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“Do you think you’d still be married if all the bad stuff hadn’t happened?” a friend asked me recently.

“Uh, I don’t know,” I answered after a few minutes.

It’s true, I don’t really know. I’d like to believe that in what would be 24 years into our marriage, we still would be. I certainly thought we’d be married forever when we wed (even if I didn’t say “till death do us part” but then again I didn’t say I’d obey, either).

Nine-plus years into my second divorce, I have been thinking about marriage — a lot. I wish I had thought about it this much before I got married, clarifying just why I wanted to get married, but it’s best not to live in regrets. If nothing else, all this focus on marriage lately — from Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage to all the articles predicting the death of the institution of marriage and the political emphasis on “traditional marriage” — might make more people really, really think about why they want to get married. That’s exactly what Susan Pease Gadoua hope to do with our book, The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels.

Although I didn’t expect to be divorced, a lot of really good things have happened because of it; I learned a lot. Please don’t take that to mean that I am cheering couples on into divorcing; I’m not. No one should rush into divorce — except those whose lives are at risk — especially if you have kids. Couples should try to salvage their marriage — in healthy ways — if they can.

But divorce isn’t all gloom and doom, as many want to portray it. Nor is it a “failed marriage” — the 14 years my former husband and I were together had many happy moments and created two amazing sons, now young men, whom we were able to co-parent well because we were kind to and respectful of each other (well, most of the time).

So, what did I learn after my divorce?

Divorce doesn’t necessarily make you smarter about relationships: I got married way too early the first time — a few months shy of my 21st birthday — for all the wrong reasons, or actually just one not-good-enough reason: I loved him and he loved me. So when I met the man who was to be my second husband, I thought I “got” what marriage was about. I’d been there and done that, and since he had been married before, too, and we both experienced infidelity, he felt the same way. Well, wrong. Divorce doesn’t automatically make you wiser about relationships and marriage. Unless you delve deep into the behaviors and patterns you learned from your family of origin so you can understand the bad stuff you brought into your first marriage, you’ll just bring it into the next one. Sure, your new spouse may react differently to it, but you still need to own it. Thankfully, I did a lot of intensive work to understand what I did to contribute to the demise of my second marriage, and I learned how to act differently although it’s a work in progress. I don’t know if I would have done that if I’d stayed married; I think I just might have had to hit bottom first.

There may not be someone “better out there” for you: When it was finally clear that I was going to be divorced, I’m embarrassed to admit that among the many complicated thoughts going through my head was an incredibly silly one, What a cliche to be a 40-something divorcee! Why couldn’t this have happened earlier, when I was younger and maybe somewhat cuter and possibly more desirable? I was perimenopausal with wrinkles and sags, a few gray hairs, reliant on glasses so I could read and drive — for a lot of men I was past my “prime,” although in many ways I felt as if I’d just entered it; I was so much more comfortable in my own skin, no matter how less firm. But it isn’t always any easier for 20- and 30-something divorcees. There really isn’t a good or bad age to be divorced, but it doesn’t matter — you divorce because the marriage you’re in doesn’t work any more and you can’t make it work, not because you believe there’s someone “better out there for you.” Divorce means you have to accept that you may be alone — and you’ll be OK with that.

Relationships don’t have to look a certain way, Part I: I grew up buying into a familiar relationship scenario — you meet someone special, date, fall in love, marry, and then one day have a few kids, a mortgage, a dog and a minivan. And, of course, you live happily-ever-after. But when I found myself divorced at midlife with two kids — and wanting to have love in my life at some point — I began to wonder why I’d want to hold on to that same trajectory. It worked fine when I was in my 20s; was it going to work at midlife? I certainly wasn’t going to have any more kids, I owned my own house, I had my own career and dog and car (I ditched the minivan) — I didn’t “need” to be in a relationship in the same way as I believed I needed to be when I wanted to have a family with a partner. Now I had other questions to ask myself, and so for the first time in my life I started thinking intensely about what I wanted, not what I thought was expected of me (and wondered why I didn’t do that before). Did I want to marry again? Why? Why not? What would I do different and what would be the same?

