Ask Team Practical: It’s My Partner’s Second Engagement

My fiancé was engaged once before. The girl he was marrying called it off within days of the wedding. I don’t know all of the details (and I don’t think I want to), but I do know that I’m the lucky one that she sucked so much and didn’t realize what a good thing she had.

Anyhow, fiancé and I are still pretty early in planning our own wedding, but sometimes I feel the ghost of that wedding in planning this one. For example, they apparently had an engagement BBQ party at his parents’ house, so it would be weird if we did the same thing. There are moments when I know he’s holding back a little bit in our planning to protect my feelings. I know he tries so hard to make this wedding and this relationship separate and special from that failed engagement, but I can’t help compare myself to it, too. He and I can talk about anything, but I don’t know how to talk about this because it is painful for him.

How do I start that conversation? How do I ask the right questions without getting more information than I want or need? What if we get comments like “I hope this one works out for you”? What is the etiquette in doing the same things that they had planned to do?

APW, how do I navigate planning a wedding with someone who has already planned a wedding that almost, but didn’t happen?

-Engaged and At a Loss


Dear EAL,

Your email made me want to give you a big old hug. Planning your wedding is a time when you should be excited about a happy future, not dwelling on a sad past.

The fact is, no matter how far they went or how long they lasted, past relationships really have no reflection on our current ones. In relationships, we learn some things about ourselves, about what makes a relationship work, about how to care for someone. But beyond those things that we glean through dating, who your partner has or hasn’t been with means nothing about how he feels for you. You say that he “tries to make this relationship separate and special,” but you know what? It is separate and special. No “trying” necessary.

The truth is, there may be some reminding, but that doesn’t mean there’s comparison. Things that are painful impact us deeply. Though your fiancé might still feel the sting of that last rejection, it doesn’t mean that he’s comparing your wedding to the last, or worse, you to her. It’s a demonstration that what happened was significant, but not that she is still significant. The pain of what a person did can linger long after their importance is lost.

And pain? You can deal with pain. In fact, that’s part of your new job. Helping your fiancé work through his own hurt resulting from that engagement is simply preparation for one of the best parts of marriage—sharing and owning one another’s issues.

“Talk about things,” is always the best solution. Healing, support, and understanding are all things that can’t happen as thoroughly without some sort of discussion. And, if you’re anything like me, if you don’t know what he’s thinking, you’ll always assume the worst. But, you mention not knowing how to broach such a painful topic for him while also guarding your own feelings. When something needs some discussion, but it’s hard to get that discussion started, relationship counseling is the way to go. It doesn’t mean that anything is wrong, necessarily, just that you want to set some boundaries to make sure things go right. Having an objective person to help you navigate what to discuss and how will enable you both to guard yourselves and each other around sensitive topics.

You’re super wise for recognizing that while you’d like to help him, you need to protect your own feelings. There’s a fine line between helping someone with their own pain and being hurt by it yourself. This is why I’d really encourage you to find some good relationship counseling. Not because there’s something wrong between the two of you, but to make sure that things keep on being “right.”

If you let him open up to you (with parameters in place), you’ll be able to hear the good things, too, and be a part of his moving on. This year, it might be, “BBQ’s make me think of her,” but maybe in five years, he’ll be able to turn to you mid-picnic and say, “You know? BBQ’s don’t make me think of her any more.” You’ll never be able to experience the positive, the healing, the good pieces if you don’t get down and sit with him in the bad. Remember—you can’t heal him, but you can certainly support him as he heals. That’s not going to just be great for him, but also for you both as you grow closer and understand each other a bit better.

And if anyone says, “I hope this one works out”? You have my permission to punch them in the nose.


Team Practical, how do you overcome the past and focus on the future? How do you help your loved ones overcome the baggage from past relationships? And most of all, can any of you offer guidance and support on relationship counseling (even if you’re not in a major crisis)?

Photo by Lauren McGlynn Photography.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com or use the submission form here. If you would prefer not to be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Although, we always love a good sign off!

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  • My husband was engaged before he met me, and it was hard sometimes- feeling like he had done everything before, and it wasn’t the first time for him (proposing, buying a house together, etc.) But those feelings softened after a while, I just had to give them time.

    The worst was at a holiday with his family while we were engaged, an aunt was leaving and didn’t realize I was standing in the driveway. She said “If J actually gets married, I’ll see you at the wedding!” Jerk. But honestly, that was the ONLY comment we got. People saw that we were right for each other and they were happy for us.

    Here is the thing- there are always going to be jerks in our lives, who point out that the same engagement BBQ was done once before. So whatever decisions you make, if you and your fiance are comfortable with them, just hold your head high and move forward. Good luck- we’re cheering you on!

  • Jess

    My Fiance has been married before. He was young (19!!) and the marriage only lasted 10 months. However, his family compares me to her a lot, usually in a “You are so much better than her” way. They had a tiny back yard wedding with just 10 guests and cake and punch after. Which is pretty much what I wanted…….

    His family was hurt that they weren’t invited to the last wedding, which makes sense because there are so many of them….So we are inviting all of our aunts, uncles, and cousins, as well as brothers and sisters….Between our two very large Catholic families amounts to 127 people! We are having our wedding in the Church since his grandma always wished he had done that the first time. So yes these are things that we are doing partly because his first wedding wasn’t. But we are also doing them because we want our families to be happy and happily what is making his family happy makes mine happy too!

    So yes there are some compromises, but really there were going to be some whether or not one of us had been married before. And gosh darnit we are still doing cake and lawn games in the back yard!

    As for people asking rude questions, you are going to get them, just grin and bear it and if it is some one close to you let them know how much it hurts you when they ask things like that. I get questions (and rude comments) about how I feel about being a “second wife”. This hurts a lot. Mostly because I feel like some look at this less special since I didn’t call “dibs” on him first. Additionally, I had a 5 year relationship that was longer, and more committed than his ex-wife ever was, and it feels discounted. We have both had painful past relationships, but we recognize that going through them made us the great partners we are today. Any one who can’t recognize that can STFU.

    • AMBI

      I can totally relate to his family comparing you to her but saying you are so much better. My boyfriend was in a very serious relationship (he bought a ring but hadn’t yet proposed) that ended really really badly. When I started dating him, I heard this from everyone. Literally, everyone – down to my hairdresser and our law professors. And it went on for about two years! Finally, I started to tell people that I appreciated the compliment, but the comparisons really bothered me, and could they just please say that I’m great for him without having to bring her up? After years together, I felt like it was time for everyone to move on. And when I asked them to, they absolutely did. Sometimes you just have to be direct with people!

      • Liz

        I would imagine people think that sort of thing is a compliment without realizing that comparisons are NO GOOD. Good on you for being straight with people!

  • PA

    I would second “talk about it,” and I would say Liz is very wise to point out the fact that something like this can hurt long after the one who did is no longer in your life (or important to you). Being left is one of the single biggest fears for almost anyone, and so to have someone do so in such a public way is an awful thing. Now I would guess he feels a jumble of emotions about it, but fear is a big one. He’s taken a huge step to open himself up to this situation again – but that doesn’t mean he’s impervious to the fear!

    Basic advice on opening the conversation (from marital counselors I know): use “I” language (I feel, I see, I think) and do not use the word, “makes.” For instance, instead of, “when you _____, it makes me feel _____,” you could say, “I feel _____ when I see you ______.” Explain, first and foremost, that you worry he’s unhappy and you want to help. As Liz said, be careful to set your boundaries, perhaps with, “It is very difficult for me to hear about her.”

    Weddings are almost always highly emotional, so bear in mind that BOTH of you will be more vulnerable. Be sure you have a friend or family member in whom you can confide, to work out your own feelings on everything!

