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Image: Amerah Henrene Shabazz-Bridges and B.C. Bridges at their wedding
Courtesy Amerah Shabazz-Bridges
Amerah Henrene Shabazz-Bridges and B.C. Bridges remarried each other in 2005 after spending 31 years apart.
By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 6/27/2011 9:35:02 AM ET 2011-06-27T13:35:02

British novelist Iris Murdoch once said, “Falling out of love is chiefly a matter of forgetting how charming someone is.”

Could those words help to explain why Marie Osmond, Elizabeth Taylor and Melanie Griffith, as well as thousands of non-celebrities, decided to remarry the spouses they divorced months, years or even decades earlier?

In part, yes, marriage counselors and relationship experts say. In fact, one biological anthropologist is surprised divorced partners don’t remarry each other more often.

“There were real reasons that you were attracted to somebody originally. The brain doesn’t pick willy-nilly,” said Helen Fisher, chief scientific adviser for Chemistry.com and author of the book “Why Him? Why Her?” “Unless you part ways hating each other for some reason, that mechanism could get triggered again. You can literally fall in love again.”

That’s precisely what happened to Amerah Henrene Shabazz-Bridges and B.C. Bridges of Memphis, Tenn. The pair grew up on the same street, and they wed in the early 1960s when they were both in their 20s. (Amerah is almost five years older than B.C., so she jokes that she was “the first cougar.”) Even with the age difference, they were both young and impetuous when they tied the knot. Religious and other differences surfaced about three or four years into the marriage, and poof! They divorced.

They went their separate ways for 31 years. They both pursued successful careers — Amerah as a social worker and advocate for abused and neglected children, B.C. as an educator in the Memphis school system. They also both married other people more than once. B.C. ultimately had an enduring marriage for 21 years with another woman, and was left stunned when she died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

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Around that same time, B.C. experienced another loss: His mother died. At her funeral, he saw Amerah. Then, some time after his wife passed away, B.C. talked to Amerah once again. They started reminiscing. And laughing.

“All of a sudden, here he was, saying, ‘Can I come see you?’ ” recalled Amerah, now 72. “I said, ‘OK.’

“We both realized there was a lot of dysfunction in the first marriage. But time has a way of healing, and so when you know better, you do better. We both came to a place of saying, ‘That is the past and today is different.’ And it has been.”

On Mother’s Day in 2005, B.C. and Amerah remarried each other, surrounded by scads of his children, her children, stepchildren, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and in-laws.

“My wedding became a family affair!” Amerah said. “[I have] beautiful memories of that day.”

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Amerah and B.C., 68, just celebrated their six-year wedding anniversary, and they say they’re happier than ever.

“Looking back on our first marriage, you know, he was young. I was young. He was trying to find himself, trying to be a man. He had not lived yet. Here I was older, more experienced. I really regretted leaving and divorcing him. But I do believe it all happened so that we could grow.”

Story: Marie Osmond and Five Other Stars Who Remarried Their Exes

‘A bloom of optimism’
John Gottman, a therapist known for his extensive research on divorce prediction and the author of “The Science of Trust,” noted that “regrettable incidents” happen in every relationship.

“Some couples can process those regrettable incidents effectively,” Gottman said. “The couples that wind up getting a divorce are really unable to repair those incidents without therapy, and it’s a very rare event for couples to go to therapy when they’re contemplating divorce.”

Of course, as Tolstoy wrote, every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, and “regrettable incidents” can vary wildly. Some problems sparked by alcoholism or other addictions can disappear if one partner successfully breaks free from a destructive habit.

But other imperfections never go away. It’s the perception of those imperfections that can mellow with the passage of time.

Crazy love: 9 extreme things people have done for romance

“Despite all the emotional injuries they’ve sustained, couples can realize they have this bond of attachment to one another and more comfort with one another than with any new person,” Gottman said. “But they still have the same old garbage.”

In many cases — especially after spending years apart and gaining plenty of perspective — couples mutually decide that the same old garbage isn’t quite as stinky as they once thought.

“There’s something quite flattering about turning to your former partner and saying, ‘I can’t find someone as good as you. I’ve tried and I don’t want other people. I want you,’ ” Gottman said. “There’s a bloom of optimism there.”