Relationships don’t have to look a certain way, Part II: My extended circle of divorced friends are all over the map when it comes to romance — most have found love again but only a handful have gotten married and a teeny-tiny percentage are living together. A few are in committed relationships and want to marry at some point, a few aren’t sure. I am among the latter; well, actually I know I don’t want to marry again. What I don’t know is if I want to live with someone again although, yes, sometimes I miss having someone around; between my two marriages, I spent about 20 years living with a husband. My partner of almost eight years and I are as committed to each other as any couple I know, but he has his place and I have mine. We don’t have any plans to change that. Both of us appreciate having space in the relationship, and time to ourselves or to be with friends — something I didn’t give myself when I was married. And our time together feels much more special; it’s harder to take each other for granted. I know this arrangement won’t work for everyone, but it’s working for us.

Divorce offers us many chances to do something different, hopefully better. We still have to make the conscious decision to act on them.

What have you learned post-divorce?






25 Responses to “What I learned after my second divorce”

  1. PJay says:

    Marriage = Death

  2. elise says:

    Here’s to wisdom learned the hard way! In many ways when your marriage is in crisis and your future is at stake, you do become a better student of life. When I first realized that my marriage was ending, every cell in my body was suddenly attuned to the truths about myself-both noble ones and ugly ones. And I was motivated to go back and look at my childhood again-not in a self-pitying way, but in a more of a realistic, self-forgiving way. For instance, if all of the strong and intelligent women I loved growing up appeared to be at their happiest when they were divorced or widowed, how did that shape my views about (not to mention my behavior during), my marriage? So much valuable knowledge and growth that can come from what appear to be the worst calamities of your life. Cliche? Perhaps. But a hard one to argue with.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles

      It’s true, Elise. It seems we have to go to the deepest, darkest place to get really; I just don’t think it happens to the depth it needs to happen without a crisis. Bummer!
      When I was in the midst of it, I imagined how I was feeling must be how a soldier on the front lines feels — hyper-alert and aware. When things settled down, I knew I had to look at my own stuff. I’m so glad I did; sounds as if doing the same was helpful to you, too. And now, life ….

  3. Cocoon says:

    How much of a happiness should be there to make the marriage work? For my marriage it is 50-50 sometimes in fact most of the time the happiness goes down to 40 sometimes even 20%. I don’t know what to do. I’m in a verbally abusive marriage, I guess it is better then psychical one? Some days I think of divorcing him, some days not. He is normally a good person but when he is angry he looses it and becoming abusive. And my main concern is what would i tell my family? It will break their heart if I tell them I want a divorce. They love him and respect him but they don’t know how he is treating me.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles

      Thanks for commenting, Cocoon. Happiness comes from within not from others, whether in a marriage or not. That said, verbal abuse isn’t “better” than physical abuse; sometimes, it can be worse. Have you and he discussed his verbal abuse and how it makes you feel? That’s the place to start; if he isn’t aware of what he’s doing, he needs to know. If you have discussed this before, then you might need a neutral third party to be present to talk about it again. There are anger management programs that might be helpful; have you explored those and would he be amenable to that?
      Wishing you the best.

      • undecided says:

        I too have found myself in a verbally and (one time physically abusive) second marriage. He is so disrespectful and the one time he got physical is when I stood up for myself……i regretted getting confrontational with him as I know now what he is capable of. I am convinced that he has something mentally going on that doesn’t allow him to think rationally.

        I’m confused, embarrassed and undecided how to move forward………….

        • OMGchronicles
          Twitter: OMGchronicles

          It sounds as if you might need some help. Take care of yourself first, and speak to a professional. Good luck!

    • Emily Witherell says:

      I lived with a verbally abusive man for 14 years. It diminished my sense of myself and I’m so weak emotionally that I began to mirror his bad behavior. I lose my patience at our kids all the time and they have begun to yell back! So it really resonated with me about marrying the second time and believing erroneously that I’d learned enough the first time around as to be an expert of some kind! Truth is that relationships END because they are dysfunctional and one person just takes leave or both- figuring they’d be better off starting over. It does NOT mean that once that happens the lessons are learned and you’ve grown up enough to move into another relationship. I think my parents (mother and stepfather) are case in point: they both were on the second marriage and rebounds to boot and spent about 20 years of their 30 year marriage in counseling! And some of that counseling involved adult members of our nuclear family for discussion and it really helped us all, I think. So never stay when someone is an asshole- just don’t. Because eventually that person will be YOU defending yourself and it will escalate and feel terrible. It tears you down something awful- you just don’t realize it. A verbally abusive person can literally tire a person out until they give up and hence, give in which makes it even worse. Who cares if your family loves the guy- you should be telling them so they are aware that he is not honest about his relationship with you anyway! There aren’t any religions that tell women to stay with abusive partners, though, unfortunately I have met women from time to time who claim their families are against divorce and side with the husband. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide whether or not to stay, but verbal abusers kill you from the inside out. You are scarred internally and don’t see it!-Respectfully, Emily

