There’s a saying I routinely use on my kids and employees, ‘Perception is reality.’ In other words, how someone sees the world is how the world really is, at least to them, and whose reality everyone else must cope. Granted, that perception might be distorted or entirely wrong, but it’s real until that perception is changed.
If you live on this planet you deal with it everyday. In fact, most ‘people problems’ can be traced back to perceptions getting sideways. This is especially so in our relationships. Has your wife or girlfriend taken something you did or said in an entirely different context than how you intended? Then for the next six hours she won’t even look at you? That’s her perception becoming your reality. Embracing this wisdom can be a game changer in all our interactions not just romantic relationships. But it means we must be more intentional about the messages we’re sending if we want other’s perceptions to accurately reflect reality.
One of the fundamental differences between a first and second marriage is lack of evolution. Here’s what I mean. In first marriages there is a growing sense of maturity and progress. Couples, figuratively speaking, grow up and take many first steps in life, together. They first get married, they rent that first apartment, take that first European vacation, then comes that first pet, later they swallow hard and buy that first house, then comes their first child, and so on. First marriages are made up of infinite ‘firsts’; highlight reels of ‘us against this world’, ‘look what we first did together’ moments.
This gets really important later on should someone wish to leave that marriage. That pile of ‘firsts’ may feel like a weight keeping a spouse in an unhappy marriage. All the accomplishment makes things difficult because divorce feels like the unwinding of everything that was done. To divorce would suddenly make it all for nothing.
It’s a beautiful, but often painful, reality that is mostly missing in second marriages, that unsurprisingly come with higher divorce rates.
The Queen and I have been together for over half our divorced lives, and as we prepare to be husband and wife we’ve come to accept that we’re bringing much into this new marriage that the other was never part of. We each had a first marriage, homes, pets, cars, vacations, savings accounts, and 401k’s. Our lives are crammed full of achievements – firsts – that have nothing to do with the other.
And the most important of these is our children.
There’s a natural but dangerous tendency in second marriages to label everything as ‘yours’ or ‘mine’. It’s natural because, as I mentioned earlier, so much is brought in that the other was never part of. This is especially true when it comes to kids. Her children obviously aren’t mine, biologically, so while it’s very natural to think of the Queen’s kids as ‘yours’ and my kids as ‘mine’, it’s no less dangerous and here’s why.
I don’t believe I can overstate that children are the number one reason second marriages, and quite possibly all marriages, fail. How a remarried couple blends families will make or break their marriage. Blood is typically thicker than a marriage certificate. But marriage can’t mean we only blend an address, bank account, and last name. We must consider all those ‘firsts’ as well. We’re convinced that for our marriage to mean anything we must take all those ‘mine’ and ‘yours’ and make them ‘ours’ – and that begins with our children.
Several years ago my kids’ stepfather and I were having a conversation and in passing I referred to my kids as ‘our children’. He abruptly stopped me to say thanks for recognizing they aren’t just my and his wife’s children, but ‘ours’. His reaction confirms the importance of language and perception, and the impact both can have on second marriages.
The Queen and I agree that we must eliminate those ‘yours’ and ‘mine’ from our vocabulary especially because of the perceptions they create. That begins with how we perceive our kids. We can’t see them as ‘mine’ or ‘yours’, there can be only ‘our’ children, both in the words we use and the ways we act.
We believe the danger of not doing so will develop boundaries between us. To consider our children as ‘yours’ and ‘mine’ is to create the perception there are places where the other can’t enter, that part of our life will remain off limits to the other. This is to be family in some areas but not in others. That’s a recipe for marital disaster.
Furthermore, not doing so makes it easy to compare children. Should my kids have a habit or behavior the Queen finds unsettling she has a ready platform to contrast what ‘my’ kids do that ‘yours’ do not. That opens just enough space to now drive a wedge pushing her and I into separate corners, each with perceptions that don’t reflect the other’s real intent. We’ve greased the skids for disagreement, friction, and disharmony.
A paradigm shift such as this is anything but easy. A decade long habit is hard to change. It takes intention, encouragement, and ever-so-gentle gentle prodding to move the needle. But we’re convinced the effort is necessary. So much of marriage is about intimacy and oneness, and I believe that will not happen if our marriage is based on ‘yours’ and ‘mine’.
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