    Best of luck – your love is evident, and your wish to help is wonderful. *hugs*

  • Edelweiss

    I think talk about it is great advice – but I know sometimes I also just want to have a checklist of facts in my head when I’m daydreaming and planning. Can you reach out to someone that was close to him in the first engagement and would have been aware of the planning details? I know my fiancee’s mom and sisters are aware of a lot of our thoughts as we plan and, if they ever had to be called on for pertinent details, could provide some (not all – but some). Also if you’re open with someone in his family or support circle about your feelings you’ll have an extra bodyguard against any of the mean comments from people that aren’t thinking.

    If you go this route I’d couple it with the deeper conversation and/or counseling with your partner, and I’d be completely open with both parties about the conversations you’re having and why. “Fiancee’s support person, Fiancee and I are both thinking about our past relationships as we prepare for our marriage to learn any lessons we need to in order to make our relationship stronger. I don’t need any of the messy details about his engagement to X, but I was wondering if you remembered any of the wedding/engagement plans they were pursuing. I want to make sure our celebration is unique from the past and so I’m just looking for a general outline of what you all went through before.” and “Sweetie, when I’m thinking of our ceremony and celebration I want to make sure it feels unique to you and your family so I’m going to chat with X about her memories from your last engagement.”

  • EAL

    Thanks all! Your support and stories mean a lot to me.

    • KE

      Thanks for writing this letter. I just got engaged and I’m in EXACTLY the same position. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one navigating this sort of situation.

  • Daynya

    Counseling is amazing. My fiance and I have been going on and off for a few years now, and it honestly helped us work through so many painful issues. If we hadn’t started going, I don’t know that I would be nearly as ready to marry him as I am. At first, I felt weird about going, like it was a symbol of our failed relationship issues. That wasn’t it at all though. We’ve become so much closer throughout the process, and learned so much about how to communicate with each other, it’s been life changing. If there are any topics that are touchy, or things you don’t feel great about discussing, it can be a real life saver. It’s a safe place, where often, the difficult topics are brought up FOR you, and you have no choice but to hash it all out. And it feels so cleansing, and good. I definitely recommend it, fantastic advice!

    Also, the punch them in the nose advice, spot on. :)

    • meg

      I am a HUGE proponent of the fact that going to counseling actually usually means you have an awesome relationship, where you are both willing to be there for each other, and work out problems. The idea that counseling is only for people who’s relationships are in trouble is NONSENSE. Most people we know who’s relationships fell apart in spectacular ways didn’t do serious counseling. But lots of the couples with awesome relationships… quietly work on things as therapy as needed.

      • AMBI

        Wow, this is so what I needed to hear today.

      • Caroline

        Just going to echo in on the counseling is freaking awesome for any couple, including those who are doing well ,not just for the falling to pieces/ready to split couple. It has made our strong relationship even stronger, and helps us when we’re struggling. It’s been especially helpful for a few things for us: when one of us is going through a rough time, couples counseling helps us be there for eachother rather than snipping and nagging ourselves more distant, it’s great for working our daily disputes (our counselor helped with arguments about the dishes. It is no lover a source of resentment! Although we still have unequal chore doing (he does more), we can discuss it better.), and just for overall relationship strengthening. We went for about 6 every other week sessions to start and now we go when we feel we need a “tune-up”, which is about every 3-6 months. It makes it affordable.

        Also, if you are thinking you can’t afford it, check for low cost counseling centers, here there is a women’s therapy center that does low cost sliding scale couples counseling and an lgbt center that does likewise (both serve couples of all sexual orientations and genders), so you may be able to find similar resources.

        Mostly, just go. It’s the best thing you can do for your relationship, and frankly, it’s fun. We make a date out of it, and out to eat after, to keep chatting. Seriously, go to couples counseling. It will rock your world.

        • Daynya

          YES! We totally make our counseling nights into date nights! It’s so nice to go to dinner after, and expand on things we now have easier paths to talk about. It’s so good.

      • LBD

        Echoing this too! We certainly don’t have any kind of relationship that’s on the rocks, but my husband and I both have PTSD from things that happened in our childhoods. While this can be awesome for sympathizing with what each other is going through, we deal with it differently and some of those things trigger each other’s PTSD. Both of us, as a result, have a damn hard time talking about these feelings (and consequently the way they affect our relationship), because well, they’re damned painful. Therapy is an excellent safe space for these feelings, in part just because it’s an appointed time and place, and because there’s a neutral party helping us serve as a kind of interpreter to each other.

        As a result of the work we’ve been doing in therapy, we’re learning to communicate at home much better. I can bring stuff up easier in a way that doesn’t make him want to shut down and he is more willing to have a conversation about things with me that are hard to talk about. I understand better why he functions like he does, and vice versa. It’s easier to talk about how my stuff is affecting the way I’m acting because we’ve already done the really really hard parts in therapy.

        I’ve said elsewhere, but our therapist is my regular therapist. I just bring him in during my regular session about once a month (he has his own as well). For me, because of my issues, this works really well for us because my therapist already knows all my stuff, and man is it difficult for me to talk about. My boy and I were together 13 years before we started doing therapy together, and I can’t say how much I wish we’d started many many years earlier. All this time there are so many things that were having a big impact on us that we’d never ever talked about, and in retrospect it’s kind of amazing we in some ways understood / knew each other so little in these specific ways, considering the big impact they were/are having. I think we both thought we were containing our stuff in our own spaces, and not recognizing how they were spilling over into our common space. For me, it was essential that I started therapy on my own before I could have these conversations with him, so, I guess I’m saying starting on your own THEN bringing your SO in on the conversation is a totally valid way of doing things, if it feels better to you.

        • Leah

          I also have a “regular” therapist that I see every couple weeks or so to work on my own stuff, and every few months (or more if we need it), my FH and I will go in together for a “tune-up”. This really works well for us. She stays up-to-date on the goings-on in our life, in a practical “money has been tight” or “my new job has me working longer hours” sorta way, so when we go in together, we can just focus on whatever we feel we need to talk about. We don’t waste half the session with the “well, since the last time we were in…” catch-up.

          One word of caution though- If you share things with your own therapist that you don’t feel comfortable sharing with your SO, I’d suggest having a different couples therapist. While I don’t agree with having secrets in a relationship, I know that some people do, and it puts your therapist in an awkward position to try to guide the couple through something when she knows something she can’t share. My therapist told us the first time we came in together that she would not keep secrets for us, and anything we said in private sessions was open for discussion as a couple. I wasn’t sure if I liked that at first- she was supposed to be the one person I could tell ANYthing to- until I realized that I had nothing to hide. But, again, this may not work for everyone.

  • My husband had been engaged before and his fiancee had called it off a few weeks before the planned wedding. It helped in our relationship that I knew that from the beginning as he was pretty open about it. It also helped that he’s no longer in any contact with her and is in a completely different place, physically and emotionally.

    I was going to write a long explanation, but really the details don’t matter. The past matters in as much as affects the present. To some extent you have control over that, in how you let it affect you, but you can’t control how it affects your intended. You can, gently, talk about it and move forward. For me, that meant being reassuring to my fiance that I was staying put and sticking things out and checking my own feelings toward his ex. I didn’t want to hate her or blame her or compare myself to her. Concentrate on you and him as you are now. Yes, there’s pain there, but you can work through it together. Start talking and keep talking!

    • DKR

      Thank you for articulating so eloquently what I was trying to say (further down the comments)!

