December 13, 2018 08:00 AM

Jennifer Lopez may have found love with Alex Rodriguez, but it was not so long ago that happiness this easy seemed painfully elusive.

“I knew there was something going on that I did not understand,” says Lopez, 49, who over the years had watched three marriages fall apart, including her last, with Marc Anthony, with whom she has 10-year-old twins, Emme and Max.

In the wake of her divorce from Anthony in 2014, the Second Act star knew it was time for some real soul-searching to figure out why she seemed to repeat unhealthy patterns with men. “I was done blaming other people – he did this or he did that – and I said to myself, no, it’s you,” she says.

Facing her fears wasn’t easy. “I grew up sharing a bed with my sisters from the time I was born, [and then] it was one boyfriend, and then another, and then a husband, and [so on], and I realized you’ve never been alone,” says Lopez, who also worked with a therapist to help discover what makes her tick.

RELATED: Jennifer Lopez on Blending Families with Alex Rodriguez: ‘The Kids Are So Open to Love’

Peggy Sirota

“Until I could really learn to be happy on my own and love myself, these relationships were never going to work out, no matter what. That was a big turning point for me.”

Over time, and after going through what she metaphorically calls “the dark forest,” Lopez emerged a more empowered and enlightened woman. She credits Emme and Max for ultimately teaching her about true love.

Just by being their mom, she gleaned that “love was supposed to feel a certain way – just natural [with] a very selfless, unconditional pure quality,” she says.

RELATED: Alex Rodriguez Gushes About Life with Jennifer Lopez: ‘She Has Given So Much to Me and My Kids’

Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez
Peggy Sirota

It was with a renewed sense of self – and with her priorities straight – that she met Rodriguez, in early 2017.

“It wasn’t until I met Alex that I felt like, ‘Okay, I can be in a relationship again,'” she says.

“Everything feels healthy and different…We bring something to each other’s lives that is profound, good and healthy.”

For more from the exclusive at-home interview with Lopez, pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.

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