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Get over your spouse’s past love life

TODAY contributing psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz says it is counter-productive for married people to get angry with their spouse for sharing details about past partners, particularly when they ask about it.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Q. I love my wife. We met at age 50, dancing. She never married. I am divorced after 30 years of marriage with three grown children.

She lived the life I fantasized about, with many sexual partners. I am haunted by that. I asked too many questions about her past and she answered them honestly, for a while.

How can I move past these painful feelings I have about her past? It is seriously harming our otherwise wonderful marriage.

A. It is unfair of you to be angry with your new wife for having had a life before she met you. You should be grateful that her path in life finally led her to you and formed the personality you fell in love with. In other words, you need to examine your own biases about her past, and replace your fantasy world with a real one.

In your fantasies, you are the only one for her, the only man with whom she has ever had an intimate relationship. Some people feel strongly that their spouse should be their only sexual partner. I am not addressing this question from a religious or moral viewpoint.

It is hypocritical for you to wish she had no sexual partners in her past, while you yourself wish that you had many. You should ask yourself why you have this double standard.

It is unrealistic to expect that a woman who married late would be celibate her entire youth. She didn’t do anything wrong or bad. She didn’t cheat or betray a husband. Again, why you are judging her so harshly?

I suspect that part of your anger is fueled by feelings not just of possessiveness, but of competitiveness and envy. She “got” to do something you didn’t get to do.

Or maybe you are wondering whether you are the best or biggest. If she has more varied experience than you, that might make you feel insecure. But you are the one she chose, not anyone else. So you win.

This is the woman you fell in love with. You met dancing, so perhaps there is a joie de vivre about her that is part of her personality. The kind of spirit that makes her love to dance is the kind that would make her feel comfortable with an active social life. You might not be interested in a woman with a more inhibited or subdued personality.

If lack of former partners was so high on your list of essential qualities in a second wife, then that is what you needed to look for. Instead, you picked her. It’s unreasonable to blame her for being herself.

Still, her honest answers about her past were clearly distressing to you. If you truly do not want to hear about her past, don’t ask. I think you should appreciate her honesty. It is unfair to demand honesty and then get angry if the answer is not what you want to hear. You yourself are divorced, so it’s likely your sex life with your first wife took a nosedive. Years of bad sex during your first marriage might be contributing to your envy. You feel you were trapped in a miserable marriage, while your second wife was out having fun.

But the past is over. It cannot be erased. There is no point in badgering your wife, punishing her or making her feel guilty. I suggest you dwell on the future. It sounds as though you have much to look forward to.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Anger or jealousy due to a spouse’s sexual past is counterproductive. Examine your own biases to help you move on.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to TODAY. Her latest book is “Anatomy of a Secret Life: The Psychology of Living a Lie,” by Dr. Gail Saltz. She is also the author of “Amazing You! Getting Smart About Your Private Parts,” which helps parents deal with preschoolers’ questions about sex and reproduction. Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It is now available in a paperback version. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .