I’m Determined to Make Marriage Work: Valuable Lessons From Divorce
“A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” Oscar Wilde
“This is it, though.” I said to my then-boyfriend when he brought up the idea of marriage. “I want to be married again but this is it. I’m not going through another divorce.”
And with that vow, I decided to do some things differently in my second marriage. Because even though there is no such thing as divorce-proof, I can still make sure that I do everything I can to inoculate my second marriage from dissolution.
I based my choice of my first husband largely upon how he treated me. I chose my second husband more because of how he treated people other than me. It’s easy to treat somebody well when you’re in the sunshine-and-roses stage of a new relationship. That’s more a sign of hormones than character. But how somebody treats people in general? That’s telling.
I also looked for concrete signs in my second husband that he wasn’t afraid of imperfection and that he had a proclivity to repair rather than replace. My ex was concerned about appearances. How he was perceived. Weakness and flaws were to be feared and concealed. In contrast, my second husband sees cracks as an opportunity for creative problem-solving and reworking. I’m still learning from him on that one.
Awareness That Sustainability is Not Inevitable
I assumed that my first husband would always be there because he always had been there. I expected that marriage to last because I wanted it to. I thought that since we had been okay, that we would continue to be okay.
It was a naive view of marriage – seeing it like a Rube Goldberg design with it’s upfront work followed by effortless activity. I see more like a garden now. Yes, much of the work is concentrated in the beginning. But it takes constant monitoring and consistent attention to ensure its continuation. If it’s neglected for too long, the flowers will fall to weeds.
Never Take Anything For Granted (And Never Fail to Share Appreciation)
My ex husband was good to me. But I wasn’t always good to him. I transferred my work stress onto his shoulders, lessening my load but also burdening him. I would thank him for some kind deed, but then negate it with criticism about some detail. I expected him to help and grew accustomed to his willingness to do so.
Now, I allow myself to be surprised at every gesture of kindness or every offer of help. Not because it’s rare, but because I appreciate it every time. And I more generous with sharing that appreciation and keeping any disappointment in the details to myself. To say, “Thank you,” rather than “Thank you, but…”
Allow My Husband to Feel Like a Man
Perhaps because my first husband didn’t fit neatly into society’s stereotypes about being “a man,” or maybe because I went through my formative dating years without my dad around, I didn’t have an awareness of the importance of certain conditions and their impact on a man’s self-worth.
From my now-husband, I’ve learned about the importance of feeling like a man. Of feeling in control over his domain. Of being recognized for his contributions. Of feeling a need to protect his family. Of feeling a need to appear the strongest when at the most vulnerable. And of the shame and emptiness that can come from not feeling like a man.
Do My Own Thing (And Encourage Him to Do His)
My ex and I used to do most everything together. We enjoyed each other’s company and we enjoyed many of the same experiences. We even shared many of the same friends. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it meant that we grew to depend upon each other for much of our social, intellectual and entertainment needs. And that’s a lot to ask of one person.
Although I may sometimes grumble that I’m a Ju Jitsu widow, I’m glad that my now-husband has passions apart from me. And I make sure to engage in mine as well. Our separate interests keep us interesting to each other. It means that we get some of our needs met elsewhere, placing less demand on the marriage. I miss him sometimes, yet that also means that I’m always happy to see him.
Prioritize Self-Care and Extinguish Martyrdom
I can have an ugly tendency to do it all and expect empathy or recognition for my efforts. In my first marriage, I sacrificed my well-being for the financial health of the family, taking on every additional school and tutoring assignment that I could. Rather than doing it from a place of generosity, I often did it from a place of martyrdom – look how much I’m working for us.
Needless to say, that’s not a healthy approach. I now strive to recognize when I’m slipping into that mindset and when it’s noticed, I either shift to a place of giving or I switch to a period of self-care. I also work to be careful of my decisions. Rather than claiming I’m doing something because of someone else, I recognize that I’m choosing to do (or not so) that thing. The other person may be a factor, but they are not the causal factor.
Manage My State of Arousal and Anxiety
I can get pretty worked up. My emotions and anxieties can build until they feel like soda bubbles beneath my skin. In my first marriage, my ex became the expert at talking me down. All he had to do was wrap me in his arms, skin to skin, and my heart rate would quickly slide back down to normal. I grew dependent upon that power. And he abused that power.
When my anxiety is spiking, I can’t reason well. I can’t engage meaningfully and fairly in a difficult conversation. And I can’t listen fully because the fears are screaming too loudly. I’ve spent the past almost seven years (wow – has it actually been that long?!?) learning to recognize and tame my anxiety. I’m not always successful. But I’m always working to be better. And it’s my responsibility.
Have Patience With Problems and Openness With Solutions
I’m impatient when it comes to…well, just about anything. And problems (or perceived problems) in my marriage are not exempt. When I used to be upset at my ex for something, I would bring it up right away and expect an immediate solution. That led to a lot of bandaids, I figure, hiding the bleeding fatal wounds beneath.
I’m now more patient (sometimes too patient – always learning!) with bringing up issues. And I try to pose them as questions to be answered, not as problems with solutions I’ve already devised (which, let’s face it, usually consists of the other person needing to change). I try to be open to solutions that I haven’t thought of and be accepting of the fact that they may take time to work out. Curiosity and a sense a teamwork go a long way in negotiating life with another.
Be Willing to Confront and Challenge
When my ex was laid off yet again and had trouble locating a new company in his limited field, he elected to go solo. I supported him completely, surrounding him with pep talks and agreeing with all his decisions. But underneath, I had doubts. Both in his business model and in his justifications of money spent on equipment and software. Instead of just nodding along, I should have challenged his decisions. But I was afraid to.
When I have concerns now, I voice them. Not in an effort to shoot my husband down, but with the goal of helping him – and helping us – make better and more informed decisions. I’m not afraid to stand up to him, even if it means my toes get stepped on. A little bruising of the feelings is better than standing back and letting someone veer off course.
Trust But Verify
My avoidance of verification got me into real trouble in my first marriage. I took his word way too easily because it’s what it seemed on the surface and what I wanted it to be deep down. In my second marriage, I trust my husband. But it’s not blind trust.
I am also more aware of the importance of trusting myself. To see what’s there and to be okay even if I don’t like what I find. I’m better at checking in with my intuition and making sure it agrees with what I’m being told.
It’s sad how many of us don’t really learn how to do marriage until we’ve buried one. I guess it’s one of those areas where we have to experience it to really learn it. I’m just determined to not need a repeat of the lessons. Because that’s a class no one ever wants to take again!