I’ll be honest.
I don’t know what it’s like being a second wife. I was the first wife for 25 years.
All I know is how I would have liked to be treated by the second wife.
There was a lot of anger on my part in the beginning of the divorce process. I wasn’t in a sane frame of mind to openly accept a replacement. I needed time to grieve the loss of our relationship. But as time went on, and I knew there was another woman, I wanted her to love my children like I did, so I knew I would have to deal with my emotions.
I wasn’t lucky enough to be replaced with a loving woman. My children were welcomed into the new relationship with, “Well I never wanted kids anyway.” My son replying, “And we never wanted a step-mother either.” Don’t be her.
So for all you second wives out there, here are some rules I would have appreciated being shown from my Ex’s new wife. Maybe they’ll help you deal with being a 2nd wife. For me, these rules would have made my divorce less contentious and moving on more hospitable.
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Past Experiences & Emotional Baggage
Acknowledge There Was A First Wife & Act Accordingly
Unless you have met the first wife and talked to her, don’t believe everything your new man tells you. He may not tell you all the wonderful moments of their marriage, and any long term marriage had many wonderful moments. Please acknowledge that where you are starting your new relationship is also the same place the old relationship most likely started.
It may take some time, but eventually the wife should have no problem talking to you. She may have already reached out to you. If not, reach out. In the long term, it will be worth the effort. If it’s uncomfortable, fake it until time creates a new version of a comfortable conversation.
If it’s a divorce based on deceit, the wife might seem like she’s a little crazy. She is, and has every right to be. She’s angry, sad, frustrated, confused, demoralized and emotionally distraught because the man she married might have left her and the family for no reason he could verbalize. And her point of view might be that you’ve stepped in to conveniently replace her. Emotional baggage doesn’t go away like water in a flushed toilet. Be kind. Reach out, even if your new man says not to.
Your Perceived Social Stigma Is What You Create
If you expect all the friends from the first marriage to graciously accept you, you might be disappointed. Re-marrying a man who was in established relationships will create confusion for everyone involved, friends and family alike. Some friends will walk away, choosing sides by doing so, not willing to get caught up in the confusion. Some will invite you in, trying to maintain friendships with both. But how you choose to act and what you say in regard to the Ex wife will determine how you are accepted, or not accepted. Your behavior speaks volumes.
Being A Step-mother
Being a step-mother, is like treading on thin ice. No matter what you do, you will eventually fall. Falling teaches you something. Listen to the lesson…
Don’t try to be me, I am their biological mother. You cannot replace that bond, no matter how troubled it might be.
As a mother, I thought I would instill my morals and values in the lives of our 3 children. Now there is a third person in the picture, whose morals and values I may not be aware of. Tread lightly. If you followed rule #1, you and the mother can be on the same page and discuss situations as they arise, creating love and cohesion that will carry on through the years.
Don’t put the other parent down in front of the children. All children want relationships with both parents and you’re negativity might work in the short run. As the children age, they will see the truth.
The children might also be angry and see you as the reason their parents aren’t together anymore. They may or may not resent your presence. Be patient, young children pick up on the energy in the room. If you don’t like them, they will know.
Raising children in a “normal” relationship is hard. Raising them in a contentious environment makes it worse. Show respect for the other parent. Don’t demand the children call you “mom”. Don’t tell others they are your kids. Earn respect by respecting them.
There is nothing better for children than unconditional love from everyone around them. As a mother, I would welcome love from another woman. The more that goes around, the better for all involved.
Most divorces have conflict.
The easiest way to handle conflict is to ignore it, which allows it to fester and grow. At Midlife Divorce Recovery we are for Radical change, not the status quo. We encourage you to do the work to make life better for all involved.
Here are some functional guidelines for addressing the difficulty of being a step-mother:
- If you are a new step-mother, step back and watch the family dynamics. Let the initial confusion of a re-marriage settle down. It’s best to start from a place of knowing, not telling. Listen and see how family interactions occur. Listen to how the responses happen. See where your place can be in the family.
- Don’t do anything from a state of anger. Pause, take a few breaths and calm down. Know that divorce creates wavering emotions and while experiencing those emotions it is not the place to have meaningful dialogue. Often, we feel the need to jump in with a reply. But what would happen if we paused and waited?
- If a conflict arises with the Mother, once you are clear headed, which might take days, take some notes about the conflict you are addressing, and try to look at the issues from all sides.
- Then start the conversation. This is the hardest part. I like to start with a thank you or I’m sorry… Thank you for your concerns… I’m sorry you’re feeling… Then, in the fewest words and kindest way possible, write, or speak the terms of your notes. Be succinct without opinion and/or telling the other person what to do.
- Allow room for the other person to disagree in their response. They might be angry and not see it your way. That’s okay. You don’t have to bend to their decision or strike back. You can’t control the way someone reacts, you can only control your own emotions and therefore your response.
- See “Social Stigma” above.
- Depending on the response, reply in a kind and loving way moving toward resolution or compromise. Always ask yourself “what is in the best interest of the children?” And follow that thread, not the thread of self-interest. Or if you see no way forward, don’t respond at all.
There are times when saying nothing is saying everything. Know the difference. Often, maintaining a conversation that goes in circles only creates drama with no end in sight. Know when you can work with someone else and know when to step away, letting it be.
If marrying after a long term marriage, realize the financial burden of divorce isn’t all the 1st wife’s responsibility.
Financial well being doesn’t start in a vacuum. My Ex and I started a business at our kitchen table, scraping by on my salary while he followed his dream. Within 2 years of my divorce, after my 25+ year marriage, my Ex secretly sold the business we built together, betraying the promise of our financial security in retirement.
On the other hand, I have a friend who opened her mailbox 10 years after her divorce was final to find a check for $10,000. After coming down from her excitement, she read the enclosed note. Her Ex husband realized what she had given to their relationship. He came to understand that during their divorce his treatment of her had been devastating to her and their children. Since that time, every year he sends her $10,000.
Be the second guy.
What’s more important, the Italian sports car and one sided vacations or the health and well-being of the children and relationships? Stuff comes and goes, memories fade but relationships grow. Support what matters.
Don’t profit off the often unacknowledged hard work of the first wife.
Normal Relationship Issues
You’re the second wife. All the kinks should have been worked out in the first marriage. But if the man didn’t do any work on solving issues he may have, they won’t go away on their own. And don’t be fooled into believing the divorce was all the fault of the wife.
You will experience normal relationship issues as the second wife like any other relationship that ever existed. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this situation will somehow create a relationship with less issues.
There aren’t any books written on how to handle these situations because they are complicated, complex and vary greatly depending on each individual. These steps and ideas are guidelines I experienced myself. I hope they are helpful.
Benefits of Being The Second Wife
In the end, maybe you will find that you have a better relationship. Maybe everyone will be quicker to be clear and honest about expectations that they previously held in or didn’t really understand in the first marriage.
Maybe you’ll both have a better understanding of what it is you truly want in life and what you want your relationship to be like.
It’s a fresh start and maybe that’s what everyone needs.
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