Higher levels of divorce and the trend of settling down later make it almost inevitable that your new partner will have a past.
As a marital therapist, it isn’t unusual for me to work with couples who, between them, have been married six times. This might be the extreme end of the scale, but even couples in their mid-20s have had at least one serious previous relationship each.
Sometimes the impact of a former partner can be quite minor. ‘I lived with a girl who was spectacularly untidy. I often had to rinse out her tights in the morning before I could shave and brush my teeth,’ says 32-year-old Martin. Although his wife never met this woman, her ghost still stalks their marriage. ‘My wife was once too exhausted to do the dishes and I could see my life slipping back into chaos,’ Martin admits. ‘I totally lost it.’
For other couples, the legacy can be more harmful. Adrian and Ruth, in their late 40s, came into counselling after their sex life dwindled away to nothing. Adrian, with a higher sex drive, complained that even the smallest hint of his frustration could send Ruth into a sulk that lasted days. So after five years of marriage, he’d basically stopped asking. While I was taking each partner’s sexual history, Ruth shared how her first husband had forced her to have intercourse shortly after the difficult birth of their child. Adrian listened open-mouthed. When she’d finished, he asked why she