Ask Team Practical: Comparing with the Past

It's apples and oranges

Q: My fiancé and I are sixteen years, one marriage, one divorce, and two children apart. He is a forty-year-old father of two wonderful boys while I, on the other hand, am a recent MA graduate in my mid-twenties who’s just coming to terms with the fact that I actually do want the “happily ever after,” marriage and all. In all the important ways, he and I are on the same page. We are both eternally committed to each other, and are enjoying this time planning for a celebration of us. And yet, I still find myself thinking, he’s already done this once. All of the milestones I’m looking forward to and planning for—the wedding, our first child, our first home—are and will be brand new to me, while this is his second chance. While I know our relationship is fundamentally different than that with his ex (i.e., it’s an equal, loving partnership), and I know he would erase most parts of it, save his children, how can I avoid comparing the two?

An Almost-Stepmother

A: Dear AAS, Easy peasy. They’re completely different things, not even the same animal. I mean, sure. I guess in every relationship there are some basics that overlap. There’s often two people, for starters. But after that, the dynamics are completely different from relationship to relationship, making them entirely distinct, apples-to-oranges sorts of things. So what’s your concern? That his past experiences are a threat in some way? That it won’t be special this time around? That you won’t compare favorably to the past relationship that he’s already left?

Take another peek at this post over here where we talk about the fact that the places we’ve been and the things that we’ve done (and alright, even the mistakes we’ve made) lay the groundwork for where we are right this minute. This means that possibly dreadful first marriage wasn’t just a bunch of milestones, negating any others to come. It was a series of events that made your partner into who he is, and prepared him to be with you. That means he might have some valuable insight to offer. He’s had kids? He’ll know how to change some diapers and pick out schools. He’s bought a house? He’ll know logistical aspects of inspections and taxes and things. Instead of wishing that away, benefit from it, lady. Take advantage of that extra experience.

There’s a weird sort of myth (that can be kind of damaging, frankly) that “firsts” are magical, glittering, best. But firsts aren’t innately special. My first kiss was terribly cringe-worthy. And while I was disappointed at the time (and even still can be a little rueful), it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, because now I have terrific, wonderful make-out-fests on demand (thanks, marriage!). That’s the part that matters.

And though we’re not all marrying partners on their second marriage, we all are entering relationships where we have different levels of experience for different things. How many dates you’ve been on, how many relationships you’ve been in, whether you’ve lived with someone or on your own or just freshly moved out of mom and dad’s, those things vary from person to person. It’s pretty rare to have a partner who has the exact same level of experience in every facet of life—and frankly, sounds a little boring. All of us could probably waste away our days wondering, “Is he thinking of that ex?” or “Is she comparing this to before?” Each of us (not just those on second marriages) has to rest in the reassurance, “This person is with me now.” Because that’s what matters.

 Team Practical, How does the past factor into your relationship? How do you avoid comparison?

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. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • Josie

    My husband is divorced as well (no kids), and we have a similar age gap (13 years). While on paper it doesn’t sound ideal, in reality this man is perfect for me, and everything he’s been through has made him such a wonderful partner.

    I didn’t have to be first but I’ll be the best, and the last, and that’s all that matters. It really just took time to get comfortable with it, and while things still can bother me (we live in the house he shared with his ex-wife, for example; the second mortgage he had to take out when she basically refused to find a job is limiting our ability to sell and buy new), the reality is it comes up less and less the longer we’ve been together and the longer we’ve been married.

  • MTM

    As someone in a very similar position, I would say that there are some “firsts” that are very difficult to deal with when dealing with stepchildren, because those “firsts” turned into traditions, and those traditions can’t change “for the kids”. Especially around the holidays, I find myself feeling quite left out that there are these traditions that were started during his first marriage with his parents, that now I’m just supposed to magically adopt and plug myself into, when they don’t feel like things I would do. Obviously, we have added our own traditions, but it’s tough not to feel out of place with those “we’ve always done this” things, when clearly you weren’t part of the original “we”.

