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When the Vows Break: Elizabeth Taylor Taught Us How To Survive Divorce

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When Elizabeth Taylor died last month at age 79, movie critic Roger Ebert wrote, "No other actress commanded more attention for longer, for her work, her beauty, her private life."

And he's right.

The violet-eyed starlet starred in 50 movies, twice won the Academy Award for Best Actress, and was nominated for three more Oscars. She was queen of Hollywood's Golden Age, a humanitarian who raised millions for AIDS awareness, a devoted animal lover, and of course, a prolific bride. She married eight times -- twice to Richard Burton.

The world -- and especially the Hollywood press -- was fascinated with every aspect of Taylor's life, especially her marriages. Only one of those unions -- her marriage to producer Michael Todd, who died in a plane crash in 1958 -- did not end in divorce.

With the intense media spotlight on her life, Taylor showed people -- especially women -- that you can survive divorce.

As a divorce attorney, I meet a lot of people who stay in bad relationships out of fear. They're scared they can't make it in life alone and it's better to be half of an unhappy couple than dare to be single again. Clients worry how divorce will affect their children, their career or their ability to pay the mortgage. Some people worry they'll never find love again and die alone.

Taylor no doubt worried about that, too. She liked to say her "rather puritanical upbringing and beliefs" led her into marriage so many times. She was quoted as saying, "I couldn't just have a romance; it had to be marriage."

Surviving love and marriage wasn't easy even for an actress considered to be the most beautiful woman in the world. She had to give up on a troubled marriage and move on.

For instance, Taylor divorced her first husband, socialite Conrad "Nicky" Hilton, after just nine months citing the hotel mogul's "gambling, drinking and abusive behavior."

Some people argue that Taylor's marriages were a symbol of a lacking morality, or that she was such a Hollywood icon that she didn't have respect for the sanctity of marriage.

But the way I see it, Taylor had the guts to end relationships that were broken before they devastated her personally. And she lived with hope that love would find her again.

A story in USA Today recently asked relationship experts to answer the question, "What did Elizabeth Taylor teach us about love, passion, romance and marriage?"

Lisa Kelypas, author of Love In The Afternoon and Smooth Talking Stranger, told the newspaper what she loved most about Taylor was that " no matter what personal tragedies or setbacks she endured, she never gave up on love. And that's the essence of romance, isn't it? To retain your faith in love, in defiance of the cynics."

I think that's probably right. Taylor's life was proof that love can conquer all -- even a bitter divorce -- if you believe in it.

Sometimes, you just need to have the courage to start over without being ashamed.