No One Ever Dreamed of Being the Second Wife

When your first time down the aisle is his second...

One minute we’re Sunday brunching, and the next I’m seasoning my omelette with fresh, hot tears. If you’re lucky enough to be sitting within earshot of us, I want to thank you for fighting the urge to start live tweeting. I know you at least consider it, but you do the decent thing. You just keep raising your brows at your own companion and feel better about your own relationship. In the car you might voice your pity for the poor guy whose girlfriend silent cries at the mention of a hypothetical wedding! You just know they weren’t “I’m ­so­ happy ­we’re­ talking ­about ­this” tears. You win, because even though I truly am so happy to have a partner who doesn’t shift in his seat when I casually bring up our future (and even sometimes initiate discussions on the topic), they aren’t those kind of tears.

These are the tears of a girl whose vision of her future is not lining up with the reality that’s unfolding. Sure, I’m lucky to have found someone who doesn’t miss a beat when I openly weep in restaurants. Someone who finds this sort of display of emotion endearing? Someone who will calmly wait for the moment to pass before asking me what’s going on and listen without a need to defend when I am finally able to tell him that I hate that this wedding is not his first. And there it is.

I’m not one for overgeneralizing, but I think it’s a safe bet that kids don’t grow up imagining the day they become someone’s second spouse. There’s a certain magic in firsts. No one dreams that they’ll be planning a wedding with someone who has already toured the venues, tasted the cakes, lost sleep over the seating chart. You don’t ever worry that your future partner might resist a registry because his friends and family sprung for the toaster/blender/serving pieces once before, and look how that turned out. Girls who always assumed they’d take a trip down the aisle never once consider that they won’t be the first woman in white to ever walk toward the man at the end of it… even if those same little girls grow into their introverted, feminist selves and decide they’d probably rather not walk anywhere toward anyone, but maybe just, like, stand together or something? I digress.

This is where we are. I’m equal parts disappointed, terrified, insecure, and elated. It’s all very complex, and after we’ve closed the curtains on the brunch theater production of “The Bratty­est Brat,” starring me as myself, I come to the conclusion that in this sense, I’m probably not as far from where the pre­-engaged adult of my young mind’s creation would be anyway. I raise my head to meet the patient, only slightly concerned gaze of the man across from me. A man whose inner child might also be slightly distraught by the current state of things. A man who, as a boy, did not spend hours fantasizing about the dissolution of his future marriage. A man whose parents never advised him to put some money aside in case he needed to retain a good divorce attorney one day. A man who never built himself a separate lego house across playroom from his future ex-wife’s. A man who has never once pointed this out to me as I bemoan the injustice of it all. I really wish I could say it’s the first time this has happened.

I’m not the only one here whose life is not plotting on course according to the tiny tyrant within, I’m just the only one crying about it. In public. Okay, so now is when I tell you that it doesn’t matter at all that he’s been married before, I’m just so glad we found each other and get to be together now because that is all that matters, and I swear I’ll never cry about it again! But you guys… I’m only human. I mean, think about the turmoil and angst that will ensue when we are actually engaged and are planning an actual real wedding. The best I can do is promise that I probably won’t cry about it again today. For now though, I have never wanted to be second in anything as much in my life.

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  • Amy Sigmon

    I so understand what you’re feeling. I am my husband’s second wife and at the beginning, and during the wedding planning, it was really hard. Harder than I ever talked to anyone about. When I first when to his hometown to meet his family and sat in his home church, all I could think was “He got married in this church already. He had a wedding in this very church.” When we started to talk about getting married, in the pre-engaged state, I absolutely had that breakdown of “But you’ve done this all before!” while sitting at his kitchen table. I could tell it broke his heart- I’ve almost never seen him tear up. Your last line gives me hope that you guys will move past this bit of brokenheartness. I will say, from 3.5 years into my marriage, my husband’s previous marriage has no impact on us (we are unique, no kids from his previous marriage). And everyday I am grateful that he was free to be with me when we met, that it’s he and I that are raising kids together in this life. I guess what I’m saying that I sat there and cried those tears. And then I got engaged and married and life is pretty damn great. And I hope the same for you.

  • emilyg25

    It gets better. I definitely had some brattyest brat moments when my husband and I got together (he was still in the process of legally ending a marriage of 20 years). But now four years in, I really don’t think about “the beforetimes.” As you build your life together, the previous life recedes.

  • AP

    Sigh. As someone who is divorced, and now married a second time, this is a difficult piece to read.

    When my now-husband and I had been dating for a few months, and it was starting to get serious, there was a moment where it hit him that if we got married, it would be my second time. And he voiced a lot of the same feelings expressed in this piece. And I understood his grief, because like the man in this piece, I too had expectations for my life that didn’t turn out the way I’d planned.

