When I was a child and thought about what my life would be like, everything seemed like it would follow a straight line. I would go from middle school to high school. I would go to college, get a job, maybe get married, and maybe have kids. Things would move progressively, linearly, from one stage to the next. In some ways, that did happen, but there have been many splinters and branches, exciting high points and devastating low points, that I could never have predicted.
As it turns out, life is not quite the straight line we all imagine it should be. Ideally, the point in the line where we choose whether or not to marry someone else would continue on forever. We know that for many people, that’s just not true. Love doesn’t always last the first time around. But, can it last the second time?
Statistics have shown that in the U.S. 50% percent of first marriages, 60% of second, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. You know we love to push against those stats, and we love it when other people do too. Today, I want you to hear from Joy, a second time bride pouring herself into her marriage and doing the beautiful and daunting work to make it last…
The Second Time Bride
By Joy Mushacke Smith
“If you get married again and it doesn’t work out, I think that should be it. You should just be single.” My mother’s words stung. Perhaps her advice came from fear that I had started dating a man eleven years my elder without the “proper” mourning period after my divorce. Maybe she worried, like mothers do, that I’d make the wrong choice again.
Nevertheless, it was more than unsettling. After all, I wanted her in my corner – someone to reassure me that divorce had been the right thing to do, and at the same time, to cheer me on in my new relationship filled with hope and second chances. Two years later, when my future husband and I had set a date, she added, “You know, you shouldn’t expect gifts. You already had a wedding.”
Looking back, her response was fair. Maybe not the gifts part (I think weddings, first, second, or otherwise deserve to be celebrated), but most certainly the notion that if you leave a trail of spouses behind you, clearly something’s amiss, and you owe it to yourself and your significant other to find out what it is.
A Marriage of Expectations
My first marriage came about in the wake of expectations. I had graduated from college, started a career as a journalist, and lived on my own. Clearly, it was time to settle down with the first person who asked. My ex and I dated for six months before he popped the question on a cold January night. Six months later, we were married. Less than five years after that, the ink had dried on our divorce papers. I was just shy of 28.
When I broached the subject of separating from my first husband, he told me he had felt the same way a year before. After recovering from my initial shock — How could he also be feeling this way? Wasn’t I the perfect wife? — I actually took what he said to heart.
Thankfully, my tenure as a second time bride has generated its share of reflection, before and after the ‘I do’s. I’ve discovered the fear of failing again is surprisingly motivating. It’s also hindsight that reminds me to take a step back before stumbling over the same mistakes I made with someone else. When I tell others my husband and I have both been married before, I no longer worry about their judgment or pity. Here’s why this time around it’s so much better than the last…
5 Reasons My Marriage is Better the Second Time Around
1. The commitment was more important than the wedding.
As a second-time bride, I was more in tune with the commitment aspect of the nuptials. My husband and I wrote our own vows and recited them at our intimate ceremony. Not that this was unusual, but it was easier to focus on the meaning behind the words when I wasn’t distracted by lavish bridesmaid dresses and ornate flower bouquets or concerns about whether or not we’d make it to the reception in time for cocktail hour.
I think about my second marriage differently. It feels more permanent, especially since the first one wasn’t. And I so desperately want things to work, to be successful, for us to be happy. So there is a different level of commitment we share, an unspoken vow to stick with it – even when leaving seems like the easier way out.
I took more time deciding to get married the second time, too. There was no rush masked by expectations to do certain things at a certain age. We waited until we were sure, even though I suspect our certainty came long before the proposal.
Because of that, I had the best of both worlds when it came to the wedding. My first was saturated by all the glamour and glitz that a girl from Long Island expects with her nuptials– even though I always felt much of the material aspect of the ceremony was more for status and expectations than what I really wanted. The second time, we had a quaint outside reception preceded by the cozy wedding ceremony along a creek at a state park I had never even visited before.