  • K

    I’ve been a lurker on APW for a while now, but this post prompted me to want to comment like none other. Both my fiance and myself had really bad, painful break-ups before we started dating each other: we each got left by the person we were planning to marry. We were friends for a long time before we took the relationship into romance, and this was helpful for our individual healing processes as well as laid a good foundation for the romance (and we’re getting married in 43 days!!). But I think what’s been most helpful is that we’ve talked, long and openly, about a lot of stuff from those previous relationships. Not minute details, but definitely over just about all the things that happened in both relationships. We pretty much give each other free rein to ask whatever might be helpful to know. The boundary to that is that we each have to see if we ask out of fear or envy. Those kinds of questions are not helpful, and it’s usually easy to tell if that’s the motive. But asking about the planning process for a previous engagement seems normal to me, not just so you can plan yours differently, but because *those things happened.* My guy and I know that part of loving each other now means loving who we’ve become and loving what we have worked through–and that means we want to know what happened in the past, for the sake of knowing each other now. If I ask because I want to know more of who he is, what he’s gone through, and what he thinks he’s learned from the past, there is enormous healing for both of us. My hat’s off to you, EAL, and I wish you all the best as you pursue healing and growth with your partner. It can be done! (And btw, relationship counseling, if you find a good therapist, is awesome for that stuff–both for asking questions but also for healing the places where our motives for questions may be fear or envy!)

  • Kristi

    I had an engagement broken off (not by me) about 5 years before I got married last year. It’s hard, but talking about it and being honest is all you can do. I had a lot of self-imposed shame that I had to work to blast away. I constantly questioned every wedding planning decision because I wondered if I was picking a certain thing just to try to be as different as possible from the last wedding plan. But some things I wanted to be the same and my now husband was very understanding about it. For example, there were these pillars my grandpa had made for the first wedding. His health had declined in the 5 years in between so there was no way he could make something new for this wedding. I explained to my new husband that it was important to me use the pillars because my grandpa was important and honoring my relationship with him was important, and it did not have anything to do with my previous fiance or previous relationship. And he was totally supportive, but it was important to explain where things came from and what my though process was. I will say there were a few people who said stupid things – not necessarily to be mean, but because it’s hard to ignore something that happened. So may I also suggest a shortish engagement if that works for you logistically? Because while the engagement had emotionally difficult moments for me, being married is awesome! Being married won’t magically solve past pains, but a short engagement does create less opportunities for people to say dumb things and less time to question what role the previous engagement is playing in current wedding planning decisions. Best wishes!

    • Esk

      I am late in the game here, but I just want to second Kristi’s comment. I went through a broken engagement (also not my choice, but such a good thing in the long-term) just three years before I married my husband. A shortish engagement helped us cut down on (or, at least rush through) some of the awkwardness of people being weird and inconsiderate (usually unintentionally).

      I ended up wearing my wedding dress from my first engagement (which my mom had hoarded away in her attic) after trying on about 50 new ones, buying and returning two, not loving any, and becoming increasingly frustrated by our very low budget. My husband and I had multiple conversations where I made sure he really was okay with the idea before I decided to do so. He’s a very pragmatic, non-sentimental guy, and understood my desire to wear the dress had everything to do with a beautiful, free (well, already-paid-for) dress, and nothing to do with the ex. Keep those lines of communication open and continue to discuss what makes you/ your fiance comfortable/ uncomfortable, happy/ annoyed, etc., and you guys will be in great shape come the wedding day.

  • LMS

    EAL, I can see how this would be hard, but your fiance is so lucky that you’re so willing to help him work through any lingering pain of his broken engagement. *Hugs*

    Also, Liz? “if you’re anything like me, if you don’t know what he’s thinking, you’ll always assume the worst.” Word. And such good advice about talking it out.

    Finally, Daynya, I’m wondering if you have any tips for finding a good couples counselor, since it sounds like you had a great experience with yours! We have a couple lingering pain points in our relationship that, in the back of my mind, I keep thinking we’ll work out in pre-marital counseling. But I’ve finally realized that – duh – it would be much better to work on them *before* getting engaged.

    • Liz

      Word of mouth is usually best. I once hired a therapist who was THE woman in her field- degrees and books and talk show appearances out the wazoo. And she was terrible. I didn’t click with her at all, and left each appointment feeling awful about myself. When I relied on a friend’s recommendation, I had much better success.

      If you’re a member of a faith community, that would be a good place to start. Your pastor/priest/rabbi/whoever may know of practices that are specifically rooted in that faith. If you don’t subscribe to a specific religion, ask other couples. More people take the proactive step of going to couples counseling than you’d assume. You could also ask your doctor for some recommendations.

      • meg

        Totally. Also, if you know someone who has a good individual therapist (which is pretty common) they often do couples counseling, or can refer you to good people who do.

        • Alli

          Since you have this totally rocking vendor list up and running, what if you blew our minds and added a way for people to recommend marital/per-marital counselors to it? My fiance and I aren’t members of a faith community and live in a city that’s pretty new to both of us. We have found it incredibly difficult to find someone good to do per-marital counseling, which is frustrating.

          • Caroline

            We found our counselor when my mom gifted us with 4 sessions because she loved her counselor so much.

            If you don’t know folks in your area yet, probably the best way to go is to see if you can get some sort of recommendations to start with (yelp? a local parenting list (even if you aren’t parents)? another local reviewing place?), and then start calling up therapists. They should be willing to do a phone interview with you for free to try to see if they might be a good fit. Have a conversation with them, try to get a feel for if they might be a good fit. If they might, then go for a trial session and see if it works. Remember that it is totally acceptable to “fire” a therapist after 1 visit or 100.

          • meg

            Trust me, we’ve been trying HARD to attract them as sponsors (SO MUCH BUSINESS TO BE HAD). No luck yet, but we’re still working on it!

          • ElisabethJoanne

            Seconding Alli’s idea. Also, family law attorneys for pre-nups.

            I hope Meg’s second book deals with the things a practical bride remembers to ADD to those eternal online wedding-planning checklists: Things like counseling and pre-nups, and maybe some DIY counseling, like exchanging credit reports (seems you’d want to review them in time to get any errors corrected before you combine finances).

    • PS

      We found ours on and love her. It has helped so much it is crazy. I too felt weird going when we weren’t even engaged, but why let bad stuff linger when a trained professional can help you get rid of it?

      • Oh, please don’t feel weird! Our premarital counseling was done by a marriage/family counselor who said he *wished* more couples would come to him before the engagement took place. I think we’re really used to thinking in the US that our relationships are our own damn business, when really they’re community endeavors at every stage and can benefit so much from others’ experience and wise counsel. Far from judging any couple that goes to therapy (at *any* stage, but particularly before engagement), I tend to think, “Ah, there are two wise people who understand the benefit of getting outside perspectives and help.”

        • LMS

          Sharon, I love this. Even as a decidedly pre-counseling person, I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that counseling is only for couples who have made a “real” commitment. Which (a) is totally an outdated mode of thinking, given that a lot of us are together for years and/or living together before getting engaged — commitments in and of themselves, and (b) counseling can only help in deciding to make that big commitment (or not).

          Liz and PS, thanks so much for the suggestions!

          • Caroline

            Oh so much so. My partner and I are not engaged (exactly. We’re something like pre-engaged, or at least, pre-announcing an near marriage) but we are commited to each other long term (we’re pretty close to common law spouses if our state had such a thing), and love going to counseling. However I have a friend who is really enjoying going to counseling. She and her boyfriend are not sure they are in a lasting, life-long relationship, but they had some stuff they wanted to work on, and are finding it incredibly helpful. There’s nothing wrong with going to counseling before marriage or engagement, and I think it is a really good idea to start when you think you are headed in that direction someday, if you are, even if you may or may not end up there.
            That’s a convoluted way of saying, don’t be embarassed, embrace your good sense of getting support for your relationship early and often.

    • Daynya

      Well, it took us a while to find this gem! I found all of our individual and couples counselors here :

      The first couples therapist we saw helped a little bit, but after a few months, it was monotonous, and we were still having major issues. We took a break, and then I found our newest one – who is amazing. By reading the profiles on that site, or on their professional websites, I really felt like I could get a good feel. The woman we see now spoke about how she is very blunt, and to the point, and she doesn’t want to waste anyone’s time. That really resonated with me, and after our first meeting, it totally clicked. She can look me in the eye, and call my crap, and it has honestly changed my life. I have gained so much confidence and security just from really opening up to her and letting her in.

