Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Remarriage Lessons

In the past year, several readers of this blog have asked me to share my experience of being married for the second time. I have blogged off and on about it over time, but this attempts to bring some of the key themes together.

Being Owed Happiness
This is my experience with second marriage and it may not be true for everyone else. Ever so often, I find myself falling into the trap of "being owed happiness". I waited long enough for this man, ergo he must be the answer to all that ails me. Why must I still be expected to work on finding my own happiness or put forth the effort to make the relationship a happy one. I already did my time in my previous marriage - so it is not fair to be given anything but a perfect marriage this time. 

It is as if the long, frustrating and often hopeless waiting to get to this state entitles me to happiness without any further ado. When that does not readily happen - I decide I am the injured party and DB has a responsibility to make it right. It would be okay if I could just let it go being injured and aggrieved - I also get infuriated at him for not doing his part. It is not often that I pause to consider what he might expect from me and if I am fulfilling his vision of a perfect union.
The Insecure Child
We have only one child (mine) between the two of us, so I have it a lot easier than a lot of couples who marry for the second time and need to blend their families together. Even so, there are challenges and complications due to the presence of a child. Mine was acutely insecure for several months into our marriage. On the one hand she had this compulsive need make sure DB was taking care of Mommy and treating her right, on the other hand, when she saw us happy together she grew afraid of losing her mother to a relative stranger. 

Out of the blue she could burst into tears and shut herself in her room. Her suffering was hard for us to see but she would be inconsolable - in a heartbeat I would have gone from being the center of her universe to being her biggest enemy. I got her a notebook and encouraged her to write about how she was feeling - not hold anything back no matter how hurtful of offensive they may be towards DB and I . I told her I would not read her journal until she was ready to share it with me. This exercise proved to be quite cathartic for her and in a few months the emotions were not quite so out of control.
She wanted DB as a father but could not accept him in the role of my husband. There was love and hate for him in equal measure.The two forces worked in equal and opposite directions bringing a lot of stress into the family. It took a lot of reassurance from both of us and me demonstrating to her that her position in my life had not diminished in any way. In time, that alleviated her sense of insecurity. DB would be the understanding adult for the most part and allow her emotions to play out but every once in a while he would grow petulant and feel left out of our "family unit" of two. It was left up to me to be the level-headed, peace-making adult who had to cast aside her own feelings and work on restoring harmony in the family. Between meeting the demands of J and DB, I felt completely worn out.
Losing Friends and Isolation
Both my husband and I have shed several friendships in the wake of our marriage. On his end, these were friends that had felt compassion or pity for him because he was floundering partner-less and without specific direction in life - for a very long time. He was one of those guys they had pegged as remaining single for life. While they had all started out together, these friends had left him far behind in achieving life's milestones. By inviting him into their families, they got an opportunity to feel better about themselves and rejoice in their superior standing in life. DB for his part appreciated being made a part of their lives and having someplace to go for the holidays. It was an arrangement that worked out well for everyone concerned.This pity-fest had been going on for years and all at once my presence ended it. 

I had been a feel good project for several of my girlfriends - both married and single. They could do little things to help me out, reduce the burden of my responsibilities as a single mom without inconveniencing themselves seriously. By ceasing to be single, I had taken away their opportunity to be good Samaritans and they were quick to dump me as well. I came to the sad and sobering realization that these "friends" really did not understand the person I was or have much interest in her for that matter. So once the circumstances changes and my project worthiness was gone, they found out that the friendship was non-existent. 

In net, we are relatively friendless and in need of building a social life all over again - the very idea is irksome. Some days, we don't even know where to begin - everyone we know, has friends that go back decades - we just cannot fit into their social network. Then there are much younger people who are still settling in, getting know other families like their own - we have nothing in common with that crowd either. From each of us being alone in our two separate islands, we have come together on one and are alone there together. A new relationship is never helped by social isolation and yet that is a force we have to contend with in addition to everything else.
We have found out that parents get used to us being single and dependent on them a lot more than they would have otherwise been. As much as they would like for our lives to return to normalcy and for us to find a life partner, they are often unable to relinquish what they had from us in the years past. My mother (when she visited)  for instance ran my household like it was her own, without any interference from anyone. I was too desperate (and grateful) for the help to question her authority or jurisdiction. She is now failing to recognize that her role has changed and she needs to play a very minor part in my family. We are all finding out there is a significant gap between her ability to accept DB in theory and accept him in reality.
Communication and Relationship
We both except the other person to communicate clearly what they want. Yet for the smallest things to take so much back and forth tires us out. We have the social roles and responsibilities of a couple with a ten year old child, when the marriage in not even two years old. What would come naturally to a couple of our vintage, takes a lot of doing for us to accomplish. 