    • Lawyerette510

      Do you think it would have helped to talk through those things before the wedding? As in, what’s negotiable and non-negotiable related to family traditions and how do I as a new member of the larger family fit in to them? Just thinking for the letter-writer and other readers…

      • MTM

        We did talk through the situations pre-wedding and the outcome was being intentional about us making our own traditions, and that I have the ability to opt-out when I want (but then that just leaves me more on the outs). The point was, that what’s in the best interest of the kids is not always in the best interest of the couple — it’s a tough road to navigate, and there’s not always a shiny fix-all answer.

        • Lawyerette510

          Thanks for the insight, and I’m sorry you’ve got to deal with this.

          I imagine it’s possible that while it’s being said it’s “for the kids” it’s actually more for his parents. In my experience, kids are super resilient, grand parents on the other hand are a lot more set in their ways and don’t like giving up their position at the center of holiday traditions once they have it.

          • MTM

            Hah! Yes, I agree that the GPs are set in their ways, but they’re important too! Kids are super resilient, but for me, it’s thinking about which battles are worth fighting and trying to minimize the impact. I think probably the more challenging aspect of the continued traditions is the conversations of “remember when” that they bring up every. single. year.

          • Victwa

            Hmmm… I think kids are super resilient IF they are given the support to process their feelings in appropriate and supportive ways, which I have seen NOT happen in many divorce situations (ok, anecdotal evidence), mostly because often, parents don’t know how to process their own conflicting emotions around divorce. My husband has come a long way in terms of being willing and able to hear his childrens’ pain around the divorce from their mother, but it most definitely did NOT happen at least with my stepson, some because he was pretty young (4) and apparently no one thought he had big feelings around it, and partly because his sister (11 at the time) was having some other serious issues that took the focus off of him. My husband and I have talked a lot about this, and he’s gotten much better about trying to have the feelings conversations with his kids (yay therapy!) but it’s still really hard for him to sit with knowing that the decision he made (even if he can have a logical conversation with himself about how it has been a net positive in his kids’ lives, models a healthy relationship for them, etc) is something that causes (and on some levels, continues to cause, because traveling back and forth between houses is not anyone’s ideal) pain to his children.

            We had lots of conversations pre-marriage and pre-moving in together, and involved the kids in conversations about things that were important to each of us, and those were helpful, but this is just something that is going to keep coming up. Grieving can take years–especially when it’s not something that the family makes space for, and I’m going to make a sweeping generalization and say that generally, our culture is crap about processing grief.

            It’s a lot of hardness. Even four years into this, sure that I am married to the best person for me that I could have possibly found, and knowing that the reason he’s this person is BECAUSE he had a marriage and two kids before he met me, it’s all just really hard sometimes.

          • Violet

            As an adult child of divorce, I have SO many feelings about this. Thank you and thank your husband for me for listening to his kids’ pain, even when it’s hard for him (and you!). Their pain is REAL, their opinion of whether or not the divorce was a “net positive” for them is REAL, and the thing is: they’re kids. You two adults can process your feelings together, but they need their dad to help them with their feelings. Trying to convince them that the divorce was a positive shuts that down, big time.
            So thank you, for supporting the feelings of the more vulnerable parties in the situation.

          • Victwa

            Just to be clear– my husband has never tried to convince the kids that the divorce was a net positive. It’s more when he looks at the level of conflict in the household pre-divorce (very high), and a lot of the ways his parenting has become more healthy post-divorce, and even seeing the ways his kids have responded to certain parenting changes he’s made (being more consistent/following through, talking about stuff more, etc.–things that he is also very clear happened because of meeting me and conversations we had about parenting), that he can see the ways certain changes have benefited them. He’s never tried to convince them about their own feelings– he just didn’t necessarily make a space for the feelings.

          • Violet

            Yep, that’s how I interpreted what you wrote- that in his highly-evolved, has-all-the-facts adult mind, he knows there is a positive in the situation for his kids. But that it doesn’t make sense to try to “convince” the kids of that, because they would take it as an undermining of how they are feeling. As you said, this is a conversation he has with himself (and you too, because that’s what partners are for!). The fact that now he’s going the extra step and allowing space for his kids’ feelings- yeah, so much good stuff happening here.

          • z

            Well said. I truly loathe the cliche “children are resilient” because my parents use it to mean “sit down and shut up,” as if it’s a magic wand that waves away the impact of their choices on others. Any negative opinions I have about their divorce are merely evidence of my own lack of resilience– they can’t stand to hear anything negative about their choices. I don’t think their divorce was a net positive, but I have to keep my true feelings a secret, and it has permanently damaged my relationship with my parents. I Their failure to be realistic about the impact of their choices has caused me to lose respect for them.

