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John and Elizabeth Edwards and Rielle Hunter -- What happened to their marriage?

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Take a moment and go to this photo of an adoring, newly married couple. They are also the same couple who is pictured here. They are also the parents of four children together including this boy who died when he was 16 in a car accident.

They are also the same couple who have been married over 30 years and most recently have been the subject of a failed presidential attempt due to an extramarital affair that resulted in a little girl being born. They are the same couple who is reported to have been in domestic disputes involving physical violence.

When they met in law school and married, she had an $11 wedding ring and they went to Wendy's for their anniversary. How do things change from a bright and cheery wedding day into unhappiness and misery?

Therapists vary in their beliefs about how relationships may end. Harville Hendrix, PhD, author of several relationship books and creator of Imago Therapy believes couples are drawn together to grow together in joy and in pain. Dr. Patricia Allen supports this belief but also believes that couples can naturally move through those lessons and sometimes just grow apart and no one is to blame. She often encourages committed couples to not end the relationship impulsively but to nurture communication skills and see what happens. Dr. Allen does support what she calls an "organic divorce" where the couple has really walked as far as they can, but not without extensive effort to give it every chance possible to revive.

No one really knows what goes on inside other couples' lives. It is called a private life because so much of it is behind closed doors. Even though I have never met them, I can't help but feel a sadness for the young and hopeful couple in the wedding photos 30 plus years ago with so many dreams ahead of them, never guessing of the joy and suffering they would experience together.

I know couples that get divorced but never move on to someone else again. Why get divorced? Were John and Elizabeth an incompatible couple or did they arrive at a mountain they could not cross together when they experienced something no couple should ever have to experience, the death of their child? Has it been painful for the Edwards' children to hear about their father in the news, see their mother go through cancer and relapse and know their father has another woman and they have a half sister? My guess is yes. Has it been difficult for Rielle to have a secret child with a man she could not see or spend time with because he was still married? I'm guessing yes. Could better decisions and communication have created a gentler and less messy life for everyone involved in this? Yes.

To quote Thich Nat Hahn in his 14 principles, number 14 reads "Do not mistreat your body. Learn to handle it with respect. Do not look on your body as only an instrument. Preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of the Way. (For brothers and sisters who are not monks and nuns). Sexual expression should not take place without love and a long term commitment. In sexual relationships, be aware of future suffering that may be caused. To preserve the happiness of others, respect the rights and commitments of others. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world. Meditate on the world into which you are bringing new beings."

Had this principle been followed, Rielle would never have been intimate with John while he was still married and John would have not had the affair while he was married. John and Rielle may have ended up together but with less suffering for all.

What decisions do you think could have been made better for the well being of all involved?

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