      The very important tips I do have? Be willing to be completely open, even if it’s uncomfortable. More importantly, if the first one, two, or ten counselors don’t click, keep looking! There are so many amazing people out there, you have to search for the one who can figure out how to help your very unique needs. It’s totally worth the time and patience it takes!

    • Ah, we did a couple sessions of pre-engagement counseling and loved it. It was just what we needed to get ourselves to a point of readiness to decide we definitely wanted to get married. I totally recommend it for couples who are seriously considering marriage.

  • DKR

    I definitely second (third? fourth?) Liz’ “talk to him” advice. My fiance has an ex-wife and we each have an ex-fiance; we’ve talked extensively about those relationships (not in counseling) and each know all the other’s stories. In these conversations, I always did my best to keep my mind open, be patient and understand. It probably helped that he’d already worked through a lot of this stuff before I met him. We can talk about everything, and it’s great. As for wedding planning, we talked about his first wedding; his ex-wife came from money, so ridiculous amounts of money was spent on it (not happening this time). I asked him if there were any Puerto Rican traditions he wanted incorporated into the wedding; there are none, because they were *all* done the first time (fine by me). EAL, I don’t know how recently your fiance’s first engagement fell through, but with my guy and I, I don’t mind hearing about his exes – its family history in my view (of course, it probably helps that his family LOVES me and didn’t care for his ex-fiance – we don’t get any hurtful/rude comments). Sorry this is kinda rambling – hope it makes sense!

  • Sarah

    I can’t offer much good advice, I suffer the same issues but with a divorced partner (I, too, am divorced.)
    All I can say is that I absolutely agree, when the past collides with your present (wedding planning, child custody issues, etc.) it can be hard to be happy in the moment without questioning every little detail to compare yourself and your situation with what has happened in a previous relationship. Sometimes I remind myself of little affirmations about living in the present and it helps.
    But yes, talk about it. It’s like the golden rule :) But…those minefields around your own feelings? That, I haven’t mastered. There’s always more information than I want or need, it seems, and I always seem to step in it.
    Good luck!

    • Annie

      This is exactly where I am. We’ve both been married before. His was a very long marriage (they were married pretty young) and they have two children. There is a lot of “ghosts” in our relationship, if you will. We’re not running into too much from his past as far as the wedding planning goes since his was a pretty simple, small affair, but my first one was the big PPD. I’m being probably hyper-vigilant about doing things different because I don’t want him to think that it’s just a redo with a different groom. But I also tend to step into the emotional minefields of his past life – particularly relating to the kids since we won’t be having any together. It’s tough and sometimes I feel like I’m being completely irrational, but my feelings are my feelings. Feelings aren’t inherently right or wrong, they just are. There is a right way and a wrong way to deal with them, though, and that’s what I’ve been learning over the past year.

      I completely agree with the counseling suggestion. You’re trying to spare his feelings while trying to work through your own. If you’re really having trouble talking about something, that objective voice in the room can help get the conversation started for you.

      Good luck!

      • Sarah

        We sound like we’re in very similar situations (although my partner was only married a couple years to his ex, they, too, were married young.)
        “But I also tend to step into the emotional minefields of his past life – particularly relating to the kids since we won’t be having any together”
        Same, and this is a Big One. It’s gotten easier, however, over the years. I’m able to read signals better, to understand him better, etc., as time goes by, and feelings are hurt less the more you understand where the other person is coming from. Totally agree about feeling irrational sometimes, though!

  • Wow, today’s xkcd is weirdly relevant to this question!

    • meg

      HAHA. And who doesn’t have someone like that in their past?

    • Alexandra

      Wow, it is very oddly relevant. (For latecomers or people who don’t read XKCD: ) It’s also how I see a lot of my past relationships, sadly enough.

      Although personally, I feel like being reminded of a past relationship isn’t necessarily a death sentence for something. Roses always remind me of my past relationship, which was an extremely terrible, rough relationship. We were never engaged, but I’d always assumed we would be one day. Now that it’s over and I’m in a better relationship… Well, roses still do remind me of my ex. But at the same time, they remind me that there was once a time when we were truly happy and in love. And while he isn’t my fiance, I don’t really see a point in pretending that I was never in that old relationship. It happened, and I’m sure it made me who I am today, even if it was a terrible relationship. And just because roses remind me of that terrible Ex, I wouldn’t want to avoid them at my wedding for that reason. I’m actively trying to come up with a way to include several dried roses I have from my fiance at the wedding, in fact.

      At the same time, the song we’re currently considering for our first dance actually reminds my fiance of his Ex, as it was her favourite band and they went to several concerts for it. My fiance’s reasoning is that while right now it reminds him of her, eventually, it’s will probably become more associated with us and our first dance than her.

      So I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t necessarily avoid something that means a lot to you just because it might have some memories with an older relationship. Even the worst relationships probably had some good moments in them, otherwise they wouldn’t have been a relationship. And those failed relationships all had a role in forming the person who came out of them, even if it’s just someone who’s better at spotting red flags.

  • Allison

    My fiance was married before, so we had to work through some of his pain related to his divorce. The first year or so that we were together, he was bothered by things like his old wedding anniversary or the date his divorce was finalized. But we talked about it, and I gave him room to express his sadness without making it all about me – because that’s what partners do. Then we got to work making our own memories. We planned a big date night for his old wedding anniversary the next year, so we could replace it with a happy memory. After five years together, he no longer expresses sadness around the time his divorce was finalized – he expresses happiness that he met me a year later.

    As for wedding planning, I have honestly gone out of my way to not ask any questions about his first wedding so I wouldn’t feel it hanging over me. I don’t want to have a wedding just like his first one, but I don’t want to reject any ideas that I like just because they are similar to what he and his ex did. I have no idea if her dress was short or long, what kind of food they served, what flavor the cake was, or what kind of music was played. All I know is the actual location where their reception was held, but we have never discussed the details. I find it a lot easier not knowing what color her flowers were or whatever, so I don’t feel like I have to either pick or reject something in reaction to what she did. Even if some things are the same (and really, aren’t certain traditional things the same at most WASPy Southern weddings?), this one will be different because it will be ours.

  • Steph

    Your question really hit home EAL. Through a different set of circumstances I too am my husband’s first wife but second fiancee (she died after they got engaged but before they got married).
    My best advice is to think of it less like “starting the conversation” and more of like an ongoing process if that makes sense. Things will come up between the two of you, a little bit at a time, and it’s own pace. This will continue even after wedding planning is over.

    Also to remember that his way of dealing with the pain of his past may be very different from yours and that’s ok. I’m very emotional and talk it out. He uses humor. During the whole year leading up to our wedding, he had a running joke with his best man that his job was to keep me alive until the wedding. Let your guy open up to you at the pace and in the way that feels most comfortable for him.

    Also rembember to seek support from your own network about whatever you are feeling as these things come up. Huge hugs and best of luck!

    • Trin

      I was scrolling through the comments hoping to find this. My partner was engaged to a wonderful woman who passed away a few years before he met me. I know how much she meant to him, and I want to honor her memory for his sake, but sometimes it’s hard to know what to say, or how to listen without feeling a little hurt. The hurt itself is complicated; I’m hurt that he lost someone so special to him, and I’m hurt that I will always share him with her. I’m grateful for everything she gave him, and grateful that I got a chance to be with him.

      Like you, I prefer to talk everything out. But my partner manages his emotions quietly and privately, and he’s politely rejected the idea of counseling. I try to let him know that I understand this new engagement of ours – and our impending marriage – will call to mind his previous relationship, but talking about it always stings me a little bit too.