    But my understanding had limits. At some point, we have to let our expectations go and embrace what is real and in front of us. Because I can’t go back and undo the things that happened in my life before my husband and I met. And honestly? On some level I needed those past experiences to become the person that my husband loves today, and I’m grateful for them. A lot of those experiences were incredibly painful. So it was difficult and hurtful to hear, “I wish you’d never been married before” from him, and not from a place of “…because I wish you had never had to endure that pain” but from a place of “…because I always thought I’d marry someone who had never been married before.”

    There came a point where I needed him to own his disappointment and move past it, because making my first marriage into something I should apologize for simply wasn’t fair. So he did, and we got married, and the wedding was completely different than my first wedding, and our marriage is completely different from my first marriage. And it’s awesome. And I hope the same for the author.

    • emilyg25

      Yes, this is what my husband told me. “I made the best decision I could with the information I had at that moment.”

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    • anon

      yes to this: There came a point where I needed him to own his disappointment and move past it, because making my first marriage into something I should apologize for simply wasn’t fair.

    • La’Marisa-Andrea

      “At some point, we have to let our expectations go and embrace what is real and in front of us.”

      Yes. Real life is happening. Don’t miss it.

  • laddibugg

    I’m wife number 2, but my trip down the aisle will technically be his first too. He married his first wife in a quickie wedding about…..15 years ago when he a young dumb soldier. They separated after less than 3 months together.
    He’s actually the one that’s more gung ho about wedding related stuff. He’s the one that REALLY wants the huge fancy affair with all the trimmings, the huge registry and the fancy exotic honeymoon.
    Would I prefer being the first wife…sure, but I realize that in our case, his first marriage was so long ago and so simple that it really doesn’t put a damper on things.

    HOWEVER, like I said he was young and stupid and can’t find any of his papers. How do you go about getting copies of things? The separation was supposedly put through as an annulment through the military so I don’t even know where to start. He remembers getting *something* but he doesn’t know what it was (and I can’t be mad at 18 year old him)

    • AP

      When I got married again, all I needed for the marriage license was the date of my divorce. (I got married in Florida.) They didn’t require any copies of my divorce papers or anything. You may want to see what documents are actually necessary in the state you’re getting your license in.

      • emilyg25


      • laddibugg

        Yeah, Jersey doesn’t ‘require’ divorce or annulment decrees, but I like having documentation of important things. We don’t need them to get married, but I want it if it’s out there.

        • AP

          I get it, I brought a copy of my divorce papers to the courthouse just in case. I like documentation, too.

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          You do.

    • Eenie

      At least some counties in Georgia require the divorce decree signed by a judge. You could call your courthouse/probate court and find out exactly what documentation they need. If you know what state they lived in at the time, I would start by looking at that to see if you can get a copy.

    • z

      Why is it your responsibility to find *his* papers?

      The military should have a record of it, so you could try your local office of whatever branch of the armed services.

      • Amy March

        This. He finds his papers by using google, contacting the armed services, calling the courthouses of wherever he might have been when the annulment came through.

        • Eh

          Exactly! A friend’s ex texted her mom (his ex-MIL) to ask if my friend actually completed the process of their divorce (I believe the original text was’did your daughter really get a divorce?’). This was shortly before his second wedding. My friend and her mom were so upset because they had requested no contact from him. My friend pointed out that he could ask their officiant how he could find out the information without contacting her or her mom.

      • laddibugg

        I’m confused….I never said it was my responsibility to find his papers, however, I would think him having papers *would* be important to our future marriage.
        I’ll have him look into contacting the Marines…I have no idea about anything military.

        • Amy March

          Oh, I think because you said “I don’t even know where to start.” At least, that was my confusion!

        • La’Marisa-Andrea

          Yup. I did ask to see divorce papers to make sure (for me) that he was really divorced. It’s important.

      • Amber

        Even if it’s not her responsibilities, perhaps given his track record she should be responsible for it! I keep track of my fiances legal and tax documents otherwise he would lose things, and he keeps me on track for other parts of life that aren’t my strong suit. Partnership!

    • If he’s a vet, then the local VA should beable to help him get situated. He can also check with the base he was stationed at where the marriage/annulment should have occured. Additionally, the county court house where the marriage took place (geographically speaking) should be able to send you copies of any relevant materials. I’d have him start there and expect many, many military/government related hassles.

  • Anon

    I’m going anon for this response because it honestly involves a story I’m not proud of. My upcoming engagement is going to be my second one and I’m the one who’s devastated about it.

    I got engaged after only six months of dating, moving forward in a situation that everyone around me felt was wrong for me on every level with an emotionally manipulative man. Thankfully, he chose to be with another woman three months into our engagement, unknowingly setting me free from a life of misery. However, the shame of my bad choices still stay with me and color my upcoming wedding planning process.