            “Children are resilient” does children, parents, and step-parents a real disservice, because it gives them unrealistically high expectations of post-divorce family life. Research shows that some children are resilient, some are resilient only with a lot of good parenting, and some children are not very resilient and experience serious problems. While everyone would like to believe that their divorce will be a net positive, their second marriage will be happy, and their children will cope well, for a lot of families that isn’t the case. This can lead to inadequate post-divorce parenting, compounding the harm of the divorce.

          • Violet

            Yep yep. It’s, uh, 13 years later, and I STILL don’t see the divorce as a net positive for me? (But in my case, I let them know that, because I’m cruel like that, har har. They turned my life upside-down and turned me into a weekly traveling nomad, while their lives got to improve. Ouch, dude.) There’s a beautiful post here ( that resonated with me a lot. Somtimes when low-conflict marriages turn into divorces, it’s amazing how much they undermine a child’s sense of security. When there were literally NO red flags apparent to the kiddos (and even my parents concede that was true, no warning signs visible to a kid), it sure makes for an adult who is constantly looking over her shoulder, wondering when trouble’s gonna come from nowhere.

          • z

            I totally feel you on the surprise thing. Clearly, that does really mess people up. But what do you think a parent ought to do? The surprise is damaging, but fighting in front of the kids is bad too, right? And if they end up salvaging the marriage, it’s much, much better if the kids didn’t have to come along for the whole emotional roller coaster ride. So I can see why a parent would try to keep things under wraps.

            My parents were visibly unhappy, and their potential divorce was hanging over our heads for about 8 years. (I would take a surprise over that any day.) But they are still unhappy in their new relationships, and still set a terrible example of what a relationship should be. If they had stayed married, they probably wouldn’t be any less happy, and it would be easier for everyone else, and financially a lot better too. At least they wouldn’t be splitting up time with their grandkids. I actually think they’re embarrassed at what a mess they have made of our family life, and that’s why they are so hell-bent on insisting that everything’s great. I’ve given up trying to persuade them otherwise, so we just don’t talk about it, because I’m not about to eat shit with a smile.

          • Violet

            Ugh, eight years of the Sword of Damocles sounds TERRIBLE. I’m so sorry you had to endure that. Even if your parents never apologize, or get what they did, one internet stranger knows you got screwed, big time. I think your story and mine highlight the truth that no matter what shape or form the divorce comes in, it has the potential to wreak real havoc.

            I think I’m right in interpreting your question (“What do you think a parent ought do?”) as rhetorical, because naturally it’s highly unlikely that there’s one course of action that all parents should do, and if only all parents just Did That, the kids would be fine. I think you meant more specifically in my parents’ case. When I look at their relationship, it is very hard for me to understand how they could put so little effort into their relationship, to the point that they couldn’t even bother to put effort into fighting every now and then. (They didn’t hide their conflict, so much as avoid it in the first place.) We’ve talked about it numerous times over the years (I still do have overall positive relationships with them despite my resentment on this issue), and they both concede they were unhappy and couldn’t get the other person to see their side. They didn’t ever stop and think, “Gee, maybe I should try to see their side, and see what happens.” They were very stubborn “You don’t like it? Well, fine,” lack-of-resolution types. So what would I have had them do? Simple: Keep Working On It. They intentionally created the family, it was their job to keep it going. You know how everyone’s always telling kids the divorce is not their fault? Yeah, I knew it wasn’t my fault. I was like, “You guys are the grownups, you broke it, now fix it.” Aaaaaand, they didn’t. They divorced: their lives got easier, mine got harder.

            Hell, divorce. Ugh.

          • z

            Mucho sympathies to you too, Internet Stranger! I think there is a lot of social pressure not to say bad things about one’s parents’ divorce– and I understand, it’s boring to listen to, and what’s done is done– but at least we can find peers who understand what we’re doing through.

            My parents’ very predictable divorce came with a side order of nasty surprises, so I totally get how traumatizing that can be. And I really, really resent my parents for not trying harder to save their marriage, although they did try somewhat. Cheating ain’t trying.