Impatient, ready to bail
No official agency tracks the number of divorced couples who remarry each other, but it happens consistently in cities across North America each year. In his 16 years of conducting couples workshops, Gottman has encountered about 20 couples who remarried each other after divorcing. With those couples, he’s noticed two patterns: If their divorce was especially bitter and litigious, they have extra hurdles of anger and remorse to overcome; and, regardless of the nature of the split, divorced-then-remarried couples are an impatient lot.

“What tends to work against them is that they tend to bail pretty quickly if they sense it isn’t working out a second time,” Gottman said.

Image: Brian and Beth Billett with their two grandchildren
Courtesy Beth Billett
Brian and Beth Billett are pictured with their grandchildren on Halloween in 2009. After divorcing and staying apart for four years, the Billetts remarried each other 11 years ago.

That almost happened to Beth and Brian Billett of Fort Campbell, Ky. The pair met in high school and married young; Beth actually graduated from high school half a year early so she could marry Brian and join him in Germany, where the U.S. Army had stationed him.

They stayed married for 10 years and had a son and daughter together before their marriage fell apart. The overarching issue behind their divorce: Brian’s exposure to the first Gulf War of the early 1990s.

“He didn’t want to talk about what happened to him,” said Beth Billett, 43. “He kind of went down a bad road for a while there.”

The Billetts stayed apart for four years, but maintained ongoing communication because of their two kids. Beth grew close to members of her church and built a support network for herself and her children. Meanwhile, Brian’s spiral continued, to the point where he was about to be evicted from his home.

Related: For couples in close quarters, squeeze-y does it

“I didn’t want to let my kids see him homeless, so I invited him to stay in my basement,” Beth explained. “I relied on my church family for help and started bringing him to church with me.”

That marked a turning point for Brian — as did discussions with a pastor who had served in the Vietnam War and wrote books about the question of human suffering. Gradually, Brian and Beth began communicating more openly, building up enough trust that they married a second time.

But, as Gottman said, impatience dogged the couple at the outset. “Our first year or two back together was kind of rocky,” Beth said. “You thought you forgave somebody completely, and something happens and it brings all that stuff back up again. But now we don’t have any problems with that.”

The second act of the Billetts’ marriage has lasted 11 years. Brian, 44, is still on active duty in the military and is now deployed in Afghanistan. Their son, 24, is on active duty as well; their daughter is now 22. When the family can all be together, they’re a close-knit bunch. They go fishing as a family and play plenty of Rock Band.

“We were so young when we first got married,” Beth said. “Now we have some skills that we didn’t have before. We found those skills later in life and decided we still wanted to be together.

“In order to get back together, you really have to be able to trust each other again.”

Need a Coffey break? Friend TODAY.com writer Laura T. Coffey on Facebook, follow her on Twitter  or read more of her stories at LauraTCoffey.com.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Explainer: Crazy love: 9 extreme things people have done for romance

  • Image: Matchmaking mom Geri Brin with son Colby Brin
    TODAY

    Love is a many-splendored thing — and some people will do almost anything to find it. On a quest to connect with that special someone, men and women have rented billboard space, posted handwritten personal ads all over the place, sobbed on YouTube and allowed meddling family members to conduct exhaustive searches for them. One matchmaking mom started the site “Date My Single Kid” for her 31-year-old son; another family advertised their Jewish grandmother on eBay to help her find a husband.

    Just how crazy can it get? To find out, click on the word "next" at left, or click on "Show more items" and keep scrolling down.

  • Love can make you cry. And cry.

    Image: Kelly Summers crying on YouTube
    TODAY

    Oh, Internet. Somehow you keep getting us to give up more and more personal information about ourselves. To name just one of about 80 gazillion cases in point: The emotional saga of Kelly Summers.

    In April 2010, the Englishwoman learned that the man she loved had been keeping a gargantuan secret from her: He already had a longterm girlfriend.

    Summers was devastated. Sobbing, she turned to YouTube and began posting video diaries — 62 of them! — about her heartbreak and her efforts to recover. She gained a loyal following of 11,000 viewers — including her ex, who decided he wanted her back. “I watched each video and I couldn’t believe the devastation I left behind,” Keith Tallis, the ex, said after the fact. “I’d never seen such raw emotion, and it made me realize how much I loved her.” Ummm ... hooray?

    Related story: She bared heartache on YouTube (and got guy back)

    Related video: Woman takes tears to YouTube after breakup

  • Hey! Let's sell Mom!

    Image: Sandy Firth for sale on eBay
    eBay

    James Doyan was worried about his mom, Sandi Firth. After going through a divorce in 2003, the 63-year-old grandmother of four just couldn’t meet the right man. She was lonely.