    I’ve done all of this once before – bought a dress, picked a venue, talked with a caterer, chosen a photographer – and it kills me that I somehow didn’t have the foresight to wait for the right person. My boyfriend/future husband isn’t that bothered by it, as he feels our past relationships shouldn’t color our present and our future. Even with his calm rationality in my head, I still dread the moment when I proudly tell my friends and family I’m engaged, only to have them respond “again?”.

    The only benefit (and it’s a small silver lining on this cloud) is that I thankfully have seen my family react to wedding planning and I know what to expect on a lot of fronts. I know my mother will insist she be involved at every turn and that I’ll need to make her believe my ideas are hers. I know that my father will be touchy about money and I’ll need to be as practical as possible.

    Even with this foresight, I know the feeling of the overemotional regret and how disappointed my younger self would be that I had bought my perfect dress for the wrong man. I’m sure that by the end of the process, I’ll come to peace with it, but today, as I wait for a ring, my gut still turns. So, LW, I get it. Cry your irrational tears, because some of us cry them with you.

    • Alanna Cartier

      I too was engaged before (booked the venue, bought the dress) for me, I’ve found that being engaged to the right person has made every part of the process different and better. Sam and I aren’t into dancing but we are into food, so restaurant wedding. We both like spending a lot on special little thins, so we both splurged on lovely Anne Sportun rings. Sam wanted to get married in fall so we did fall. I’ve got a huge flower budget because Sam knows how much I love them and supports me spending a big chunk of our budget there. This wedding looks nothing like that other one would have, because the wedding is about both of us. You might find this is the same for you.

    • Amy March

      I think this is a time for managing expectations. Sure, some jerk might say “again” but your friends and family? They probably won’t, and if you are worried they might start talking. “Gosh I’d really hate it if I got engaged in the future and anyone responded with ‘again’ instead of ‘congrats.'”

    • Poppy

      I like what @emilyg25:disqus says her husband had to say (downthread) about how he did the best he could with the information he had at the time. You have to cut yourself as much slack as you can! I bet the people who love you already do. You made the best decisions you could with the information you had at the time, and that includes calling off your engagement the first time. In my mind, you have nothing to feel bad about in the least, though I of course understand the very real pain of those irrational tears.

    • TheOtherLiz

      One of my best friends was engaged to a scoundrel once, and when they ended their engagement, and a couple of years later she met a great guy and got engaged to him, not once did that story seem negative to me. I felt proud of my friend for realizing the quality of a partner she deserved. I didn’t ever bring it up again. It was a fresh new engagement. She did insist on paying for my bridesmaid dress, since I’d bought one that I never wore for her first engagement, but that was really the only time it’s ever come up. Now she is happily married with an adorable baby, and we are simply happy for her!

  • Roselyne

    I don’t know if this would help you, but I noticed awhile back that I was surprised when I found out that someone who was currently in a ‘good’ relationship had been married before – as if I was buying into that cultural narrative that there’s ‘one true love’ or whatever, and it’s being aware of it that made me cut it the hell out, because I thought it was judgemental and unfair, especially for relationships I wasn’t involved in.

    People don’t, in our culture, make a point of celebrating earlier or failed relationshps, or even acknowledging them, really. Maybe looking at the people around you who have second marriages and are doing great would be a reassurance, of sorts?

    And, more bluntly: everyone brings baggge, history, prior relationships, etc to their marriage. My husband had lived with his ex before moving in with me. I’d been engaged before. Sure, our marriage to each other was a ‘first’ we shared, but we had a hell of a lot of ‘I did this last time and it burned me so let’s not do it’ conversations (as well as some ‘I have an abusive ex-douchebag, and here is a list of things that make me flinch, do NOT do them’ conversations, which were probably more painful). Culturally, we see a wedding as this whole big romantic THING you share with someone, and not being on the same page of that narrative can be painful, but realizing that everyone has a different narrative and brings different baggage to the picture REGARDLESS of the wedding might be helpful. Less romantic, but probably more realistic.

    • anon

      I realize this is not the point of your comment and I understand that the “‘I have an abusive ex-douchebag, and here is a list of things that make me flinch, do NOT do them’ conversations” were really hard and painful. BUT, as I watch my sister work her way to and through a divorce from a lying, cheating, manipulative scoundrel, I actually hope she’ll be able to have those conversations one day as that means she’ll have worked her way to those realizations and understand that she deserves much much better than the current asshat (who she has *finally* realized is an asshat).

    • Alanna Cartier

      I have had those abusive ex-talks. But man is it lovely when you have a partner to have those talks with.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    A different perspective. I’m married to someone who has been married before and honestly, have never ever thought of myself as a second wife, second choice or second anything. The circumstances of my husband’s previous marriage were entirely different from what we share and he brought a level of maturity to our relationship that made me grateful of his previous experiences. But quite frankly, I just don’t think his previous marriage has anything to do with us and it has just never bothered me. He always wanted to marry me, there was never any angst on my part about it or whether he had done all of this before etc. It simply did not matter to me because none of that was about us.

