There are times when I drive the Queen insane, though she would never say as much. On several occasions she’s suggested, in the creamy and unassuming way only she can, that I lighten the hell up. It’s not that I’m purposefully intense or dogmatically anal with my regiment of second marriage devotionals and the methodical way I routinely talk about our future as husband and wife. My natural disposition is easy-going. It’s just that I’ve thought, written, read, and observed so many ways second marriages can be wrecked I’ve turned nearly obsessive working to keep ours from ever running into the ditch.
Case in point, sitting on her back patio one summer afternoon; out of nowhere I reach for a sheet of paper. On it was a list, four bullet points and several more sub-points, of what I believe were the greatest risks to our future marriage. I had spent days narrowing down the myriad of potentialities to these four dangers. It was my wish to put another layer of protection on tomorrow by talking through them today. My boss would have been thrilled; it had that brevity he cherishes, but the Queen felt otherwise. While she appreciated my thoughtful consideration for our matrimonial wellbeing and how I succinctly outlined the possible dangers, she didn’t care much that it seemed I was presenting to executives in a boardroom instead of talking to my fiancé on the back porch.
Looking back, this was likely that proverbial straw. Because in not so many words she let it be known I must find a new hobby, immediately. Otherwise, I should go to my doctor for a prescription of Ritalin.
Notwithstanding the thoroughness in my lack of tact and style, doesn’t change the reality that second marriages are full of relationship landmines, wholly different from those found in other marriages, and can obliterate a couple before they even have time to react.
This new series will be a more graceful attempt at that summer afternoon fail.
A second marriage is unlike any other marriage before or after. Gone is that near universal naivety brought to a first. Divorce, co-parenting, and the occasional urge to murder are wonderful at washing away any rose colored tint. Yet second marriages rarely include the pessimism unavoidable in third, fourth, or eighth marriages- when marriage becomes an inside joke, serving more as a financial planning strategy and assurance one’s laundry will be regularly cleaned.
The best second marriages are full hope with a healthy dose of realism, or at least they should be.
The smartest couples begin a second marriage with a certain level of reserved optimism. There is boundless excitement at this new life and partnership as husband and wife, especially for single parents going it alone after many long years. But that exhilaration must also be chilled by the cold reality that this has all happened before. Been there, done that, and blew it, often spectacularly. Adequate appreciation for this fact is necessary, else the couple drift into the shallow waters of reckless naivety, and especially the silly belief that love, above all else, will find a way through any relationship storm.
I think the Queen would agree there’s a sober gravity, or at the very least intentionality, for our upcoming marriage that was entirely lacking in each of our first marriages. We have a clearer understanding of our strengths, but more importantly our and the other’s weaknesses. We admit this wasn’t even on the radar with our formers spouses. We have a greater respect and more acute awareness for the obstacles lying in wait as we blend lives, finances, and children. We can’t drink the Kool-Aid making many believe ‘that (whatever it may be) could never happen to us’. Our excitement is restrained by the certainty our marriage will be an uphill climb; sometimes the ascent will be soft but steady other times steep and severe.
Such cool prudence is a good thing, but it can also be terrifying. I occasionally get cold sweats wondering, even after all our preparation, “What if we start fighting about finances?” “What if we have major disagreements over parenting styles, friendships, etc.?” But we also can’t be too overly cautious, else we quickly let ourselves become carried away, like I did that warm afternoon, and turn something life affirming and soul enriching, like marriage, into something perhaps better avoided altogether.
These four dangers, aptly named the Four Horsemen, don’t arrive in chariots of fire or the sounds of angelic trumpets. But their demure nature doesn’t diminish their lethalness. Any of them can turn a second marriage to ash before the couple is even aware of it. Yet while they easily can sneak up on us it doesn’t mean there aren’t signals that might point to their approach. Actions and behaviors, usually before the marriage begins, when we ought to be paying closest attention, may act as early warning bells that danger awaits.
This series is expressly written for couples contemplating a second marriage that will include children. The fact of the matter is the end of a marriage without kids is little more than a glorified court sanctioned breakup. The emotional baggage is a mere fraction of that when divorce involves kids.
Such uninspiring separations include permanency; each partner can move from that divorce as if the other never even existed. Those involving children aren’t remotely as final; much more than memories remain.
As the Queen and I have prepared for our second marriage, it’s to these four dangers that our most intense conversations, and sometimes heated disagreements, have ultimately turned. Yet, as I have discovered, most couples never talk through these dangers; either through lack of purpose or fear, they leave such big questions unanswered. It’s my hope these essays will, at the least, help start that conversation.
Each post will tackle one of these four – Children, Cash, Complacency, and Conflict. I hope to share some of our experiences in battle; try to understand where these enemies might come from, and explain what the Queen and I have learned to reduce some of their potency.
We can’t begin however without accepting one fundamental point. None of the four go away indefinitely. They may ride off, but never very far into the distance. They’re relentless foes that will grab hold of your second marriage and never let go. And the only way we can ever hope to subdue them – and what I hope to do in this new series – is by first understanding them.
Click here to read other essays in this five part series.