Richard and I had a rough day recently (as all marriages have from time to time…please don’t worry), and after talking it through and reconnecting, I said to him the next day, “I don’t know about you, but fighting in a second marriage scares me way more than fighting in a first marriage.”
“I concur,” he said.
Now, I don’t mean that I cower in fear. I mean it emotionally freaks me out.
(I want to be careful in that I’m not downplaying the role of arguing in a first marriage, especially if the relationship is abusive and you are actually fearful. That is a whole different issue, and I’ve said before, if you or your children are in actual physical harm, create a safety plan and find a place to stay; and/or if you or your children are in emotional harm, get outside help to aid you in creating safer boundaries.)
But here is why I think it’s scarier in marriage number two.
When you’ve been married for a number of years, you have a long history that holds you in the palm of its hand. You can look back and see annoyances let go of and issues fought through and fixed, and then you can look up ahead and know with assurance that you’ll get over the one you’re in just like you have all the other ones in the past. But when you’ve been married, say, six months, your history is small. The assurances come in hesitant whispers like ‘let’s hope we get through this one…’ as opposed to bold proclamations of ‘we’ve got this!’. So, you know, freaks me out.
When you’ve been in a difficult first marriage filled with fighting, as I was (and I really do mean filled with it…to the extent that when we were simply dating, we acknowledged openly with each other and others that we had a conflict-habitual relationship), and when you’re used to arguing not just once or twice a month, but several times every single day, disagreements hold a different weight. And it’s a trigger. So disagreeing now makes me think of fighting then, bringing up the all-too-familiar fear of abandonment, even if the content is completely different and even if the way we argue couldn’t be further from what I’m used to, but we all know how my first marriage ended, so, you know, freaks me out.
When you’ve been married a first time, and you fight, you think (or at least I did), ‘oh well, another fight…this marriage is never ending so it’s all part of the deal.’ But if you’re in a second marriage, it tends to imply you had a first marriage that ended in divorce, which means when you had been fighting all those years and you had been thinking that no amount of fighting would end your marriage and then your marriage did end, so it makes you realize that this marriage, technically, isn’t immortal either, and that safety net that you assumed would always catch you in your first marriage no matter how bad things got was really a ruse. Which means, therefore, there is no safety net under your second marriage either. So, you know, freaks me out.
When you’ve been married before and it wasn’t healthy or close, and then you remarry someone, and it’s better, and more whole, and more intimate, I’m noticing that the stakes feel higher to me. My heart is more vulnerable. I am more all-in now. I can be more devastated this time around because I’m more invested, more connected. So, you know, freaks me out.
When you’ve been married a first time and then you get a divorce, and then you enter into a new marriage and you have an argument, you think, “oh crap, I guess I’m the common denominator…I guess I can’t get along with anyone…I guess I don’t have what it takes to be a healthy contributor to any partnership…I suck…I’m going to end up taking this relationship down just like I took the first one down…” (Or maybe that’s just how I think.) So, you know, freaks me out.
And the statistics for a second marriage ending are way higher. So, you know, freaks me out.
But here’s where I find solace. This recent rough day, we made it back to each other. And we ended up gentler with each other. And saying some deeply kind and needed and stitching-back-together and safe-harbor things to each other. We are building that history of falling down and getting back up together. It’s a small history now, yes, but each day it gets longer and the roots grow deeper.
It occurred to me that we are truly still getting to know each other. We didn’t start dating in high school with years ahead of us until we could get married. We started dating in mid-life, and though our courtship was as intentional as I knew how to make it, it was also quicker than some would recommend (which I understand). We are still learning who the other person even is, let alone what it looks like for us to be partners together in all our differences, something that I think we’ll be working on for quite a while.
And finally, it occurred to me recently that what I was used to fighting about is NOTHING compared to what Richard and I disagree about. The issues in my first marriage were not just dysfunctional, they were downright wrong and sinful and had no place in any marriage. The issues Richard and I are navigating are perfectly normal for any two people who are newly married and for any two people who are remarried with other marriages in their backgrounds. Reminding ourselves that our stuff is normal stuff was a huge sigh of relief, to both of us.
I still hate to argue. I’ve hated it since I was a little girl. But it’s also necessary sometimes. And fruitful when worked through. And, if you let it, can bring you closer after. But still, freaks me out.
It totally freaks me out, too!
I’m not even dating yet, but the thought of another relationship freaks me out because of exactly this! I think about this often; am I capable of having a healthy relationship with a man? or am I broken and can’t love a man well? I don’t think I will ever overcome this feeling and will have doubts forever, whether or not I am ever in another relationship. I, like so many others, truly thought we would NEVER divorce, no matter how difficult it got. Ha! I guess I never understood HOW hard it can really be. Thank you, Elisabeth, for sharing your heart on this subject. It helps me to know I am not alone!