            My mom loves to read the many trite pro-divorce parenting books that promise everything will be great if you just follow these 3 simple rules. But when she tells me it isn’t my fault, I have the same response– of course it’s not my fault, it’s your fault! (Funny how there aren’t a lot of books full of good advice on parenting a teenager who catches you in an affair.)

            Now that I have a young child, the splitting up time and holiday planning issues are even more burdensome, and I’m even more cognizant of the importance of an intact family, and what my parents so callously threw away. Divorce is the price children pay for their parents’ chance at happiness. If my parents were happy now, maybe I’d feel better about it.

          • Class of 1980

            Well said. Sometimes the “children are resilient” meme is appropriate, and sometimes it’s used in situation that make me cringe.

            I was about 21 when my mom remarried and didn’t appreciate one bit what happened to all our family Christmas traditions the first year. Mom learned the hard way that you can’t just take everything away and expect the kids to be happy just because you’re happy! ;)

          • MTM

            I think this shows exactly the difficulties I’m talking about, and you were 21! When you say that you “didn’t appreciate one bit what happened to all OUR family traditions” your mom’s partner is automatically not part of that.

          • z

            What on earth is wrong with wanting to spend holidays with one’s extended family, and cherishing a tradition of doing so?

            It’s really sad when holidays with grandchildren are yet another casualty of divorce. Extended family relationships are often permanently compromised by a parent’s divorce and remarriage, and that is unfortunate, because they can be an oasis of stability when the nuclear family is in transition. Divorce is often just the beginning of a decades-long cascade of loss and instability, and the extended family is really important in mitigating the impact on the children.

            Divorce and re-marriage affect the whole family, not necessarily in a positive way for everyone. Sure, nobody likes to think of their marriage as a net negative or a loss for anyone, but that’s just the way it is sometimes. Family members experience a lot of loss due to other people’s divorces, and we’re allowed to grieve for those things, and even to try to preserve them, even if it’s not what others in the family would prefer.

          • MTM

            There’s nothing wrong with wanting to spend the holidays with one’s extended family (e.g. kids being with paternal grandparents Christmas morning), but for my situation, that also means that I’m never at my parents’ house for that holiday and that my parents don’t get the chance to be with the kids Christmas morning. I’m not saying I would change it (clearly, I haven’t), but for every decision you make to “stick with tradition” there are always folks who are impacted by not trying something new. For me, hurting grown up feelings was less sucky than hurting kid feelings.

          • z

            Well, I meant that reply for Lawyerette, I just thought “set in their ways” was a rather harsh characterization for some pretty normal and understandable grandparent wishes.

        • Katey

          “what’s in the best interest of the kids is not always in the best interest of the couple”

          This is really key. There is a lot of guilt around children in divorce, and it is easy for any compromise regarding them to become an untouchable topic.

          • Violet

            Yeah, this kills me. People feel they have to tiptoe around the topic, rather than just, I dunno, Ask The Kids How They Actually Feel About It, rather than assuming.
            Not great: “I won’t consider changing that tradition; it’s important to the kids.”
            Better: “Let’s ask the kids what they want to do.”
            Bam, done. Kids get their lives get turned upside-down by divorce, they get a say in fun holiday stuff. But it should not be some taboo subject. As someone whose parents divorced, I wanted more opportunities to discuss how things would be, not less.

    • Emily

      This is so true and something I did not predict when thinking about getting married and being a step-mother. We have kept some old traditions, changed traditions, and created new traditions but there is a lot of pushback–in our case from the kids. Which I can understand: the kids didn’t choose for me to be in their daily life. Over time I’ve learned to give these memories of the kids more respect (I’m ashamed to say that at first I had no idea how important they would be to them) and in turn the kids are more open to me and new traditions.

      For me this is a happy situation (I finally found my life partner); for the kids it is a painful situation (their parents are divorced and their father remarried). It’s a complicated place to be.

      • Violet

        “For me this is a happy situation (I finally found my life partner); for
        the kids it is a painful situation (their parents are divorced and their
        father remarried). It’s a complicated place to be.”
        This!! Seeing the complicated part means you’re respecting the kids’ opinions as just as valid as yours. Kudos, stepmomma!
        FWIW, my parents’ divorce devastated(s) me. My dad’s remarriage? That was cool; I’ve got a nice lady in my life now. That’s a gain, not a loss. : )

  • Sparkles

    This is going to sound a little petty, and I know in some ways it is, but I think it’s building off of what Liz has to say.