With that small tasks become Herculean efforts and we are both left emotionally exhausted. After having so much energy expended in setting appropriate expectation for mundane things, we have none left to work on the much more serious and arduous business of cementing a new relationship - it inevitably gets pushed to the back-burner. The initial spark does not have a fighting chance to blossom into a steady glow that we can count on for life - the forces of responsibility constantly work to extinguish it. Unless we stay vigilant and continue to make it our priority we could get ourselves into trouble.

At the end of a year and a half of marriage, we find that we segued into an old marriage immediately after courtship. The honeymoon period couples enjoy after their first marriage just did not happen for us.DB found himself thrust head first into a domestic situation where the show had to go on - the child had to be taken care of, sent to school, taken to her activities and somewhere in in middle of all that he had to form a romantic relationship with the mother. Add to that a couple of job changes, relocation and a buying a home and what little energy anyone may have for relationship building would quickly dissipate. Most people who meet us cannot tell that our marriage is so new or that J and DB are not biologically related. While that may be a testament to the hard-work that has gone into forming this family, it is also a telling sign of what we are missing out on as a couple.

There is a certain edginess and brittleness even about a single mother - she has no choice but to be bold, assertive and independent. She has to make the calls about her household and children. There is no one else - often not even a sounding board. Adversity can take the most vulnerable and dependent among us and turn them into a force of nature. That is the personality I presented to DB when I first met him - it was not as much a matter of presentation as it was the point in time truth about my nature. He found that strength and confidence incredibly attractive. 

As a wife, I have failed to tend to the positive aspects of that nature - like some women stop taking care of their physical fitness and appearance, I ceased to worry about being the fittest I could be mentally and emotionally. I was too relieved to have respite to be concerned about what effect my "laziness" was having my own well being and on the relationship. In response, DB did not feel the need to be all that he had been when we first met - in his case his physical health bore the brunt of the resentment and disappointment he felt. Often, with these things the damage happens first and the epiphany comes about much later. I am still learning to curb my stubborn streak and not turn this into a staring contest. And that is easier said than done.
Feeling Normal
I never subscribed to the idea that a single person or a single parent is any less or different from a married person. I would go out of my way to prove to myself that I was alright and that my child was not being deprived of a "normal" life. Yet, there always this nagging sensation of being an outsider to normal (in my case suburban) society. I had nothing in common with the stay-at-home PTA moms. I still have very little in common with them but having a husband affords me a small entry into their world. 
Similarly, having a child makes it easier for my husband to be the "regular" daddy when they run errands together or go out play tennis. He does not have to be the guy that comes alone to brunch every Sunday - he has a ten year old her can take along if he wanted to. Suddenly the waitresses are all smiles and friendly - he is welcome into the "normal" fold. He is the kind of dad they appreciate - bonding with his little girl over pancakes, milkshake and hash browns. Normalcy is a pretty big deal for someone who has been on the fringe for as long as we have.


ggop said...

Love it HC. You summed it up very well. Did you and DB see a counsellor at any point to help you recognize these issues and the effort it entails? Does therapy really help?

Priyamvada_K said...

I went totally silent on my blog after struggling through remarriage and blended family. I love your honest voice, and some days it is a balm to my mind - you get some of the things I have trouble explaining.


Priyamvada_K said...

Also want to add: it is commendable that you see your child's insecurity and have given her the tools to deal with it....and are also perceptive enough to see yourself as the bridge between J and DB. Also pat yourself on the back for not being daunted by J's moods and your going from center of her world to enemy based on her moods.

For a solo parent used to being a child's world, it is very upsetting to be viewed as enemy. The easy way out is to shun the spouse to win back the child's favor....I commend you for not taking that route.


Scribby said...

I'm new to your blog and I'm reading through and listening to you....your honest voice is reaching me,trust me!

Heartcrossings said...

ggop - Yes, we did see a counselor for a few weeks and were disappointed at the platitudes he dispensed. In fact, it did more harm than good. I do think, we would have benefited from seeing someone more hands-on and interested in providing some leadership instead of passive facilitation.

Priya - I can so relate to being "went totally silent on my blog". I have to force myself to write. It is if I stop, I would have sacrificed something of value to me at the altar of marriage - that could only hurt the relationship

Scribby - Thanks for stopping by and for your kind words.