  4. Cocoon says:

    Thank you OMGchronicles. Yes, he does know how his words hurt me and we discussed this not once not twice. And a third party from his family already know this. He apologises and I forgive him but he does it again. I have to admit when he calls me names I talk back and call him name too but I never start. As I said on my previous post, sometimes, I let go his abuse but when I don’t then we have big fights like yesterday. I think I’m making my mind up slowly but I’m sure I will be there again in no time. I will be just fine without him I just don’t want to upset my family again.
    I have suggested him about anger management programs but he thinks nothing wrong with him, he is like this because apparently, I’m pushing him up to wall! Thank you very much for listening well… reading.

    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles

      Sounds as if there’s an unhealthy dynamic. One of you will have to take the initiative to stop that, and it may have to be you (sorry!). Perhaps if you have some tools to help you detach from the anger things might change, even if he doesn’t want to get anger management help. At the least, you won’t feel that you’re in some way responsible for his anger (which is like Al-anon; the person may be drinking, but no one has to feel responsible for that). Keep strong, keep safe!

  5. david d says:

    This is my second divorce and im not sure where iam now and i have no idea where im going. it has been a little over 2 years that we got seperated and i finally could say i want to live and move on. Most important I want to move on and not blame or fight with her. Is like that song “dont walk away mad, just walk away!” it has been a non stop fight with her in every step of the way and the more i showed i cared about her the more she try to crushed me, with money kids and emotionally. so now here iam confused a little bruse up a lot but happy. I want to know what i did wrong and how to fix it. My second marriage was about fixing all i did wrong on my fiirst divorce!!! so i became a recuer! lol. and i got step on. now i want to stand on my own, and start over cause i want to. i like my space but yet i miss somone full time but i dont want my youngest kids to get hurt like my older ones did.;


    • OMGchronicles
      Twitter: OMGchronicles

      Thanks for writing and sharing, David. I’m sorry to hear that you’re in so much pain, and I applaud you for wanting to protect your kids. Blaming and fighting with your former spouse will not help you move on, and, most sadly, it will most likely hurt your kids because they won’t see things the way you do — she’s their mom, and they don’t want to take sides. However she hurt you, that’s over. All you have is what’s ahead. How can you best co-parent when you feel hurt and angry and confused? That’s for you to figure out, and I hope you have people to support you and love you through the process. I wish you the best.

  6. Melissa says:

    Thank you for this article; I think I could have written it! I, too, got married too young just because it was the next logical step in the relaitonship. I realized after awhile that he was a selfish jerk with mommy issues – I did everything in the household, including raising our sons and working full-time. I finally realized I had lost myself and got out. I met my second husband on the heels of my first divorce and we were just friends at first, and it developed. Unfortunately, he was a recovering alcoholic with so many issues I hadn’t been aware of. He was great in the beginning, but once the addiction to painkillers took hold and then he had an affair…I knew I had to save me and the kids and only he could save himself. I am happier than I ever have been three years later. I love my life, my career, my kids, my houes, my family and friends. But I have come to the conclusion that I doubt I’ll ever get married again. I know I should note have went straight into another marriage, so I am being very careful this time. I am not sure what I want exactly…perhaps a casual exclusive relationship since it’s about all I have time for. I have a FWB that might become more but I am careful with that, analyzing my feelings ALL the time to see where I stand. We both were cheated on in our marriages and he is very gun-shy so this works for both of us for the time being. I know the secret is to be happy with yourself and I am lucky in that I always have been – probably one of the biggest issues in my last marriage because he wanted me to MAKE him happy. I LIKE to be alone, but there are times when I am lonely and want someone to help fill that time. I just am not sure I could be in a serious BF/GF relationship right now and I am okay with that.


  7. OMGchronicles
    Twitter: OMGchronicles

    Melissa, thanks for writing and sharing. You are right to explore what you want because it’s always good to question ourselves, our beliefs, our desires, and its OK to feel alone and lonely (although it may be feel painful and sad sometimes, just like it may feel freeing and exhilarating other times). If you truly believe that a “BF/GF relationship” might not be the best thing right now, then please continue to honor and explore that feeling. Trying to quickly “fix” the loneliness with someone other than yourself (or friends) may get you back into a situation you may not want to be in for the long haul. You deserve more than that. Stay strong, stay real, stay honest (with yourself, too!). Wishing you the best.