      • I am a little behind on this conversation, but thank you both so much for posting – it is such a relief to me to know that I am not the only person in this situation. I met my partner a week after his fiancee died suddenly – we began dating two years later – and it has, at times, been HARD in ways I never anticipated. While we’ve arrived at a good place, I look back on the early stages of our relationship and wish that I’d had someone to talk to, someone who’d been through what I was going through, because one of the most difficult parts of that time was feeling so utterly alone. Trin, you are so very right – the hurt is complicated.

  • My husband was previously married. It was the hardest to deal with some of the comments/ situations that arose during the engagement. Like “he’s is getting married… again” sort of comments. And I developed an obsession with making our wedding different. My husband basically refused to tell me much about his first wedding and just said we should plan it how we want and will obviously be a completely different wedding because I’m not her and he’s not the same man he was 8 years ago. In the end, the wedding was awesome. I don’t know how it compared to his other wedding because I wasn’t there but I’m completely satisfied with ours and so in the end, it doesn’t matter.

    I will say, though, that being wife #2 sometimes can still cause painful situations… like some older relatives don’t actually distinguish me from his first wife. They literally think I’m her. They are elderly and not that close and won’t remember if I spell it out but still it burns. Or knowing that my mother-in-law remains good friends with his ex. It’s her choice. And I know they were family for years so it’s totally fine but I don’t have that sort of relationship with her and sometimes I feel like the reject step child of the family. But eh… it’s fading over time, as we establish our marriage and I make my place within the family.

    • At least once a year, my mother or older family relatives will call my husband by my ex fiance’s name. (We’ve been together for 4 years, and I was with my ex for 7 before that.) He ignores it much more gracefully that I could. Old people!

  • I know it is beyond the point, but if I may, I would also suggest a different kind of counseling that can really help the marriage of those with kids: parental counseling. Sometimes raising children is a breeze, sometimes it’s not and in the latter cases, a parental counselor can provide the necessary guidance and provide a forum for parents to talk about the problems BEFORE they transform into a couple problem.

  • Lturtle

    My situation is different, but when my partner and I committed to each other there was serious baggage. What I found was that the more I allowed myself to be vulnerable/open with him, the more he did the same. I needed to trust that he would do his best not to hurt me, and demonstrate that I would do the same for him. The reasons I felt the need to take the first step there is that he had been hurt more (by me partly, but that’s a different story) and that my past experiences with therapy better equipped me to start those conversations. It remains true for us that the more I trust him and open myself up, the more he responds in kind.
    It’s hard, but sometimes, especially when someone is hurting, you need to take the first step. I totally agree with Liz that counseling could be a safe a helpful way to have these difficult conversations. I wish you all the best!

  • Margi

    “But what I’d REALLY love is if anyone can share advice about how couples counseling can be super helpful in non crisis situations, for helping you sort out issues in a calm way, and move forward. Who’s got me on this one?”

    In response to Meg’s post, I would like to chime in with my experience with couples counseling. My boyfriend and I have been dating for 4 years and do not live together. We started going to couples counseling after 2 years of dating, NOT because of a crisis situation but we got to a point in our relationship where things were stalled and we could not communicate in a healthy, helpful way to figure out where to go next. Being in couples therapy in a non crisis situation and not being engaged or married is hard because no one on the outside sees the point. I got a lot of questions on why am I trying so hard in this relationship if there is no ring or shared housing involved. For me, it was a way to not only work on our relationship, but for me to better understand myself and my communication patterns in this relationship and in past relationships. It also helps to have a counselor there to help help mediate the conversation and keep it going, whereas if we were talking by ourselves we might shut the conversation down or escalate it to a scary place.

  • Cass

    Couples counseling is not just for emergency situations. It is really an investment in your marriage!
    My husband and I are just beginning our couples counseling journey. It’s nice to know that in that first session we got feedback that really helped us reframe what’s happening in our relationship in a way that works FOR us rather than against us.

    We originally sought therapy because I have a condition that makes it extremely painful for me to have intercourse. And for both of us, sexuality is such an integral part of who we are, and we felt overwhelmed. But with even just a little counseling, this all seems more manageable, and we ultimately feel stronger in our marriage.

    • meg

      I actually think counseling is WAY more helpful if you get there before it’s an emergency. I mean, if you don’t have anything to talk about, obviously you don’t need to go. But if you have an issue you keep sticking on, working on it before it becomes a crisis is super smart.

      • Caroline

        Definitely. Plus, it makes it easier to suggest. It becomes no big deal to say “let’s go see *name of your counselor*” rather than “let’s go to counseling” which for some couples who’ve gotten to an emergency situation and associate counseling with the end of a relationship feel like is a death sentence (I’ve heard that from a bunch of people, that in a crisis, one person asks to go to counseling and the other doesn’t want to because they feel it would be admitting the relationship is over which is BS.) Make good associations with the counselor before a crisis, and work on your issues before they become a crisis.

        Also, I’m not sure I agree with you Meg, that if you don’t have anything to discuss, you don’t need to go. I think that everyone has issues that can be helped and the relationship strengthened via counseling.

        • meg

          Oh yeah, we totally disagree on that. David and I are not therapy people (for various reasons, me because I journal extensively, so if I need to work it out, I’ve probably already worked it out on paper and am just reciting it to you out loud, vaguely bored.) So we both have literally been told by therapists (multiple times) that “You’re all set! Don’t need to come back till there is an issue!” because we have NOTHING TO SAY.

          So I actually don’t think all relationships (or people) are strengthened my therapy all the time. It really depends on the person, so know yourself there. Therapy has saved lives in my family, but I’m still not a regular therapy person, and that’s FINE. But for gods sake, if you have something to talk about GO!

          • Caroline

            Gee, I want an individual therapist who will tell me “You’re all set! Don’t need to come back till there is an issue!” I think I would be more open to individual therapy if I had that kind of therapist rather than my past ones whose attitudes were “You are broken. You will need therapy and drugs for the rest of your life. Period.” Which given my fairly stable, drug-free, induvidual-therapist free current state, is clearly wrong. I am not broken, even if I do struggle with depression sometimes. It doesn’t mean I’m broken.

            So that is to say, I think I actually agree with you to an extent. We only go to therapy when there is an issue now. I think what I meant was, I think everyone can benefit from starting therapy, giving it a try, and developing a relationship with a therapist for later issues, but yes, definitely not everyone needs to go regularly, just when issues crop up. It’s just helpful to know a good therapist before you get to the issues, rather than decide you want to give it a try because you are having issues communicating and THEN try to find a therapist.

          • youlovelucy

            “for various reasons, me because I journal extensively, so if I need to work it out, I’ve probably already worked it out on paper and am just reciting it to you out loud, vaguely bored”

            Felt too strongly about that to just press a button.

          • David and I did some pretty light premarital counseling with the pastor who married us, but nothing since. But only because we keep forcing ourselves to hash out the hard stuff, and have become really good at working things through calmly. Even the stuff that may have me screaming on the inside – we’ve figured out how to work things out quietly over a drink. I’ve done more than enough personal therapy in my life to be willing to do it again, but also enough to know that FOR US, AT THIS POINT, it would have no benefit.

          • If therapy is working you certainly should not need it permanently. That is expensive and unnecessary. At least so says this therapist (in training).

        • ElisabethJoanne

          My future husband and I see it this way: Mental health is another aspect of health, like physical health and dental health. We should have check-ups of our mental health, as needed, just like we have physicals and go to the dentist.

          “As needed” can be hard to figure out. I’ve never been to a mental health professional, but I also didn’t have a physical for 7 years, just like a lot of teens and 20-somethings. I do think that everyone should “have” a mental health professional, even if they don’t see him regularly, like we should “have” a lawyer or a “regular doctor.”

