As the Queen and I move another step towards our second, and God willing, last marriage, I can’t help but reflect on the couple we’ve become and consider the changes that will inevitably follow after we exchange vows and begin our life as husband and wife.
While a bit unromantic, it is irresponsible and foolish to throw aside the challenges lying ahead. It’s a well-documented fact that second marriages fail at higher rates than first – it’s perhaps worse for those involving children.
There are two fundamental, yet distinct, elements to a second marriage that I think get lost on single parents. First is the relationship; second are the children. While both are of vital importance both aren’t of equal weight.
We’re led to believe love is intoxicating. This is halfway correct; the truth is that new love is addicting. New romance will get the most rational person drunker than Coot Brown. Those butterflies, the feeling we get when a new lover calls or texts, that is the drug poets expound on and what we get hooked on. And when these emotions aren’t tempered a couple can get so caught up in this romantic hurricane they lose common sense and start to believe, (a) nothing can change how we feel about each other and (b) there is nothing our love can’t overcome.
Single parents often make this life-changing decision to marry fueled by what seems little more than emotion. They jump into marriage heart-first without the slightest thought to how the children might – and will – influence their marriage. They don’t take the time to board up the relationship for the storms ahead. Hinging their future on how they feel in the present, they become so blinded with bliss they don’t even realize there is a forest. And when they fail to consider the saplings sprouting around them, the couple’s canopy of self-interest can choke the life out of a blended family soon causing the marriage to wither.
People often wonder why the Queen and I have dated so long, five years in January. The reason is very simple – our children. Early in our relationship we noticed how differently each parented. Her style is soft and collaborative; mine is direct and authoritative. As our relationship deepened and we spent time together with our kids, we noticed how these differences sometimes clashed leading to awkward situations. It became most noticeable in the rare cases where we had to discipline the other’s children.
It only took a few of these conversations to realize that if we hope to make it as a couple and achieve our dream of happily ever after, it will require a shift in our thinking and a change in our expectations. We stumbled upon what so many failed remarriages didn’t or chose to ignore.
Blood thicker than a marriage certificate.
Kids will wreak havoc on a first marriage – they can lay waste to a second marriage. Yet the distinction is so subtle most divorced parents blow past without the attention it rightly deserves – the greatest threat to a second marriage is blood.
No matter how bad a first marriage was there is still the desire to regain what that marriage represented. For this reason many couples remarry with the underlying hope of duplicating or restoring what was lost.
This is the first fatal mistake, because it can never happen.
As much as I love and want the best for the Queen’s children, it can never equal how I feel about my own. We both share a biological and genetic bond with our own kids that no marriage certificate can supersede. This can’t be underestimated since it lies at the heart of the dilemma. Within every second marriage there is a war for our loyalty and those at battle are our spouse and our children. Each is looking to see whose side we will take in the next armed conflict; will mom come to our defense or turn traitor and side with her new husband? Will she support our decision or mutiny and make excuses for her kids?
This is the reason why discipline can be such a contentious issue in second marriages. Parents are wired to protect their children – regardless of the intruder. If I discipline the Queen’s kids, it’s as if she’s watching from a distant hill while traitorous marauders attack the castle and surrounding village. An enemy has crossed the border into her realm and like any noble protector her immediate reaction is to defend those under her watch. So we can regularly find ourselves caught in a wilderness trying to placate two waring factions we want desperately to remain at peace.
I can say with confidence that had the Queen and I married – when we knew that’s what we wanted – today we’d be unhappy at best and divorced at worst. If we had rushed in without allowing the time to adjust our thinking the relationship would have deteriorated into ‘us versus them’ and the marriage might die from resentment and bitterness. So instead we’ve chosen a more gradual approach trying to use this prolonged dating period to examine our expectations and foster better understanding so when marriage does arrive and we’re thrown into the fire of blending relationship and children we’ll have a better lay of the terrain.
We’re also practicing our step-parenting roles and rehearsing the discipline scenes until our parts are nailed down, all while writing the communication manuscript we will follow when things get sideways. Since we’ll have grappled with many of the uncomfortable moments –while dating – we hope to avoid some of what has wrecked many other second marriages.
Yet we aren’t naive enough to believe it will all be rainbows and butterflies once we say ‘I do’. And it would be dishonest to say I don’t sometimes worry no matter how prepared I believe we are. But the best either of us can do is use this time to work out a few of the kinks and hope all our hard work and waiting means we never have to choose between blood and a piece of paper.