  • Felicity A.

    To some extent, I think you need to learn to talk yourself through this. This is your struggle, and not something your boyfriend can help you with. It sounds as though he’s understanding and supportive of you, but there isn’t anything he can say to make you feel better. It reminds me of the struggle I had when I was dating my college sweetheart. I was a virgin, he wasn’t, and that just felt so big. Fifteen years later I realize how very inconsequential that fact was, but at the time it was real to me. Did our relationship mean less because of his past? (Spoiler: It didn’t.) Time and maturity put my situation into focus, and time will make your situation matter less too.

    I will say, as someone who married that college sweetheart and then divorced him 8 years later after he cheated, that if my current and very serious boyfriend expressed strong and ongoing concerns about my past, I’d have to reconsider our relationship. Not because I don’t love him dearly, but because I can’t change my past and I don’t actually want to. I couldn’t be the person I am today, the person he loves, without all of those previous experiences, both good and bad.

    • AP

      “Not because I don’t love him dearly, but because I can’t change my past and I don’t actually want to.”

      So much this.

    • TheOtherLiz

      Yes, but, it can take a person some time to work through it. My partner did have a bit of a rough patch when he finally worked up the nerve to ask questions about a past relationship, and then didn’t like what he heard and developed insecurities in response to it – it took a number of conversations talking through it, addressing and releasing him from some insecurities…. but I’m sure it will crop up again when we are married.

      • Felicity A.

        Maybe it helps that I’ve always been very open about my past marriage. I brought it up on our first date because if he wasn’t okay with it, there was no point in going any farther. And it’s been on our radar recently because I’m getting ready to go back to court regarding my ex’s failure to pay alimony. There’s never been any resentment though, and he never struggled with it in any way. While I understand that everyone reacts to things differently, I know that I couldn’t be in a relationship where my parter needed ongoing reassurance about me and my past. I’ve always thought the quote “love means never having to say your sorry” was way off base, but in this case it fits.

  • Lulu

    Not to sound like a total Pollyanna in the face of what is truly a difficult situation, but my husband’s gratitude about all that is different about our relationship extended into his gratitude about all that was different about our wedding, and that offered lots of unexpected wedding planning delights for me. When he felt and expressed such joy at every aspect that was ours, it made me appreciate our luck, our independence, our quirks, and our people in a way that I might not have felt had he not lived the less-joyous counterfactual.

  • Poppy

    I enjoyed reading this. What resonates with me about this piece (and the posts below) is the difficult but imperative work that many of us have to do to release ourselves from the expectations of what we thought our lives/weddings would be like. It could be about being a second wife, or getting married “too young” or “too old,” or even something totally different like not being in the place career-wise that you expected at this age. There’s something truly self-defeating about having to measure your life against what you thought it would be when you were too young to know that it’s the detours and the messes and the mistakes and the meltdowns that make you who you are, that help you grow, that are the stuff of what it means to be a human being. And weddings can be especially rife with this because there is SO MUCH social expectation sewn up in them, not to mention money! There is no right way to be a person, there is no right path to take in life, there’s no right way to be a bride or have a wedding. Sometimes when I start down the path of “this isn’t what I thought it would be,” in my mind because I’m not (as you put it) “plotting on course according to the tiny tyrant within,” it’s so nice to step back and remember that actually, my life is so much more strange and beautiful and bizarre and rich and full than I ever imagined.

    • Her Lindsayship

      Beautifully said. :) It really does seem like LW is not so much bothered by the first marriage in the context of the relationship as she is in the context of the wedding day. “I think it’s a safe bet that kids don’t grow up imagining the day they become someone’s second spouse.” – Anytime someone talks about their wedding in terms of what they dreamt of when they were little, I want to say, you didn’t know anything about marriage then! All you knew was that this was a social custom you were supposed to aspire to. Why should that limited understanding inform your feelings about it now? Granted, LW is certainly entitled to her feels, I don’t mean to say ‘just get over it’. More like, think about it from a place of greater maturity, from your current self, not your childhood self.

    • macrain

      Yes! You’ve hit the nail on the head. Weddings AND marriages are rife with expectation… when I think about my first year of marriage, I think 90% of issues that we had were because of this.

    • Poppy, I love how you expresses this: “the difficult but imperative work that many of us have to do to release ourselves from the expectations of what we thought our lives/weddings would be like.”

      I, too, feel this way (and share some feelings with the author), even though it’s me who has been married and divorced. I didn’t think my life would go that way, and so now I’ve had to work on learning to let go of what I thought my life would be and stay open to and learn to accept the life I have with all its beauty, pain and complexity.

