I wrote this piece almost five years ago, just before I said “I do” for the second time. It has definitely been one of the better decisions I have ever made.
I am as familiar with the statistics as anyone — two-thirds of second marriages are expected to end in divorce. There are many factors often cited for this depressing outcome. The family unit is more diverse and less cohesive. The children tend to be older and more independent, thus staying together for the sake of the kids is less of an issue. The ghosts of spouses past can continue to haunt the new marriage. Perhaps one or both partners moved too quickly into a new relationship rather than allowing sufficient time to heal from the divorce or to address underlying issues. Or, maybe they spent so much time single that partnered life with its compromises and complexities is no longer a fit. And, of course, there is the fact that once you have been divorced and survived, it may be easier to tread that path again.
Regardless of the reasons, the numbers are clear. Second marriages are more likely to fail than first unions. But, when it comes to relationships, I don’t care about statistics. I care about individual marriages, including my own. And, rather than focus on the added challenges that can impact subsequent marriages, I choose to acknowledge the ways that a marriage can be better the second time around.
I took my first marriage and my first husband for granted. He was always there and I assumed he would always be there. It wasn’t that I treated him poorly or neglected the marriage, I just didn’t understand the fragility of it and that it could disappear so easily. Now I know that no marriage is divorce-proof and that there are no guarantees. I like living with the awareness that the marriage could end; it makes me value it every day almost like a person who has received a terminal diagnosis appreciates every day they have left. I hope I have many more days with my new husband but I also try to live each one as if it may be my last.
When you know that something could end, you are more likely to value it. And when you value something, you are more likely to appreciate it and nurture it. And when you appreciate and nurture something, it is more likely to live on.
The end of a marriage can be a time rich with lessons. Hard lessons, to be sure, but valuable ones. It’s not uncommon for the wounds and behavior patterns of childhood to follow one into marriage. It’s not unusual for someone to choose a spouse that reminds them of a parent or to fall into a relationship that mirrors one from the past. Divorce can be a huge wake-up call from those automatic choices and behaviors. It is a time to heal from old hurts rather than repeat them. For me, that meant facing my fears of abandonment and recognizing (and changing) my behaviors that could lead to being jettisoned again.
When both partners have humbled themselves to the lessons of the end of a marriage, the resulting wisdom and experience can benefit a new relationship.
My first husband and I became adults together. We were each other’s constant as we navigated the challenges of early adulthood. As other aspects of life changed around us, we each became more reliant upon the other. We attended most social events together, never took separate vacations and even tended to run errands as a pair.
It’s different now; my now-husband and I were completely independent before we ever met. We each had our own fully developed lives and friendships. My new marriage has areas where our lives overlap, yet it also has plenty of distinct regions. We are independent in some ways and interdependent in others.
A second marriage means that the partners are older and have had time to establish themselves as independent adults before entering into an alliance with another. The edges are less blurred and more carefully maintained and each partner is less likely to be swallowed by the marriage.
I knew my ex-husband from the time we were teenagers; I thought I knew everything there was to know about him. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I failed to notice that the man he became was no longer the man I knew. I saw what I expected to see.
With my new husband, I know there is still much to learn. Every week, I hear a new story or uncover some novel fact about his past. The sense of mystery is a reminder that getting to know someone is a never-ending process.
I don’t think I know what he is going to say.
So I listen.
I don’t have any expectations of what I will see.
So I look.
At first, this felt a bit scary to me. I wondered if I would ever feel like I knew him as well as I knew my ex. But then I realized, I only thought I knew my ex. The comfort in that was the wool over my eyes.
I like the dash of mystery. The reminder that he is himself, with all his own experiences and opinions, before he is my husband.
My first wedding felt like the inevitable conclusion to a good relationship. This marriage feels like a hard-won victory after years of facing struggle. The triumph of love over loss. Trust over betrayal. And peace over pain. Every step has been deliberate. Intentional. There’s no autopilot this time — I’m the one driving my life.
Anyone who has survived the death of a marriage is bilingual — speaking the languages of love and loss. And experiencing the depths of the pain only makes love that much sweeter. I vow to never forget the agony because it makes me grateful every day for what I have. Divorce has a way of putting everything in perspective and helping you focus on what really matters.
And what matters to me is not the fact that two-thirds of second marriages end in divorce. I simply want to focus on what I can do to continue to make my second marriage happy and successful.
On a related note, I chose my second husband carefully after learning from my mistakes. Here are the significant ways that he’s different than my first.