Yesterday I talked about the challenges for a man in his second marriage. Today’s post is about the challenges for the man whose wife has been married before.
First, for some men the biggest battle in their mind (see When your mind is your worst enemy). I’ve talked to men who just can’t get over the fact their wife was married to another man. They feel (fear) they come up short compared to the first husband. They become so focused on this they don’t see facts which rebut the idea, and see things supporting the idea that are not really there (see When you can’t see the good). They make their bride crazy, and because it’s mostly in his head, she can’t do anything to fix it. (Yes, I’ve seen second wives do this too, but not as often and not as obsessively.)
As I said yesterday, a talk about the good and bad parts of her former marriage is a must. You need to understand where she’s coming from, and have some idea of the fears and expectations she brings into the marriage. Yes, she needs to deal with those and not expect you to fix or pay for her past, but the more you know the better. Besides, it is loving to avoid things that cause her trouble if you can easily do so. The other side of this is you must not pry. Let her tell you what she wants to tell you, when and how she wants. If she refuses to say anything for many months it may something to address with third party help, but don’t be in a hurry to do that.
Try not to badmouth her former husband. The bottom line here is you don’t make yourself look better by making him look bad. Besides, if you go too far, you might put her in the place of feeling she needs to defend him, or at least correct what you have said. You really don’t want to put her there!
If she still sees her ex for visitation with the kids do not get involved. If she wants you around when she has to face her ex, fine. Try to be nearby but otherwise involved. Close enough to hear and step in if necessary, but not looking like a vulture. I know you want to “protect her” but it is too easy to cross the line. If he needs more than you clearing your throat or looking his direction to keep her safe, get the court involved. Don’t let him goad you into doing something stupid – be the bigger man. Also, don’t gripe about the problems and schedule limitations associated with visitation; you married a woman with kids who need to see their dad, so man up and deal with it.
Don’t assume your bride has said something to you, or done something, because of her first husband. Give her the benefit of the doubt to the extreme. Do not say things like “I’m not your first husband” or Don’t treat me like first husband“. Trust me, nothing good will come of it.
Then there’s sex. This one is excruciating for some men. It’s easier to pass off some guy she had sex with but did not marry, but if she married the guy she probably loved him. Even worse, she probably enjoyed sex with him at some point in history. In reality, her enjoying sex with him is good for you – it means she likes sex, or once did, and she knows she can enjoy it. Try not to obsess about the fact she had sex with him, and please don’t try to picture it! Don’t ask her for details; giving you a blow by blow of their sex life is not going to benefit your sex life. Don’t ask her how you size up compared to him (pun intended). Be the best lover you can be, and know you can give her better sex than anything she has ever had before. This is especially true if you understand great sex ends in bed, but does not start there. Avoid the temptation to say things like “But you did it with first husband” or “I bet you let first husband do _____”. There is no good or sane reason to point her mind to her first husband when you are having or talking about sex! BTW, if she calls out his name during sex, ignore it. If she says something, tell her it’s an easy slip, and you don’t take it personally. If you do take it personally, go get help, before it tears up your marriage.
If she is a widow, things are different, and in some ways more complex. If he was a good man, you have to accept he was a great husband to her. Even if she does not think so, the bar has been set high. If he was a less than good husband, she may have guilt over feeling relieved at his death.
Bottom line: Her first marriage is done, and her second marriage has begun. Your goal is not to outdo her first husband; your goal should be being the best, most loving husband possible. You are the bird in the hand, he is gone. If you love and care for her, it will be more than enough.