      I have mixed feelings about the idea of a second marriage, and I am sure if it were to ever happen I would have a lot to work through, but I am thankful to have a boyfriend that helps me process my past and isn’t afraid of the conversations we’ve had where I have had to talk through something.

      I had a friend once tell me that the challenge of mid-life, for him, was reconciling what he thought his life would be and what it is. I think he was probably exactly right…that this is something we all have to work through as an adult as we see life unfold in ways we didn’t expect… Not easy at all…

  • purekate

    I have to say, I found this to be such an interesting read, if only because it is so different from my own experience. My husband had also been married once before me and to be completely honest, most of the time I forgot about it completely! We made jokes about it on occasion, especially because our names are so similar (Katie/Kate), but I never for a second had the thought that it made our experience any less special.

    And if it helps the op at all, my father was married before my mother, a thing I did not find out until I was 16. It wasn’t a secret, it just wasn’t important and had never come up. So feel your feels for right now, and then move on. In the bread and butter of your lives together, this won’t ever matter.

  • Max

    My boyfriend was married previously, and is still in fact in the process of wrapping up the very last bits of the divorce. We knew we would be getting married from the very beginning and while obviously in some ways I would wish to be the only person he marries, mostly I am just happy that I found him and get to be with him at all. His first marriage was messy and painful and hurt him very much and I am grateful that he came through it and wasn’t completely turned off to the idea of marriage afterwards. Everyone has experiences, and a past and they learn and change and are shaped by those.
    It’s also important for me to remember that he has done this before, and that it was a terrible experience controlled by his ex and not at all what he wanted in a wedding. So we are planning our celebration together to be exactly what we both want and I am so happy to have a partner in this as well as our lives together.

  • AMcCRead

    Ooof — I feel for you! I’m also married to someone who has been married before and I understand how complex the feelings can be. Every situation is different but I thought it
    would be helpful to offer a few things I learned while trying to understand my feelings
    about my own situation:

    1) For me, it got worse before it got better. When we first started dating and I learned that my husband had been married before it didn’t bother me at all. I came with my own baggage and I thought, who cares, what’s in the past is in the past and I’m just happy we’re here. However, the closer we got and the deeper our relationship became, the harder it got for me. I think this is because as we both kept falling deeper in love and talking about how amazing it was, I kept catching myself thinking…yes, but you’ve felt
    like this before. This was not a true narrative but something that I needed to spend a lot of time making sense of and talking through. For example, I needed to know that when he made statements about never feeling a certain way before, he actually meant it. That was a big thing for me because I didn’t necessarily need him to say those things but if he was going to say them I needed them to be 100% true.

    2) I needed to understand why we were different. What about us makes you think that we can make this marriage thing work? Are you different? Are we different? Are there things we can actively choose to do differently? I think I knew the answers to all of these questions was going to be yes but I needed us to talk through them together.

    3) Be patient with yourself but, also, understand that there are some things you are just going to have to get over. Some things are what they are and you should acknowledge the hurt or pain or emotion but then you have to let it go.

    4) Tear off all the Band-Aids, feel all the uncomfortable things and then let yourself heal.

  • MDBethann

    I get how hard this is – I’m too, am married to someone who was married before.

    (1) As with anyone who has been in a long-term relationship that didn’t end well, make sure you know what, if any, things may remind your FH of his ex in a way that may cause tension in your relationship. You can’t always avoid them, but at least knowing what they are makes them more manageable when they do come up. For us, finances were his biggest issue with his ex, but I’m more frugal than he is so it hasn’t been a problem for us. The things that did trip me up were “small” – typical “girl” things like watching “chick flicks” and a couple of things that I can’t remember anymore. So while it sucks, I very seldom ask him to watch romantic movies with me. At least he’s progressed to playing a game on his handheld in the same room with me while I watch “chick” movies or “Grey’s Anatomy.”

    (2) It is harder than I thought it would be to share things with him that were “firsts” for me but not for him. That said, they were “firsts” for us as a couple and it did help to think of them that way. Fortunately, he had a fairly short first marriage and we are well past the point where things are not firsts for him. Our daughter as has been an entirely new experience for both of us and so have our travels. Home buying was new for him, but not for me (I owned a condo before we met). The longer we’ve been together (7 years now), the more his ex recedes into the background.

