problems and the loss of her great love Michael Todd, who was killed in a plane crash, but she never lost her stamina or hope. The two-time Oscar winner faced her troubles with resilience and looked to the future. She always threw her hat in the ring and was ready to ring in the new marriage and the wedding band to go with it. Perhaps it was the abundance of love she experienced that helped her continue on and maintain some balance, instead of getting bogged down by what she no longer had. She was a positive role model for coping with loss by replacing it. She carried on and found new love over and over again while she overcame illnesses and injuries. Maybe those two things were not separate - perhaps it was the power of love that helped her recuperate so many times and allowed her to survive her heartbreaks.

My fantasy as a marriage therapist was to have Elizabeth and Richard Burton, her fifth and sixth husband (she married him twice), on my couch. Given how strong their love for each other was and the obvious fact that they clearly didn't want to quit on their marriage, I can only imagine they were missing the tools that would have allowed them to salvage their union. I would like to have told them about the "If You Love Me You Would" expectation that brings couples to a stop, or the "I'll See Your Stress and Raise You" that is the match to the dynamite that ignites so many fights. I talk about both of these things in my book What About Me? Stop Selfishness From Ruining Your Relationship. But I never met Elizabeth and Richard, and it remains just a fantasy that these tools could have provided them with the understanding they would have needed to make it work. They divorced, twice, and she went on to marry two other people and divorce them as well.

Elizabeth lived authentically with passion and remained true to herself her entire life. That was clear even at the very end, when she set it up so that she arrived 15 minutes late for her own funeral. She showed us through example to never give up, that if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. And even more important, she taught us the greatest lesson of all: love is the answer.