    So, the dutiful son decided to take charge of the situation by selling her (kind of) on eBay. Doyan posted a flattering photo of his mother alongside these words: “My Yiddishe Momma for Sale: Beautiful, Great Cook, Educated, Articulate, Family Focused, Caring, Priceless.” The starting price? One British pound. (Doyan and his mom live in England.) The ad went on to describe Firth as being in “used condition” but in “pretty good working order [with] no real defects or signs of wear and tear.” “She is stylish and loves to wear the latest fashions (sometimes forgetting her age),” Doyan added.

    At first Firth was stunned to be on eBay, but then she warmed to the idea. “My son is very innovative,” she told British newspaper the Daily Mail. “I have had some rotten times, and he has been through them with me.”

    Shortly after the ad went up in June 2010, eBay pulled it because it violated the auction site’s “human remains and body parts policy.” Sorry, Sandi!

  • Pedal to the meddle

    Image: Matchmaking mom Geri Brin with son Colby Brin
    TODAY

    Devoted mother Geri Brin adores her son Colby, who lives in New York and is in his early 30s. In an effort to help him meet his perfect match, she launched a new online effort in July 2010 with the cringe-worthy title “Date My Single Kid.” But Brin didn’t do this just for her own boy — she opened the site up so parents everywhere could extol the virtues of their single sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, nieces and nephews.

    Brin and her son humorously defended “Date My Single Kid” on TODAY. “I don’t think it’s meddling at all; I think it’s casting a wider net,” Brin said on the show. And son Colby said he appreciated his mom’s support: “I don’t think I need my mom; I’m also out there in the field doing my own work. But if my mom comes across someone she thinks would be good for me, there’s nothing to lose.”

    Since fame visited the mom-and-son pair, Colby has been directing the Date My Single Kid site and blogging there. One particularly hilarious blog post highlighted 12 celebrities who really could use love advice from their moms. “As Director of Date My Single Kid, I like to say that you may know what you want, but your mother knows what you need,” he wrote. “Of course, I would never say it in front of my own mother because she’d be way too satisfied.”

    Related story: Cyber-matchmaking mom fields dates for son on TODAY

    Related video: Matchmaker mom: I'm not meddling

  • A shared moment on a No. 5 train

    Image: Sketch on Patrick Moberg's website nygirlofmydreams.com
    nygirlofmydreams.com/

    Nora Ephron, are you reading this? If ever there was a potential plot for a romantic comedy on the big screen, here it is:

    Patrick Moberg was 21 years old when he saw the “girl of his dreams” on a New York subway train in November 2007. She was wearing blue gym shorts over blue tights, and she had rosy cheeks and a red flower in her hair. Moberg said the pair “shared a moment.” “There’s been a ton of pretty girls I’ve seen on the train, but I just couldn’t shake this one,” he told the New York Post.

    So, he dashed home and built an Internet page — nygirlofmydreams.com — and set about trying to find her. He drew and posted a sketch of the two of them, describing in detail what each of them was wearing when they locked eyes. (He took the added step of writing, “Not insane” on the sketch and pointing to his head with a little arrow.)

    And ... guess what? He found her! He provided this update on the website: “Seriously! A friend of hers came across the site, recognized the description, and sent me an e-mail. We’ve been put in touch with one another and we’ll see what happens. ... In our best interest, there will be no more updates to this website. Unlike all the romantic comedies and bad pop songs, you’ll have to make up your own ending for this.”

  • Kingship schmingship

    Image: The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson
    Getty Images

    Was it reckless? Romantic? Both? Even though 75 long years have passed, the world continues to be fascinated by the love story of Britain’s King Edward VIII and American socialite Wallis Simpson. The King sparked a constitutional crisis when he fell madly in love with Simpson, a two-time divorcée, and wanted to marry her.

    The prime ministers of the United Kingdom, church leaders and others roundly opposed the move. Edward ultimately abdicated the throne so he could marry Simpson. In a broadcast to the nation in December 1936, after spending just 325 days as monarch, he said, “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”

    The pair married in May 1937 and became known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. They remained together until Edward’s death in 1972; Simpson died in 1986. Their story is being turned into a movie, “W.E.,” directed by Madonna.

    Related story: Duchess of Windsor’s jewels sell for $12.5 million

  • This crazy love thing isn't new

    Image: King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn
    Getty Images

    There’s so much to say about England’s King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. For the purposes of this feature, let’s focus on this: The pair’s relationship represents one of the most extreme love stories in history.