    (3) The wedding planning was a bit tricky. His BIL & cousin had been in his 1st wedding, so he didn’t want them in our wedding; felt weird to him (he’d lost touch with the other groomsmen, so they weren’t a factor). But I had my sister & 3 close girlfriends I wanted in our wedding and they were non-negotiable. I finally convinced him to have his sister as his “best woman” so he would have someone standing up with him (she LOVED the idea & got an awesome black dress for the wedding) and his niece & nephew were our flower girl & ring bearer. I had to let go of my love of symmetry for our wedding, but our photos (and everything else) were lovely. We got married in my childhood church, which had no memories for him. We had our reception in a local restaurant/microbrewery because the things that were most important to him were food, cake, and photos (same for me). We didn’t want a stereotypical hotel or banquet hall wedding reception, which actually helped with our budget and in many ways made planning easier because our restaurant venue provided everything but the cake, music, and photographer. It takes some compromising and letting go of those mental images, but honestly, I think we had one of the better weddings I’ve been to because the food was so good (and a bunch of my relatives LOVED the microbrews on tap at the restaurant). So think outside of the box and plan something that is meaningful to the two of YOU and it will be lovely.

    (4) If the spectre of the 1st marriage or any other baggage carried by either one of you is still a problem, then definitely seek counseling – both couples and solo, for whichever one of you needs it. You need to find a healthy way to deal with your pasts so they don’t negatively affect your future. Good luck!!!

  • Helen

    I’m the one with a previous marriage under my belt, and I had all those cringey feelings. Since all the wedding traditions are based around doing it once (here’s your heirloom candy dish!) doing it twice felt sort of like… cheating? Like I was taking more than I was due. If I’m honest, it’s why I pushed for a guest list with only our very closest – I knew there’d be zero eye rolling. The wedding was so fucking incredible I don’t regret that decision, but I do regret the reasons behind it. I suspect if we’d had the big 100-person shebang, all those people would have been just as crazy-happy for us. An APW saying really helped me: “It wasn’t my first wedding, but it was my first wedding to HER”.

    Ps. I feel like I have super marriage powers, because I learned so much from my first. My wife’s even said the same – she feels a bit like she has a guide (if you can read that without it sounding like she’s the little woman and I’m a patronising ogre).

  • socompletelyanonthistime

    He was married for a long time. I am younger. I dislike that from the outside it “looks like” this typical story of older guy, second relationship (and we both plan for it to be his second marriage), to a younger woman. But I deeply value the wisdom he has from a first marriage. And to clarify, he considers me wise about stuff based on my experience being single through my 20s, something he didn’t experience because he married young, and so we both appreciate that the other person brings different perspective to the relationship. It really makes me feel stronger as a team than we could be individually, which has always been my relationship goal.

    What’s hardest for me about his first marriage is this specter that somehow I will never be as cool as her or that, like, he’ll decide that he likes her qualities better, even though obviously they divorced? And then at the same time this pressure to be relaxed about things that I know she was uptight about or that caused friction in his first marriage. The funny part about all of that is that, first of all, I am a very different person so all of that is crazy talk on every level, and second of all we were having a very open conversation about jealousy once (we rule at open conversations, something I adore about him) and he confessed that he was jealous of my long-term-almost-fiance-now-ex because of his BEARD. Like, because my partner can’t grow a beard, he was very jealous of the fact that I had been with this well-bearded guy. And that I was going to wake up one day and be like, “jk, no beard is a dealbreaker for me, I’m OUT!” That story put all my insecurities into perspective. It’s just as divorced from reality (har har) for me to think that he’ll stay with me just because I don’t pick the same fights his first wife did.

    I had a low period where I secretly stalked his ex’s Facebook album that has photos of their wedding, and it does sometimes make me feel weird that he went through this before and I worry that our wedding will have this patronizing “oh it’s for *her* because she hasn’t *done* this before” tone to it. I also know that’s just fear talking, because it’s easier to be afraid of that than about bigger or more abstract things, in a way. And his first wedding was long enough ago that it doesn’t feel all that relevant. He is such a different person, I can tell. One thing I do notice is that he gets awkward about his first wedding because he’s afraid I’ll read into it too much. Like he has this amazingly funny story about his mom, that critically hinges on a detail from his first wedding, and I think the story is fabulous because it captures his mom’s personality so well, but when he tells it now he bends over backwards to point out that they only made the decision to forgo a reception because they were young and broke and that if he marries again of course it will be different etc etc.

    My final thought is that I know he was thrilled with his first wedding when it happened. His first marriage was happy for a while until it wasn’t. And it goes to show that the wedding is only the beginning, that feeling good (or bad) about your wedding doesn’t predict the rest of the marriage. So yeah, he had a cute happy young-and-broke wedding 30 years ago. That experience formed part of the foundation for the man I love today. I hope our wedding reflects who *we* are when we get married. I know we will be happy and in love when it happens. And then we’ll keep staying in this relationship and keep trying to love and support each other, and we don’t know what’s in that open water once we set sail. No matter what the wedding looked like or felt like.