  • A A

    A bit off topic: This dilemma reminds me of a good book…Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (also made into a movie)

  • AP

    I’m on the other side of the fence on this one — I called off my engagement almost a year ago, just three months before my wedding. The relationship was all wrong and it felt like we were living on different planets. I’ve never regretted my decision or looked back, and know I’m better off now.

    But I’ve been single ever since, and am still very afraid of trying to start a new relationship with someone because of some of the issues discussed in this post. What would he think of me? Will he think I’d end our relationship the same way I did my previous one? What if I decide to get married to someone else again — will my family and friends tease me about leaving this guy, too? What would it be like to plan another wedding — do I have to make the complete opposite planning choices as my canceled wedding, simply because it would be weird to use the same colors or foods or type of venue for a different wedding to a different guy?

    I actually went through a pretty long “mourning” period post-canceling my wedding where I felt like I could never have a wedding in the future, now that I’d canceled what was going to be the event I’d dreamed of for years. How could I go and plan that again with someone else?

    I’m still not sure I’ll ever be able to plan a wedding again, because it would feel too awkward — I’d think the guy I was with was questioning me (and potentially, our relationship) just like how EAL is feeling. Having “the wedding” wouldn’t be worth it to me in that case. It’s helping me to read this post and some of these comments because I know I might have to have this exact same conversation with someone in the future.

    • Allison

      My cousin called off her wedding two days before it was due to take place. Fast forward about ten years, and she was engaged again. This time she did the complete opposite of everything she had planned before – small wedding vs. big one, etc. It worked for her, and to my knowledge she was very happy with how it turned out. The amount of time that had passed surely helped as well.

    • Liz

      You know, neither my husband nor I have ever been engaged before marrying one another. But we both have made monumental mistakes in past relationships. Because of open communication, honesty about the past, and establishing parameters for how much we can healthily talk about, I’m confident that Josh will never treat me the way he may have treated other women and I hope that Josh knows that I’ve changed and grown in my handling of relationships the same way I’ve changed and grown in so many other aspects of my character.

      All of us enter relationships with baggage- whether from past relationships, our parents, our environment. There is NO singular issue that is insurmountable. Growth and change are possible, and finding someone who acknowledges that growth and change or is open to trying to understand is ALSO possible.

      I’m hopeful for you, AP!

      • meg

        Yep. Past (screwed up) relationships actually make us way stronger in current relationships. I mean, I’m in my early 30’s. Why the hell would I want to date someone WITHOUT baggage? That would just mean they probably hadn’t figured out shit I figured out in my teens….

    • Meg1113

      You can have whatever wedding you want! Let me tell you some of my little story.

      Six years ago, I called off an engagement six weeks before the wedding. We planned a wedding in the church I grew up in, with lots of family and the most amazing dress I have ever seen. Then I finally got the courage to walk a way from a relationship that wasn’t right for me.

      Fast forward to 2009 and I am engaged to my now husband. I had the same feelings of guilt and insecurity that I some how didn’t deserve the wedding that I wanted. After some long, tearful nights we talked it out. He expressed his fears, I told him mine and somewhere along the line we realized all the little things didn’t matter. No one was sitting around with giant score cards comparing our relationship or the wedding that never happened. The only people that gave a damn were us. And once we realized that, everything changed. We started thinking about what we wanted instead of what we wanted to avoid.

      We got married in a different place with many of the same people while I wore the dress I bought all those years before. We cried the first time we saw each other, laughed with our favorite people and danced until the last song faded into the corners of the room. It was the perfect start to our lives together and no one ever questioned what might have been.

      When you find your someone, be honest with each other and remember that you deserve whatever happily ever after you want!

      • AP

        Thanks. This is a great story and it makes me feel so much better. I still don’t think I’m quite there yet as far as truly believing I’ll be able to do this someday, but at least I can remember that other people have so there’s hope for me :)

        • You can find my story about calling off a wedding on this site. And you can also read about my wedding to my husband on here too. But what I don’t generally advertise in the timing, but here we go.
          I would have married by ex in Nov 2009, after what would have been a 2 year engagement if I had gone through with it. Instead, I married my husband in Mar 2010. And I regret almost nothing.

          Sure, the timing was tight and I know there were some raised eyebrows and yes, I left my ex and basically immediately fell in love and then moved in with my husband and had a short engagement.

          We did end up making fairly different choices for the wedding (community centre instead of fancy golf club) but that was totally about having the wedding we wanted, not me needing to be different. And you know? My husband and I didn’t really talk about it. Sure, it helped that he knew me before, and knew my ex and knew how wrong the relationship was, but even still. We rarely talk about the past, because it doesn’t matter. When planning the wedding, we ONLY thought about what we, as a couple wanted, and nothing else. Because really, that was all that mattered.

    • Anon for now

      Hey AP, I went through a similar thing a few years ago and want to say: Give yourself time. It’s ok, I would even say good, to have a period of mourning. After all, there was a death of an important relationship in your life.

      It took me a while to start dating again, but eventually I did, and am now dating a great person. She doesn’t judge me for breaking off my engagement; actually she respects the strength and integrity it took for me to end something that just wasn’t right.

      I am still doubtful/cautious about marriage, and may never get married. Who knows. Maybe I’ll feel differently in another few years, once the wounds have healed even more.

      Which leads me to say: I encourage you to be patient with yourself. You don’t need to decide right now whether marriage is right for you, or how your future wedding will look. Those answers may become clearer once you have a little more time and distance from the breakup.

      Best of luck :)

      • Chris Bergstrom

        Exactly what Anon For Now says. Feel what you’re feeling now, but know that it might change.

        I broke off one engagement and had another almost-engagement broken off for me, and both times I was heartbroken for a bit. And then even after I wasn’t heartbroken anymore, I was pretty sure I was never going to be married, like somehow I missed my chance (twice).

        It took a couple years after meeting The Right Person, but slowly, my feelings on marriage changed. We got married in September, and I can’t believe how glad I am I didn’t marry one of the first two (very nice, but in hindsight all wrong) guys.

  • Amanda

    Yes yes yes to counseling. We went to a session prior to getting married because even though we were having a non-religious ceremony, I still felt like it would be nice to “check in” with someone and make sure everything was as great as we thought it was. Honestly, I would go at least once a month if I had the money for it. Being able to talk to your significant other in a completely neutral environment with the help of a trained professional… it was just really great. It made me love my husband even more, it made me see where things needed some help and more communication within our relationship and it brought to light some personal experiences that have an effect on our relationship. It made me realize things I was doing in our relationship that were destructive (which can be really difficult to discover yourself). It was also helpful for us in making us see that we would each benefit from separate, private counseling and boy that was a lifesaver for us. For a while after that couple-session we would have monthly check-ins with each other, at a neutral place (park bench, restaurant, etc.) and discuss how things were going. We kind of fell off the wagon with that one but I remember it being really helpful. Yay counseling!

    • Liz

      I think that last bit is key! Not only are counseling sessions helpful in the moment, but they can help you establish healthy habits that last long after you’re meeting with a counselor.

  • Allison

    We have also done counseling. I totally support it for any couple – dating, engaged or married. But! Word to the wise – you may need to try more than one counselor to see if you click with them. We’ve been through two who didn’t really get us. The third one did, and we accomplished more in an hour of talking with her than we had in weeks of working with the previous two therapists. So, be prepared to shop around if you don’t feel comfortable right off with a therapist.

    • meg

      This is true with ANY therapist. I’m super picky about therapists, in general I don’t love individual therapy, but when I go I need very specific things. And as with any relationship it’s so helpful if you’re willing to be upfront with your needs (once you figure them out). If the therapist can’t meet them, ask them to recommend someone who can.

  • I agree! Counseling is helpful – not only in talking, but in teaching you techniques that will carry forward. So many smart, loving couples simply haven’t learned to communicate effectively.
    My partner and I still use active listening techniques we learned more than a year ago – and they are so helpful to ensure that both of us are understanding each other.