2. I’m more aware of my shortcomings.
The second time around, I had a better perception of myself. I was keenly aware (thanks to conversations with my ex) of my shortcomings. Part of what created that distance between my first husband and me was when I decided to go back to school for a teaching degree. No one would ever accuse me of being a slacker – especially not where academics are concerned. However, I became so engrossed in my coursework, that I kind of ignored everything else. I had been a full-time student, juggling classes and two jobs. In my effort to earn A’s in school, I was failing at marriage.
Jump ahead to Marriage #2 and the demands of grad school (and again, two jobs). All of the ingredients for disaster presented themselves again, but this time I had experience to guide me. When my husband asked if I wanted to take a night off to see Van Halen, I didn’t hesitate – despite the mounting pile of work to do. And you know what? We both needed the break and the time together. Whenever I noticed myself heading down the familiar path of complete absorption in all things academia, I pulled myself away and tried to focus on my husband – making dinner together, walking the dogs, even going out on a school night! I’ve since realized that so much of what I’ve been able to make of myself has happened because of how much he supports me.
3. We respect each other and speak highly of one another.
Speaking of support, mutual respect is another aspect of what makes Marriage #2 a success.
My husband and I have the good fortune to work as teachers in the same school. The students’ excitement for having one or both of us is an extension of the other person. A few years ago, I realized that whenever I overhear a conversation my husband is having about me with someone else — be it a student, parent or colleague — he’s always saying such nice things. It’s a lesson in reflection: how your attitude toward your significant other paints the picture of your relationship. Sure, it’s easy to tease and point out a person’s shortcomings when you’re hanging out with friends and everyone is spouse-bashing. Even the happiest couples get frustrated now and then. But isn’t it sweeter to eavesdrop on someone saying something nice? I’ve tried to focus on that positive talk even when I’m feeling flustered about trivial things like who’s making dinner.
4. We talk about hard things.
We’re also not afraid to have the big conversations – This too may be a side effect of getting older and more mature, but I feel like ever since we got together, my husband and I have tackled the big questions: children, finances, religion. Having both been married before, one of our earliest conversations was an open discussion about what went wrong. Even though we don’t always agree, we still try to respect the other person’s point of view. Sometimes it creates a lesson in humility; almost always it reinforces the importance of being a good listener.
5. There’s no room for jealousy.
When I asked for his perspective on Marriage #2, my husband said it’s better because he can trust me and depend on me. I share that sentiment. Jealousy has no room in a relationship, especially when it could keep one partner or the other from pursuing their dreams. Those are the bricks that end up making a wall between people. And if we can’t depend on each other, then whose becomes the shoulder to lean on when loved ones get sick, or beloved pets die, or life becomes otherwise unbearable?
As a couple, we are more independent but still a cohesive unit. At parties or events, we don’t feel the need to cling to each other. Instead, we go our separate ways, but remain confident in ourselves and our relationship. It even makes the moments when we pass at the hors d’oeuvres table a little more fun. My husband loves to pretend he’s meeting me for the first time. It’s an old joke, but one that always gets me laughing and brings me back to one of the reasons we fell in love in the first place.
Now I feel less likely to compare our relationship to others. Perhaps it’s come with age, but I’ve learned that the metaphorical grass isn’t always greener. Everybody has problems, arguments, and disagreements. It’s how we handle them that make our relationship strong.
Many of these second-time charms are likely experienced in first-time marriages as well. I certainly don’t mean to diminish the good spousal choices couples make their first trip to the altar. In my experience, however, things truly are better this time around. Sometimes getting a do-over is the chance to finally get it right and #staymarried.
A writer and teacher, Joy Mushacke Smith also blogs about her life before and after 40. She has an MFA in creative writing and is currently seeking representation for her YA novel, The Problem with Lasagna. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, and the online literary magazines, Hippocampus and [PANK]. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, their dog, and a pot belly pig. Follow her on Twitter @joymswriter.
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