  • gonzalesbeach

    I can empathize with author’s feelings, as have been in the relationship where he other has already had those firsts- but he didn’t have kids. My current partner on the other hand, was that kid whose mom’s fiancé was upset that she’d already had a first wedding and had kids with someone else first, and it was made clear to my partner as a little kid, that to-be-stepdad wished that there hadn’t been a first wedding and first family and that it would be better for him (step dad) to not have the kids. that’s not fair to a child. and was likely one large component of the end of the relationship. The author of the piece is a live in girlfriend/partner to a divorcee with children. the kids matter the most, please don’t let them know you wish their dad hadn’t married their mom or had a life before you because they are the result of that life.

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  • HawkGirl

    Found this article while looking for advice on how to cope with being seen as “the second wife” (aka “the secret wife” or “the not real wife”) by my husband’s family and friends. We planned our wedding and it wasn’t so much that he had already planned things, but that his family felt like it was such an inconvenience for them to even attend, which I assume would not have been the case if he hadn’t been married before. I heard repeatedly about how expensive and inconvenient it would be for his aunts, uncles, and cousins to attend. My family lives 2500 miles away and I wanted to be married close to my parents. Getting married far away was not an issue when several of his cousins got married in far off locales, but for some reason, this was an issue for us. Not to mention that yes, we were getting married in the summer and it was more expensive to travel then, but we were doing that so my stepchildren could attend their father’s wedding. In the end, we had 95 guests and 8 of them were my husband’s family and friends, the rest were all my family and friends. Many of his relatives didn’t even reply to say they weren’t coming. His brother and sister-in-law came to the wedding, but kept to themselves and did not socialize with any of us or attend any events scheduled outside of the actual ceremony (even though his brother was the best man). It’s incredibly awkward to be at your own wedding and have your future sister-in-law sit in a corner and ignore you. I’m sure if she could have gotten away with not going, she would have done that. They didn’t bring their children (my husband’s niece and nephew, who have no idea who I am), even though my husband is their only uncle and even though they brought their children to her brother’s wedding two years prior to ours, even though his wedding required expensive travel. It really felt like it was my wedding and not our wedding. My family was extremely happy and everyone had a great time, so I try to remind myself of that, but it’s disheartening that his family – the one I live closest to – couldn’t be bothered and it has definitely colored my view of them. After our wedding, my husband wanted to throw a special surprise party for his mother’s birthday. He agonized over the attendance list (moreso than for our own wedding), even calling people to be sure they could attend. He didn’t even bother inviting many people to our wedding, although we did include 30 of his family members on our guest list. When this mother’s party arrived, many family and friends didn’t even know he had gotten married again (our wedding was two months prior). Most had met his ex wife and two of them even asked me about his ex wife (how she was, why she wasn’t there, etc). My husband’s nephew said to me “I don’t know who you are.” To date, my current sister-in-law still ignores me. It’s awkward for other relatives to tell me how nice she is, when literally, I’ve spoken to her mother (who I’ve met twice) more than I have spoken to her. In addition to declining to attend either bridal shower, she also skipped a birthday gathering for me (none of these events were because I wanted them or was being high maintenance, my mother-in-law insisted on all of them). I don’t know her and we’ve maybe interacted three times, so I’m assuming she can’t have a beef with me personally. Other members of my husband’s family act in a similar fashion toward me. He has other cousins who live close by who neither attended nor RSVP’d for our wedding or any related events and who spend gatherings where we’re all together asking about his ex wife. His ex wife was abusive to him and basically bankrupted him, so you’d think they’d be happy he’s rid of her and has found someone he’s actually happy with, but no, they can’t seem to move on. She also had a reputation for being high maintenance and flying off the handle at things, so I can’t imagine they were actually that close with her or they’d know what she put him through and likely not think she was so wonderful. Also, he and his ex wife split nearly three years before he and I met, so I didn’t break up his marriage. It’s not as if I can talk to my husband about it, because he just thinks I’m criticizing his family. He tells me they’re just really protective of his children, but I get along really well with his children and do lots of things to support them, so not sure why his family still feels the need to be stand-offish around me. I also don’t understand why his family can’t also accept me into their lives as part of the family. It’s not as if I expect them to push his children aside or forget about his ex wife (whom none of them interact with, by the way), it would just be nice if they could also act as if they are at least mildly pleased that I’m now part of their family. If I had to do it all over again, I’m not sure I would become a second wife. I love my husband, but it’s really difficult to not resent him when he insists that his family is wonderful, when they treat me as if I’m just a casual acquaintance whom they tolerate, even though he and I are married.