    The method looks something like:
    (1) repeat back what we heard the other person say,
    (2) ask to confirm we repeated it correctly,
    (3) validate their statement,
    (4) ask if they had anything else to add,
    (5) and then respond.

    Going through all 4 steps really forces you to hear!

    • meg

      Ha1 The funny part is that I (we?) actually HATTTEEEE these sorts of communication methods (and also “I statements.”). They totally don’t work for us! Funny enough, any issues we have in a given year, have never been around poor communication. I always thought this was odd, but I recently read in one of Gottman’s marriage books that this kind of communication doesn’t work for a whole segment of couples with strong relationships, and that’s fine. That it’s totally fine for couples to communicate in totally different ways (or even through yelling!) as long as it works for them.

      So! This is not to say that it’s not a helpful process for lots of people (or that I’m not thrilled that it works for you). But, I am saying that if this ISN’T a communication process that works for you, couples counseling can still be super helpful.

      • Caroline

        Oh for sure. We don’t communicate this way either, (actually, it leads to more fighting and poorer communication usually) but counseling has been super helpful for other things. (In fact, in fights our most healthy communication is often when J starts teasing me. He keeps pushing and pushing until he makes me laugh realizing how unreasonable I’m being. Usually, of course, we’re both being unreasonable in a fight, but once either one of us breaks from angry mode, we can both move forward.)
        So if active listening works for you, awesome. If not, you can still benefit from counseling.

        • meg

          What you just described is a CLASSIC way that some strong couples fight and communicate, according to Gottman, by the way. We totally communicate this way too! Yelling + Jokes = Good communication for us. (Though we’d be in unpleasant fight within five minutes of trying active listening ;)

        • Andrea

          Agreed on the joking and laughing! We do this too, and our deepest, most enlightening conversations have come after we “break from angry mode.” In some ways, the laughing reunites us. It reminds us that the love, understanding and forgiveness are right below the surface. It can be like a white flag…we can talk about an issue without either feeling attacked.

          But, some of our worst fights have been when one person tries to “break from angry mode” and the other person does not respond the same. HM. Interesting to think about fighting/communication styles.

      • Emily Rae

        This method of communication was actually set up for a stronger counselor-client relationship (where the counselor/therapist would mirror back the client’s statement) and not necessarily as a means for couples to communicate.

  • Amber

    Getting over a broken engagement is hard, but it’s worse when no one says anything. I would definitely talk about it (with parameters, of course) because the last thing a previously engaged person wants is to be treated “differently.”

    My fiance left the day after I bought my wedding dress, with no explanation other than “I don’t love you anymore.” If I do ever get engaged again, sure, some things will remind me of the 10 months I was engaged before – but I would rather have that out in the open than have people ignore that experience altogether. That you recognize this is an issue is a HUGE step towards making your partner feel better/stronger!

    • pixie_moxie

      My former fiance told me “he loved me more every day but just couldn’t marry me” the day after my dress arrived, a month out from our wedding. When I got married to my husband last summer I had some moments of “this is how it was the first time i took part in planning” but we worked thru them. Open lines of communication were key. Also remembering some things were in both weddings because they were important to you as a person not necessarily to the former relationship. I wish you all the best during you engagement and eventual wedding! I do not believe that any one gave my husband any commentary about the former engagement, other than my father who said ‘You helped give us our daughter back’. Like Liz said you get to start the partnership off strong because you get to work out these potentially tough moments together.

  • I always feel like I shouldn’t offer advice, but this may be helpful:

    I AM the baggage of relationships past (Hey-o, Wedding Dropout). Mike and I started couples counseling very early into our relationship and it was immensely helpful. We had no crisis, but I wanted to understand how to best communicate with my partner.

    I’m not the most sensitive person, so I really have to be cognizant of how I present wedding planning things to Mike. Sometimes I do a really good job. Sometimes I fail miserably. We talk it out when that happens. What I do know is that we can’t tip toe around past wedding stuff. Cause then we get all b*tchy with each other when we’re trying to take care of present wedding stuff. We have to face those past wedding planning ghosts head on and own them. I feel like it takes away their power and potential to cause pain. Gawd, I hope that was helpful.

    • meg

      I was HOPING you’d leave a comment today. Yay!

      • Girl, I need a U-Haul for all my baggage. :)

  • Did you coordinate this post with XKCD’s reflection on past relationships?

    • meg

      Totally. It’s a conspiracy ;)

  • Kess

    This is kind of off topic, but I’m really glad that people are pulling for couple’s counseling even if you’re not married or engaged. I’ve often thought that was a little funny, but was embarrassed to bring it up with my SO. I’ve often thought it would be particularly helpful for us as we are quite young (currently 22 and 23). Add onto that he’s my first boyfriend of any sort (he had one girlfriend before me), we’ll be long distance for at least 2 years starting May, and I’d say it would be a good thing to talk it out with someone’s help before we actually fully decide to get engaged.

    • Caroline

      Kess, do it! It’s awesome. For the record, I’m not quite 22, he just turned 25, we were long distance for 3 years before we lived together, neither of us have been with any other person romantically, and we’re not exactly engaged (precisely). Heck I was 20 and he was 23 when we started counseling. So go, that’s no excuse not to. It will rock your world. (I said that above, I know, but seriously! It’s just that awesome.)

  • Amy

    I’ve been reading APW for probably 4 years, but this is my very first comment as an engaged girl- squeeee!

    Anyway, this very much hits home, because my sweet fiancee has been married before, and when he told me I felt like I had been punched in the gut, and carried that feeling around with me for a couple weeks. However, that has softened over the past months. I’m lucky that before he met me, he had decided to take the lessons learned and use them in a positive way in his next relationship. His family is also wonderful, and have welcomed me with no judgements, and thankfully, no comparison “compliments.” I’ve never felt like the “second fiancee” or “wife #2 (to-be).” There’s no contact with his ex (no children, so that’s easy), no drama.

    I would say give it time. I tried to be THE MOST SUPPORTIVE GIRLFRIEND EVER, however, things got easier when I was able to admit to him that sometimes I hated the fact I wouldn’t be his first wedding, first marriage- and he said he wished I could have been. But it’s just a matter of fact, and it also makes it so appreciative of our fantastic relationship, devoid of drama and doubt.

    Also- give yourself permission to plan whatever you want! Early on, I wondered if I should make everything different, if I should clear everything with B to make sure it doesn’t bring of memories, etc. But frankly- you’re happy, and he’s happy, and it will be different because it’s YOUR wedding. And it will be AWESOME. He obviously has faith in you, so you should too.

  • We started relationship counseling when we realized we were getting serious about having kids, and wanted to make sure we were on the same page AND that our communication skills were really up to par before attempting to bring anyone new into the world.

    It was one of the best decisions we ever made. And still, 10 years later, when things start to get tense, we try to refer back to the skills we learned in counseling, and what we learned about each others buttons and how not to push them. Some of that I think we would have figured out on our own, but it was far more efficient to have help And when in the middle of the counseling process, something did start to go pear-shaped, it quite possibly saved our marriage to have that more objective view of what has happening.

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  • MDBethann

    EAL, like many of the other posters, your letter hit home for me too. I am a “first time bride” marrying a “second time groom” in 3 weeks. He’s told many times that despite some similarities in our names, his ex and I are very different people and that I am nothing like her so I shouldn’t worry about it. I have a better relationship with his family than she did and they have been incredibly warm and welcoming. My bridesmaids have told me repeatedly how enthusiastic and involved his mom and sister were in planning my showers; it proves what I’ve suspected for awhile – they love me because I love their son and make him happy. I’ve never felt compared to her.