    King Henry first became enamored of Anne in the 1520s, and he pursued her for years. He desperately wanted to annul his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon and be with Anne instead. The Pope refused to let that happen — and then, hoo-boy. Henry assumed the role of Supreme Head of the Church of England, married Anne, had his marriage to Catherine annulled and got excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Happens all the time, right?

    Henry and Anne got married in January 1533, and Anne gave birth to Elizabeth, the future queen of England, that September. Henry was disappointed that Elizabeth wasn’t a boy, but he remained hopeful that Anne would give him a male heir to the throne. Instead, Anne experienced devastating miscarriages and stillbirths. One stillborn baby was a boy; when that detail came to light, King Henry reportedly cried out, “I see God will not give me male children!” He began showing interest in Jane Seymour, Anne’s maid of honor.

    Then, as further evidence that love (in this case, love of Jane!) can make a man do crazy things, Henry easily believed trumped-up charges of adultery, incest and treason against Anne to be true. He had her beheaded in 1536.

    Gulp.

  • Handwritten personal ads: Quaint, or ...?

    Image: One of Malik Turner's handwritten personal ads
    gothamist.com

    Really, is it necessary to spend good money on personal ads? Malik Turner will tell you no. Last October, the Harlem man posted elaborately specific — and handwritten — personal ads at payphones around Manhattan.

    Turner — who was 40 and living with his mom at the time — described himself with great precision in the ads: single, a “sorter/bagger” for a package delivery company, a Rangers and Jets fan, and a person who loves movies, nightclubs, Coney Island, Atlantic City and the color red.

    He was equally precise about what he was seeking: a blonde, long-haired, "big-chested, curvy, leggy, voluptuous (NOT FAT)" woman — or women — between the ages of 21 and 45 who would be "willing to take turns paying on dates (NO GOLDDIGGERS!!!!!)."

    "I just want casual and promiscuous because I don't want anything serious," Turner told The New York Post.

  • Looking for love on a large scale

    Image: John D. Smith's billboard in Orlando
    www.clickorlando.com

    A feature like this simply wouldn’t be complete without at least one searching-for-romance-via-billboard story. Here’s a gem, selected because of the love-seeker’s gutsy move to let the markets decide:

    In 2009, John D. Smith — a self-described entrepreneur and inventor from Orlando, Fla. — invested in some prominent billboard space right off Interstate 4. Along with a photo of Smith and an image of an elegant red rose, the billboard carried this incredibly direct message: “There Are $1,000 Reasons To ... helpjohnfindlove.com” (Sadly, the website is defunct now, so don’t bother.)

    That reference to $1,000 was sure to be an eye-catcher, right? What might it mean? Well, Smith’s idea was to solicit dates over a period of several months, then zero in on “serious” prospects who seemed worthy of being dated exclusively for seven weeks. He would post photos and bios of the top female contenders on his website and allow visitors to vote on them.

    And then, as WKMG-TV’s website ClickOrlando.com reported, “The person who referred the winning woman [would] get $1,000 in singles, ‘to commemorate John’s former single status.’ ”

  • A parting gift

    Image: YaVaughnie Wilkins and Charles E. Phillips on billboard
    gawker.com

    OK, OK, here’s one more billboard story for you:

    Early last year, enormous signs with romantic images of a canoodling couple began popping up in San Francisco, Atlanta and Times Square in New York City. These billboards bore the words, “You are my soulmate forever! —cep” and included a link to the website charlesphillipsandyavaughniewilkins.com.

    Alas, like helpjohnfindlove.com, that website is no longer functioning, but multiple media outlets reported on its contents when it launched: The site featured more of the couple’s romantic photos and love notes dating back to 2001.

    Turns out, though, that the “cep” on the billboards stood for Charles E. Phillips, who at the time was president of software company Oracle and a member of President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board. And he was married. To a woman named Karen — not to YaVaughnie Wilkins, the woman with him on the billboards.

    Phillips later acknowledged having an eight-and-a-half year relationship with Wilkins, who clearly lost it when Phillips decided to reconcile with his wife. Indeed, Wilkins was so upset that she masterminded this heaping dish of ice-cold revenge for Phillips.

    He has since stepped down from Oracle and from Morgan Stanley’s board of directors. He’s doing just fine, though: Shortly after leaving Oracle, he landed a job as chief executive officer of business software maker Infor in Atlanta.

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