  • Cait

    I’m not sure if I’ll get a response since this discussion shows it happened a year ago but I’ve been desperately looking for something to relate to and this seemed to be a place I can voice my real thoughts and these ladies seem to give advice without judging.
    My husband has been married before. She cheated only months into their marriage and their total marriage, start to divorce was only 10 months. My only marriage is the one in in. I’m obviously grateful his marriage/divorce led him to me and I knew about all of this on our first date. He never hid anything. But it’s only now, 2 years later that it’s eating at me nonstop. I know he can’t take it back but it eats at me all the time. I hate that she was his first wife. I hate that his wedding comes up sometimes when it comes to people talking about last time they saw family members or whatever it may be. I hate that she got the first time he proposed, the first wedding night experience, planning of the wedding and buying a house with him. I feel like everything we do is less special because of the fact he’s already done it and I know it’s all me. I can’t wrap my head around why I’m so insecure about someone who obviously isn’t a good person but i feel like it’s consuming me and it’s bothering my husband now, which I can’t blame him! I’m just so terrified that what he had with her was better. That if she hadn’t cheated, he would have rather been with her. I feel like I compare everything we do that I know they’ve done and jump to the conclusion that he may have enjoyed it more with her. I’ve tried to rationally talk myself out of my own insecurities and some days it helps but others it eats at me. I don’t want my marriage to fall apart because of my own head. I feel defeated

    • mjh

      I’m so sorry you’re going through that, Cait. Sometimes feelings just don’t operate on a logical timeline and we get hit by emotions unexpectedly after feeling like we already made it through the woods. Have you considered working with a therapist to get tools for managing your feelings now, dismantling them over time so you don’t have to carry this forever, and figuring out how to productively discuss them with your husband?

      I know it must feel awful, but it’s good that you’re recognizing the feelings, knowing that they are at least in part coming from insecurity and not just acting them out passive aggressively or something like that. IMO you have the right to have the feelings and to process them. Maybe there’s something else going on that has made you more sensitized 2 years later, maybe not, but either way I think working with someone on this could help a lot to demystify it and give you direction in dealing with the feelings so your relationship doesn’t suffer for it. I know it’s frustrating for your husband but hopefully he wants to support you through these feelings and protect your marriage, too and as long as that’s the case you guys can figure this out.

      • Cait

        Thankfully my husband is a GREAT man and extremely patient and wants to help me but he’s at a loss of what to do since I can’t even exactly tell him what I need because I don’t even know what I need really. I need him to not be married before lol but obviously that isn’t an option so I need to get over it. We’ve had heart to hearts about it and he said it sucks that he gets beaten up about the worst decision of his life and that made it click that I need to do something because it’s not fair to him. Who wants to constantly be reminded of a mistake they made??
        Honestly I’ve considered a therapist but I think I just needed to hear it from someone else to give me the push so thank you!!
        As silly as this is, I think my pregnancy brought it out of me. I had insomnia the entire time and was on hospital bedrest for a month and it gave me entirely too much time in my own head and now I feel like those thoughts have become habit to think about so I need to break the habit. I WANT to break the habit! Both my husband and my daughter deserve it as do I. I just can’t tell you how nice it was to read this and not that I want anyone to feel my pain! But that I’m not crazy and the only one feeling this way. When I go to a therapist, they’re not gonna be treat me like I’m a lunatic. It just gives me hope that others have been where I’m at and they’ve gotten through it. It also helps to read the ladies on the other side say their opinions and thoughts. Thank you SO much for giving me what I needed to hopefully fix this rut were in!!

        • mjh

          I love how APW gives us all the space to talk through all kinds of feelings and see how many other people are navigating the same kinds of things.

          I’m glad your husband is wonderful and supportive, and that you’re up for getting some help in sorting it out from a therapist. I’m sure you guys will get past this and be able to just enjoy the new stage in life together with your daughter. Best of luck; I’ll be thinking of you and sending good vibes your way.

        • Abigail Jacob

          A therapist is absolutely not going to treat you like a lunatic. Their entire job is to help people process difficult emotions and difficult situations that they’re having trouble processing on their own. I promise you that your issues are far from uncommon for a therapist to deal with, nor will they be the worst thing a therapist deals with. It might take you a couple of tries to find a therapist you really click with, because personality matters a lot, but keep trying and you’ll find it to be hugely helpful.

        • angrytourist

          You are the mother of his child and that is special (and I’m guessing it’s a first the dumb ex never got!)

          How far postpartum are you? What I’m hearing in your post is a lot of worry about your own adequacy, and that’s so normal of an emotion during and after pregnancy — especially if you’re dealing with PPD issues. Is it possible that your current fears and insecurities about being a mother/wife and your future are being conflated with your husband’s past? Is it possible that the insecurity about his awful ex is really just highlighting your own doubts of yourself? Sometimes our brains fixate on things outside of ourselves, when really it’s just trying to illuminate things we need to deal with on the inside.

          Changing his past would not change you, so keep digging until you get to what is in *you* that makes you feel these feelings. And if you get down there and find it was just a pile of pregnancy hormones, accept that feelings happen and don’t always need to be explained or solved.

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