    Still, there have been times in the planning process where I’ve stopped and checked with him to make sure that the ceremony and reception music weren’t the same and that the Bible readings for our ceremony are different (he doesn’t even remember what they used the first time). I think our cake flavor (chocolate with peanut butter filling) is the same because it is HIS favorite combination. The one thing that I wanted to do that we aren’t doing is combining the father/daughter & mother/son dances – he doesn’t want to dance the spotlight dance alone and they did it in combo last time so it was a big “no” from him on that one. I think his mom was a bit disappointed, but that’s for him to work out with her. Dad and I will still do a father/daughter dance and he’s okay with that because he knows it is important to my dad and to me.

    I think the important thing is to INCLUDE your fiance in the planning process and make it about what the two of you want as a couple so that he feels safe telling you when something is uncomfortable or unpleasantly reminds him of the past. Then you can address it between the two of you before it becomes a big and/or public issue.

    I think the biggest “problem” we had in dealing with his previous wedding was the china pattern. Most of the housewares his ex left with him, including the china. Things like the mixer, the pots & pans haven’t been an issue and we use them all the time. The china was different – it’s a simple, popular Lenox pattern which I don’t dislike, but SHE had picked it out (though never used it) and I wanted my own china. I simultaneously felt guilty (a lot of the china was purchased by his family), wasteful (we’re big on using things until they wear out), and this hard-to-describe resentment/jealousy/nasty-beast feeling about a set of fancy plates. I ended up finding a lovely, colorful pattern (he said he wasn’t surprised at all by what I picked) & no one seems to mind. We’re attempting to see the old pattern on Craigslist. But it is interesting to see what random things like plates might unleash in otherwise sane and reasonable people. Surprisingly, the person who had the biggest issue with it was me.

    Finally, I will just echo the counseling suggestion. Other than our pre-marital couples counseling class, we haven’t gone to counseling together yet, but we have agreed to go whenever either one of us asks for it. And he only recently stopped going to individual counseling, which I think helped him feel more comfortable with our relationship and work through any issues that he had from his previous marriage.

    Our life together is so different than what he had with her that the longer we are together, the less it comes up.

    • EAL

      We’ve started registering since I wrote in and I’m having some of these same issues! No I don’t want to register for the other half of the silverware/dishes that you and your ex had! But I’m okay with keeping and filling in with pots and pans and kitchen utensils. Is that weird?

      • Caroline

        It doesn’t seem weird. China is kind of a sentimental family thing, for most people, pots are more about function. China is something that is passed down in families, or that you select base on your own aesthetic, pots are (for most people) really about having nice functional pots. (I admit, however that I don’t feel that pots are just sentimental about my pots but that is because I starte collecting a set of beautiful copper pots years ago that UFO plan to pass on, evenmore likely than china. But I don’t think most people care about their pots the way I do.)

        • MDBethann

          I think that is it – the family heirloom-ishness of fine china. If we choose to have it, I think we secretly hope to pass it on to our kids or grandkids one day. And I want to pass down MY china. Not the choice of someone I never met and am not related to in any way.

          It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who’s sentimental and old-fashioned about china.

          We cook ALL THE TIME so we actually registered for new ones that don’t have teflon like his current set. In the case of the pots, they needed replacing because they are worn out, not because they were from the previous marriage. The KitchenAid had never been used and I was more than happy to break it in when my old mixer died. I have happily registered for attachments instead.

  • Sometimes people say awful things. When I got married to my on-again, off-again college boyfriend, someone that went our school and witnessed all the drama told me, “That must be such a victory for you!”

    Here’s how I handle it: “Wow, what a wildly inappropriate comment!” Yes. I’ve SAID that. On more than one occasion to more than one person. I’m not sure how that measures up, etiquete-wise, but it works.

    • Some people can be so insensitive or unaware. Your response seems totally appropriate!

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  • Leah

    I, too, can relate to this topic. My FH has been married twice- his first marriage was over before I even knew him, and his ex is a perfectly lovely lady who we are still in contact and friendly with today. His second marriage, however, cast a huge shadow over our relationship for a long time, and we are still fighting to cast off that shadow while planning our own wedding next year. I was friends with my now-FH for years, and I watched him date this woman, get married, have a kid, and then go through an AWFUL divorce. My shoulder was the one he cried on when he decided that he just couldn’t “stay together for the kid” and I was the first person he told he was going through with the divorce. He went through (and is still going through) years of legal battles over money, custody, and everything else two people can possible argue over. And somewhere in the middle of all of this, we realized that we loved each other, and eventually I moved in with him- yes, into the house he and his ex picked out as “their first home.” Talk about ghosts in the corners!

    I am lucky that everyone- my family, his family, and all of our combined friends- have been very supportive of us and are thrilled that we are getting married. But from day 1 of us dating, I have been hearing “thank god you’re nothing like ex#2- she was awful! and you’re wonderful!” At first, these comments were flattering and made me feel better. I mean, who doesn’t want to hear that they’re better than the last one?! But at some point, I got tired of hearing about her- even if it was meant as a compliment. I finally put my foot down and said- nicely, but firmly- that I’m thrilled that people are happy that we are together, but that they can compliment us without bringing her into the conversation. I was tired of being only better in comparison, not great as my own person. People got the picture and toned it down.

    Now that we’re planning a wedding, however, it’s starting all over again. Most everyone on his side that is coming to our wedding went to his last one, and all I hear about is how awful the last wedding was and how I better make sure this one is better. I feel like everyone on his side has pulled me aside at some point and told me all about how his last wedding didn’t fit his personality and he secretly hated it and I better make sure that he was happy with our wedding. I understand that they mean well, but talk about pressure! He and I are working together to plan our wedding and I can tell that he is really involved and happy with the direction that we’re going, so I shouldn’t be worried. But I find myself thinking “they did that at their wedding- therefor I have to find a way to do the exact opposite so people don’t think I’m anything like her”. And I’m getting tired of feeling that way. It’s the good-only-by-comparison feeling all over again. Maybe it’s time for another little chat with everyone again…

  • Amy March

    Meg- Not sure if you’ll see this, but can you pretty pretty please start a discussion about the New York Times article on The Downsides of Cohabiting Before Marriage?

  • Sunny

    To me, there are two different things going on here:
    1) Ghosts of past relationships haunting your own:
    As the response said, most of us have past relationships that haunt us :-) My partner has always been very curious about my first marriage and very open about his past relationships, although he had never had any longer than a year or so. It was weird to me at first, but as our relationship evolved, I grew to appreciate the openness about our past relationships. It helped us both work through past traumas in a healthy and productive way, it helps him understand when seemingly random things trigger memories of abuse for me. Perhaps more importantly, it is a sign of tremendously healthy communication between us. I agree with what was said above, we can’t be therapists for each other, but naming our fears and describing our pasts to our partners is part of “learning” to know each other – which doesn’t happen just by time, but as part of an active process of deliberate “learning.”
    2) Wanting the second wedding to look different to those attending
    This CONSTANTLY haunts me. It was a HORRIBLE first marriage, but a kick-ass low budget alternative first wedding. Just yesterday, my mother called to say that she had found supplies (plates and glasses) purchased for my first wedding. GET RID OF THEM, they’re tainted! I don’t want reminders of that in my wedding, or in my everyday life, period.

    On the other hand: certain things about the first wedding were just so inherently ME: eco-friendly overall, potted plants, lots of DIY, outdoor setting, not religious. Some things incorporated (especially foods) were family traditions. While I continue to grow and evolve, these aspects of who I am haven’t changed. I am still poor, committed to protecting the environment, vaguely agnostic, love the outdoors, and love some of these family foods. So why wouldn’t these aspects also appear in this wedding? They will look different anyway, because they are meeting and melding with the tastes, commitments, and traditions of a different person. Wouldn’t the same be true for your partner? If he loves outdoor BBQ, and you love them together, why NOT do one?

    On the other hand, there are so many fabulous readings out there, I do indeed intend to ensure that there is no replication :-)

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