    I came into my relationship without any experience. My partner was my first kiss, my first boyfriend. I had all of my firsts with him. He had very few firsts with me. For quite a few years I felt jealous of those relationships he had with those other people. I felt like I needed to measure up to them somehow. But the thing I had to keep reminding myself was that those relationships didn’t work out and ours is working out. And sometimes, the very gloating part of my brain likes to think about me as the victor. I got the amazing guy, the amazing relationship, the benefit of those broken hearts (his and theirs), the benefit of his maturity and self-control. And they didn’t. They will probably win with someone else, but when I compare my relationship to his with them, I know I won this round. It might be childish, but it helps to frame the amazing thing I’ve got going without having to be jealous.

    And I wouldn’t worry too much about his having already had kids with his first partner. Popular opinion seems to believe that every new child is amazing and special and unique in its own way. He probably didn’t feel let down in any way when his second child was born, and neither of you will feel let down if you choose to have kids of your own.

    • When I started dating my now husband I was really concerned about the “first” stuff because he was more sexually experienced than myself (not just the deed itself. Probably about half of the baseball diamond was foreign to me). Several years (and bases :-)) in to our relationship he wishes on some level he had been able to experience those things with me first. Which I said was silly and he no longer feels that way – one of us had to know what we were doing!

      So, really, you can’t win. Sure, it might seem great in a naive fairy-tale sense for every “first” experience you have to be with your spouse, but in what ideal world would that happen?

      • Sarah E

        Ah, the baseball diamond. I’m with you on that one. The nice thing for us is that at this point, we’ve rounded the diamond roughly several thousand more times together than he ever had with other people. Would I be inclined to cut a bitch if I met a former sexual partner of his? Probably. But at this point, I’d settle for knowing I got all the best parts of him that needed time. And for being better dressed.

  • Amy March

    I don’t think you can avoid comparing the two. And I don’t think you should try. He has done this before. That matters. It’s made him who he is today. I think you need to lean into that icky you’re not as excited as me kinda jealous feeling and really explore it. Ask yourself what it means to you to being having a first together and talk about what it means to him that he’s already done these things. For example, buying a house. Is it great he knows how? Annoying he knows how because you’re feeling squeezed out of room to learn? Actually he doesn’t know how screwed it up last time and he’s excited for you to take a lead?

    I disagree with Liz to an extent re: whether this is a completely different animal. It’s not. He’s pledging to spend his life with you. And he’s made that same promise before. There is a lot of overlap to work through.

    • Sarah E

      Exploring that icky feeling to get a better pinpoint on it is definitely a good tip and will probably yield a lof of insight.

    • MTM

      We were intentional about not using the til death do us part, for the same reason you mentioned, he had already said that and that didn’t happen. Saying henceforth (as in the starting now sense) made it make sense in my brain as something we could both hold true to.

      • Meg Keene

        Aw. I love that.

    • karinaon

      It’s so hard not to compare. I get that, with bells on. In 10 weeks I will be getting married for the first time and it will be my fiance’s third marriage. But I know that I am getting the best version of him that works for us now.

      The past makes us but it doesn’t have to define us.

      You have chosen each other for now and for the future – treasure that. Your present, what you experience every day together trumps the past. Every. Single. Time.

  • Katey

    My husband is twenty years older, has been divorced twice, and has two children who are 19 and 20. Today is our four-year anniversary and we’ve been together for nearly ten. In the past five years, we bought a house, got married, and had a baby. The “specialness” is there regardless of him having checked off those boxes with someone else. The milestones themselves are finite moments in time, and do not define the experiences of living in your house, being married, and raising your children. Your choice of partner does. As Liz mentioned, a bad first kiss doesn’t define your experience forever with kissing, nor does it negate the “specialness” of kissing your spouse. In fact, probably makes you appreciate the great kissing even more in comparison! Likewise, when your fiancé remembers marking those milestones with his ex.