  8. w chrisman says:

    That I do not want to marry again. There are people that you think you know well. And, you are married to them for many years and then, one day, you begin to realize that there are parts of a person that have been carefully hidden from you. Those parts may not surface until something happens, some difficult phase of your marriage or life and, boom, you suddenly get the very uncomfortable feeling that you are married to a stranger. It’s not so unusual. A nasty midlife crisis can do it or even a death in the family. The fact is, one must look at the family of origin to understand all the problems that might occur in the marriage. When I looked at his family and mine I realized we came from backgrounds very similar, major dysfunction and co-dependency. Except, and this is a big one, my father never messed around on my mother. He had too much respect for her. Not the same in his family and the pattern repeated itself almost to the letter, same time, same age, same kind of women, same everything. Spooky. It would take years to unravel all the dysfunction, so, I say, it’s best for me not to jump back in. A man friend, maybe, but not a marriage, nor the role of a wife.

  9. OMGchronicles
    Twitter: OMGchronicles

    Thanks for writing, w chrisman, but I am sorry that has been your experience. I agree 100 percent that family of origin issue are essential for everyone to delve into and an essential discussion for couples to have.
    I never say never to things — while I certainly don’t feel any need to marry again, I would consider it if it truly mattered to the man I loved and believed would be a life partner. That said, I wouldn’t marry without a prenup to make sure that my worldly belongings (and that’s quite the joke!) would go to my kids; I never used to care much about money when I was young and while I still consider it to be low on the totem pole of life, I want whatever meager earnings I have to go to my kids.
    How very unromantic! 😉

  10. Diane says:

    Thank you for this article. I too am just entering my 2nd divorce at age 41. I, too, got married just shy of my 21st birthday the first time and that divorce was due to infidelity. I thought I had it “figured out” the 2nd time and truly love(d) my second husband. Even writing this leads me to tears knowing that we had a wonderful 10 years and a beautiful daughter together – I really don’t want this divorce. Admittedly, mine has been a struggle of emotional needs… I felt that since the very beginning I had to “compete” with the time and attention of my husband’s family and work. I moved into (and refinanced into) the house he bought right next door to his parents (and across the street from his brother/family and 2 blocks down from his sister/family.) I didn’t want to live there, but he refused to consider anything else. I agreed because I’d rather just be anywhere with him. In addition, his other brother lived with him until 6 days before the wedding. That was obviously an issue and my husband felt he was abandoning his brother in his time of need by forcing him to move out. (Granted, the brother could have gone next door or across the street and was 33 years old at the time). Then it seemed to have continued as a series of struggles of his time and attention (workaholic and the guy everyone came to for help – the “yes” man). In addition, I was already emotionally needy as my first marriage ended in infidelity. I suppose all this pressure built up for a long time. My husband truly believes to love a wife means provide for her financially, but doesn’t understand “us” time. He is, however, a great father and prioritizes “family” time. He doesn’t understand there is a difference. He thinks “us” time qualifies under “family” time because we’re both there doing it. He’s a workaholic and tells me that everything he’s done was for me. I do believe that 100%, but told him that I would have paid him $75/hour for 4 hours of his time 2ce a month for a date night. He makes money, I get “us” time… never happened. He just didn’t / doesn’t get it. His dad and mom never had a “couple” marriage – they lived separate lives under 1 roof. Separate bedrooms, etc… So, in May of this year I got the “I love you but am not in love with you” speech and it’s been a roller coaster to date. I do not believe (but unsure) there’s anyone else, YET, (due to intense investigation) but my husband is indeed in a midlife transition and fallen into a depression, blaming his misery on me. I do believe he’s under a lot of stress at work, which he hasn’t mentioned until very recently. Last night I came to terms that it’s time to go and just now dealing with the shock that it’s really over (and the embarrassment of a 2nd failed marriage). Although I do reflect on the happy times we shared up until about a year ago – boating, camping, traveling, etc.. (we had so much fun aside from the time/attention tug-of-war). We both cried heavily grieving the death of our marriage. Your article resonates with me completely, as if you wrote it specifically for me. I do not think I could ever get remarried, it’s just too emotionally draining (plus I am divorcing someone I still love). Maybe my expectations are too high, I don’t know. However, I do know what I need to live the remaining half of my life and being a priority is a huge requirement. I know I can’t feel like I’m last to someone’s work, family, friends, hobby, etc… I don’t want to be my mother-in-law (trapped in a loveless marriage and resentful for 40 years) and that’s the future I see if I stayed. Perhaps, like you said, dating is the secret… not being committed, so you’re not taken for granted. Perhaps the distance / absence of having individual homes keeps the intrigue and spark alive – the desire to want to see the other person and make time for him/her. I don’t know – obviously with 2 divorces under my belt, I have no idea about relationships.. 😉 I have learned that sometimes love isn’t enough. Marriage takes effort on both people’s part – one person can’t make it happen. One person can’t make the other person be/do whatever they feel they need. Marriage takes understanding and acceptance of the other spouse and realizing/accepting that person shows you love in their own way… it may or may not be enough. However, I thank you for this article to help remind me that I, too, will get through this and come out OK. My kids will too.

