Diana Cannon-Ragsdale has been divorced three times and is on her fourth marriage.
The first time she got married was in the Mormon temple, to escape her father’s home, she said.
Here’s her story, as told to Heather Marcoux.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Diana Cannon-Ragsdale. It has been edited for length and clarity.
It’s not easy to find yourself divorced three times by 51, especially if you’re a woman, and especially if you’re a woman in Utah. But you can get through it. I did, and I documented it in my book.
I was born in Salt Lake City, into a family with a rich Mormon pioneer heritage – and a lot of dysfunction. My parents swung wildly between the church and a party scene that involved drinking, smoking, and swapping sexual partners.
In 1966, my mother left my father for another woman. We, her six kids, were left with the impression that she’d had a nervous breakdown. All of a sudden, she was just gone.
Two years later, my father remarried, choosing a woman I already knew. My mother’s sister went from being my aunt to my stepmother. And as a family, we went back to church.
I needed to get out of that house. So I got married in the temple to a man I did not love.
My marriages ended for different reasons
My first marriage happened early – too early. I was 19 when we got engaged, and looking back, I was just trying to escape a home life that had been deeply traumatic.
We were married for six years and had three children together before the relationship crumbled. How could it not when it was more of an exit strategy than a marriage?
My second marriage – now that was love. I was a single mother with three kids who was going back to college, and here was this man who reciprocated my love and made me feel stable and secure. But my childhood trauma came back to haunt me one night when I was 34 years old.
I’ll remember that night forever. My father was at my home, drinking scotch with my second husband and smoking a cigarette at my kitchen table – something I wouldn’t have allowed anyone else to do. But I did not, or could not, set boundaries with my father. After too much scotch – and after burning my table when he missed the ashtray – my father told me that I was not his biological child.
The emotional fallout from that was devastating, and my husband could not support me through it. I was a wreck, he did not know what to do, and our relationship could not recover. Ultimately, my second marriage ended with infidelity after 16 years.
I’m a social person, and I love having a partner, so a couple of years later I remarried. Once again, I was in love, but something was always a bit off. I always felt like I could not be completely honest with this man about the extent of my childhood trauma. I was scared he wouldn’t be able to take it. That feeling may have been a red flag, one I unfortunately missed. He wasn’t being honest with me either. He was leading a double life and cheating on me.
I’ve forgiven myself
I was entering my 50s alone, with three divorces behind me. It was devastating, and I was filled with guilt and shame. I’ve since discovered that I do not need to carry either of those. I had to learn to forgive myself and everyone who had betrayed me. I had to learn to be compassionate towards myself.
When I did that, I was able to find love again.
I’m now in my fourth marriage, to a man I love with all my heart. I told him everything about my life early in our relationship. I laid all my cards on the table and asked him if he was sure he wanted to continue to date me. He did, enough to eventually marry me.
We share a life and a family, and we’re making a new family history together.
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