    HOWEVER, your marriage will be inherently more complicated than those of your friends to similarly-aged, non-divorced partners. This has little to do with comparisons, and much more to do with step-kids. While I have a good relationship with mine, negotiations with their mother, finances as they go through college, and trying to build a relationship between them and the new baby have been exhausting. The key, as usual, is good communication paired with carefully chosen battles and empathy for all players in the situation. Your step-kids didn’t choose their parents’ divorce or their father’s remarriage and additional children, so great care and patience must be taken with them. I would recommend reading the book, Stepmonster. Good luck and feel free to email me if you would like to talk further at kmcintosh at utexas dot edu.

    • KB

      I totally agree re: the stepchildren thing – I wonder if part of the difficulty is the social construct that’s out there depicting “binary parenthood” as the only/best option. The fact is that we all have other parental figures and mentors that factor into our life some way, but it can be hard for children (and even adults!) to recognize those relationships for what they are. A more simple way to put it is that you’re not replacing their mom or becoming their “new mom” – you’re the third parent and what that means is yet to be determined by both you and them. And that’s hard all around.

  • Emily

    I felt this with my husband– he has been married before, I have not. When we bought a house and started doing house projects I had the uncomfortable feeling that he was repeating a pattern he had already done once. I talked with him about it. He laughed and said that yes, but the pattern was very different with me. He was able to give me very specific examples of what was different and how it felt (good) to him.

    I do want to comment to the OP– being a step mother has turned out to be much harder than I ever expected. I’m not saying don’t do it; I would do it again. But for me that part has been much tougher than the fact of his previous marriage. Counseling for me, the step kids, and him has been huge.

  • KC

    I’d also note that different things are big deals to different people – for me, buying our first home is a giant squee-worthy Thing, whereas it’s more “yep, that’s another option for acquiring a place to live” for him; for both of us, the wedding was the wedding and sure, a good thing, but not an “I’ve been dreaming of this moment since I was 5 years old” thing; for him, his first “career” job is, I think, a bigger deal than it was for me; etc. So even the “firsts” when they’re firsts for both of you are uneven.

    That said, ex baggage can cause interesting surprises (as can family-of-origin baggage!), and any “firsts” that would have been more you-being-excited than him-being-excited anyway (choosing paint together, maybe?) might 1. have added baggage for him, 2. be marginally less exciting to him because he’s been there before, or 3. be *exactly* as exciting for him as it would have been the first time around, but that’s just not as excited as you, and this might feel like it’s because of the baggage/non-first-ness even though it isn’t. So. Explore thoroughly. Negotiate kindly. Keep each other up-to-date on what’s important to you (including the apparently-small stuff), and respect what’s important to the other person?

  • clairelizabeth

    I struggled with this *a lot* before our wedding. A and his ex-wife were together nine years and almost every one of A’s friends/family who was invited to our wedding (2.0) had also attended wedding 1.0. Which was nice fuel for my angsty freakouts. However, we leaned into the icky (awsome descriptor, Amy March) and talked and talked and hashed out as much of my doubt/fear his anxiety as we could.

    And, like Josie says below, the longer we’ve been married (3 years next month) the less and less it comes up, because we’re building and establishing our lives together and we have more “us” stuff now.

    Also, during our first dance I goofily said, “Hey, it’s our first dance as a married couple.” And it kind of stuck – throughout our first year of marriage we kept reminding each other, “Hey, it’s our first [christmas tree purchase/patio clean out/train trip/insert mundane life thing here] as a married couple.” Super cheesy, but it reminded us that we were a team and that the marriage was new for both of us.

    • MTM

      I think this is where having stepkids gets really tricky with that though. You can’t be like “this is our first Christmas as a family” because it’s not for 3/4 of the folks. .

      • Jess

        But… it is your first Christmas as that family. Maybe not “a family”, but “the family you have now”. Just as the first dance as a married couple isn’t a first dance as “a married couple” for 1/2 the people in it, it’s the first dance as “that married couple.”

        • MTM

          Yep! But it may not be something they wanted or that they’re happy about. It’s just tough navigating “firsts” when kids are involved. This is why we were super intentional about creating new things that were just our new unit’s “first”.

          • clairelizabeth

            Yes – the new unit first! There were no kids in my situation (but one, radically ill-tempered dog), so what worked for us would certainly not be exactly replicable for step-children + new marriage.