    • roscoe says:

      sounds like you took him for granted.you are like most america women you think life is to be like a movie.

    • Dix says:

      No, I don’t think your expectations are too high. We women don’t expect enough, and we put up with too much, thus the poor treatment of women by men continue. I lived in a similar marriage for 20 years. My husband was a well paid workaholic. No “us” time or relationship building time either. Over the years, the distance and loneliness grew. Stopped being attracted to him. Men who contribute only money to a marriage are treating their wives as prostitutes. Period. They want all the sexual, emotional and homemaking convenience money can buy. My second husband was overtly abusive, physically and emotionally, and he was adulterous. I did not stay long in that marriage. I actually married him because he didn’t have much money and seemed less obsessed with work. But his issues surfaced in the first couple years. His form of control just manifest differently. As a result of that marriage, I came to see people more clearly, the ugly things they are capable of, including within myself. The abusive I experienced woke the abuser in me also. And it was shocking to me. I learned to stop making excuses for others bad behaviors just because it was inconventent for me to face them. I learned about abuse. I dove onto counseling, read proflically from academic papers, books and popular work on abuse. I learned as much as I could about myself in that context and about my previous husbands’ issues. And then I turned my focus on society in general and found there also the same kinds of abuse and neglect justified by male preferences for power and control. Your husband knows what he is doing is hurtful. Had he simply handed you some money at the beginning of your first date and then proceeded to ask you to fulfill his needs without concern for yours, you wouldn’t have come to feel love for him. Instead in the beginning he was attentive and loving, and I am sure and you had enough us time to bond. Whether or not that continues after a marriage is a choice, a priority he made. I am sorry for what you are going through. It’s tough. I’m still struggling to put my life back together. I’ve no interest in remarrying. But it helps to take a wide view, one that encompasses not just personal choices and habits of thinking but also dominate social influences. We as women still struggle for equality in society, so too in marriage. We’ve got to get real and get mad about this. -Dix

  11. Diane says:

    This last post is so insensitive! Must be a Man behind that response! My husband is the same way, he provides and that’s all that is requiered. I agree Love is not enough and it takes both parties to make a partnership work. But I’m also getting divorsed for a second time. Very , very painful.

  12. Lauren Katz says:

    Ok this entry may be upsetting, on a bunch of different levels, but as another F, I am hoping youwill give me a chance

  13. RB says:

    After a second divorce I realized that you have to be cautious and careful with relationships. That people don’t always share the same feelings and you can’t change that. Establishing all of the up front systems and structure is very important. It was so costly financially through the 3 years as I over supported to make up for other areas. While she focused on her kids and never really made the effort with mine. I was stuck always as the bad guy on things when you just want to understand and grow together. Her needs always came first. Mine were last.

    A lot of manipulation and chaos with exes will break down a marriage. The article never marry for the second time until you read this is so accurate. Kids will manipulate and kill a second marriage in blended families. They only want their parents in most cases.

    It wasn’t as expensive as it all seemed either. Divorce and giving someone a house or whatever that you paid for wasn’t even that important. Divorce fees or costs whatever it may have been. The stress of where I was going to live and then I am probably most comfortable where I am now. It really doesn’t matter.

  14. Adrian Gates says:

    As I’m freshly going through my second divorce, the number one thing I have learned is that I should have spoken up more when I didn’t like her behavior and instead of getting cross about her having secret friends, I should have raised why those actions were inappropriate. I understand after going to therapy that this is because of the 7 sustained years of bullying at school. And if I ever have an opportunity to meet someone else in the future I know I have to work really hard to avoid being me 🙁

    I have lost my fantastic family, and my heart breaks every day, whilst she has her new partner waiting in the wings.

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