  • I think that remembering that firsts are not inherently magical is essential to living your life happily with your partner. Firsts often come with so many negatives: you’re less wise and aware, you’re prone to more mistakes, you might think you want something that you don’t want (or that you don’t want something you do want).

    My first apartment? Well, I’ve learned to read up on tenants’ rights before signing a lease. My first time having sex? Wow, has sex improved for me so much since then, since I’ve learned what I enjoy and what I need and how to ask for what I want. And while I really hope this is my ONLY engagement … there are already things I’d do differently a second time around.

    Now, if your partner is condescending or controlling because he’s “done this before,” with regards to those life milestones, that’s an entirely different problem. But I think it would help you to let go of the firsts being magical. You’ll still have your firsts.

  • emilyg25

    My husband and I are 19 years apart, and he’s been married before, for 20 years! That’s more than 2/3 of my whole life that he spent as an adult, and married to someone else. To be honest, it took me a long time to be able to stop thinking about his first wife, stop wondering about all his life before me, stop feeling kind of left out of the whole thing. It was easier for me to move on because he doesn’t have children, but it took time. As we’ve been together and made our own life together and our own memories, it’s become a lot easier to forget about the beforetimes. What you’re feeling is normal, but I think as the time you’ve been together increases and the time since before that recedes farther, it will be easier for you.

  • laddibugg

    I’m in a weird place with this. My partner has been married before. It was close to fifteen years ago, he was 19, and felt ‘obligated’ to marry her because she told him she was pregnant They were divorced after only a few months when she admitted she wasn’t. So he *was* married, but not really–that’s according to him, not me. He got married at the JoP, so he would like a full on affair his next go-round. I want a party but not a blow out affair.
    The kid thing is also interesting. He’s a father to a 9 yo, but not her birth or legal father. So he’s had the parent experience in a way–he got with her mother when she was about 1, and even though they broke up 2 years later, he’s been in her life ever since. I love her but I am honestly unsure of how to feel about things if/when I have my own kids.

    • Satsuma Caravan

      I think your partner sounds really special, honorable, and devoted to the idea of kids especially. His being a parent to this young girl sounds like it could be pretty valuable to her, both now and years down the road when she’s having relationships of her own. Your own future kids might also find it great to have this extra ‘sister’/cousin/friend/playmate/etc in their lives. These things aren’t easy to predict, and while, sure, it puts more on the table to work with, that can be an advantage in so many ways too…

      It also sounds really good news that he’d like a full on affair for the next go-round. Whatever kind of party you’d end up having, you’d know that he wants it to feel “really real”, personable and special – a true milestone in life.


  • CH

    I was married once before marrying my current husband. I had about 800,000 complicated feelings about my prior marriage before our wedding…it was really weird to be engaged (again) and picking out a wedding dress (again). I’m still fairly young so I wasn’t an obvious second-time bride, and everyone would squeak and squeal over me and my “big day,” and I’d just think to myself, “I already HAD my big day. Now I’m just…getting married.” I felt like a big, fat fraud.

    But you know what? My wedding day was so freaking awesome. My marriage is so incredibly wonderful. It doesn’t feel like I’m doing it the second time around. It feels like I’m married to the love of my life, and it’s awesome.

    Not to say your feelings aren’t legit…they totally are. But the beauty of marrying someone isn’t found in the number of prior marriages; it’s in the marriage to THIS person.

    • clairekfromtheuk

      erm…are you me??

      I had the zact same scenario and now, couldn’t be happier :)

      (actually, that’s not true, I’d be happier if all the work he was doing was revenue generating but hey, that’s what team marriage is about right??)

    • Eh

      “But the beauty of marrying someone isn’t found in the number of prior marriages [or other life circumstances]; its in the marriage to THIS person.”
      My BIL and SIL had kids before they were married and got a lot of flack for having an over the top wedding (it wasn’t for me, but it was their wedding not mine). Some people thought that they should have a small wedding and save money since they have kids. People were even making comments about how it wasn’t my SIL’s first wedding so she should not have such a big party. Since it was her first wedding it was a weird rumour (I have actually corrected people when they have made comments about her being married previously). Even it if wasn’t her first wedding it was their wedding and their love and relationship should be celebrated.