Dear Dr. Chani,
I am hoping that you can help me deal with some issues I am having in my second marriage. Before I explain what I am concerned about, I think it will help if I share the background of my first marriage.
I suffered the tragic loss of my first husband when I was in my late thirties. We did not have a perfect marriage. We argued about things, but we shared the responsibilities of taking care of our three children. When my husband died, I devoted all of my mental and physical energies to taking care of my children. I did not even think about remarrying for the first five years. Eventually, my friends and family encouraged me to start dating so that I would have a partner in life. It took me three years of dating until I finally found my second husband, Ari.
Ari was previously divorced and he has two older married children who live out-of-town. He rarely sees them except on long vacations or holidays. I thought that Ari would be the perfect person for me because he would not be distracted by his own children. He has a kind and warm personality so I thought he would make a great father.
Unfortunately, after one year of our marriage, I realized that Ari and I were looking for different things in our second marriage. I was looking for a partner and co-parent. He prefers to spend time just as a couple and go on vacations together. While it is relaxing and a relief to have fun alone with Ari, I always feel guilty leaving my children. It seems like I am abandoning them.
My children have a strained relationship with Ari. They avoid talking to him and get really moody whenever he is home. I have tried to create one big happy family but it is not working. Even though Ari is a nice guy, he is not genuinely interested in getting to know my children. I guess they feel it.
What can I do at this point? I would love to have the best of both worlds – be a great mother to my children and have a happy marriage. Is this too much to expect? What can I do to bring the people I love closer together?
Thanks so much,
Your devotion to your children and to being the best mother to them is admirable. You cared for children through the tumultuous tribulations of your husband’s illness and were steadfast in supporting them through the many years after he passed away. Your consideration for your children’s feelings is so great that you pushed off remarrying for years and finally selected a particular man who you hoped would be not only a good husband but a great father to your children.
On your journey to create the reality of a well-adjusted and happy blended family, it can help you to delve deeply into some possible underlying reasons that may contribute to your difficult situation. Understanding these factors can help you recognize why you are feeling overwhelmed and torn.
One of the negative feelings you might be grappling with is a sense of guilt about your second marriage, since in some way you are taking yourself away from your children by remarrying. Your children rely solely on you. Their father is no longer alive. When you are taking care of yourself by developing your relationship with a new man, you feel that you are not thinking about your children’s needs. You feel guilty you are not being the best mother to them. This feeling of guilt can make you feel like you can never do everything right, you are never able to make everyone happy. It can even cause you to second guess your decision to marry Ari.
There are other feelings of guilt that can also contribute to your struggles in your second marriage. You might feel guilty about having a happier second marriage than your first one. When you decided to remarry, it sounds like you were in touch with a desire for yourself. You wanted to create a close, meaningful and relaxing relationship with your new husband. Remember you did not rush after your loss to find a new co-parent. It was only after your friends and family encouraged you to find companionship that you started dating. Perhaps what held you back from remarrying for eight years was not only that you wanted to focus on caring for your children. Maybe you were also worried about repeating the dynamic of fighting that you experienced with your first husband.
Fortunately, you developed a warm and pleasant relationship with Ari. Yet, if your second relationship is better than the first, and you and your children see that you get along better with Ari than with your first husband, you may feel guilty that you are diminishing the memory of your first husband for yourself and for your children. These feelings of guilt can haunt you and hold you back from maximizing your opportunity for happiness.
Aside from feelings of guilt, your dynamic with Ari can be affected by the patterns you created with your first husband. You were used to fighting with your first husband, so this previous model for marriage can contribute to your tendency to fight in some way. It is common to fall back into old patterns of thought and behavior if you are not consciously working to break free of them. Even if there is relatively nothing to fight about with your second husband, it might seem natural for you to find something to fight about because that is just what you are used to. By questioning if he is doing a good enough job as a stepfather, you are distancing yourself from Ari. You may be right, or you may be magnifying the issue so you can find something to fight about. Be aware of this tendency to fall back into old patterns of thought and behavior.
If these ideas resonate with you, it can be helpful to share them with someone. It is ideal if you can discuss them with Ari. This will give Ari the opportunity to deeply understand what you are going through, and to emotionally support you through this process. If you are worried about how Ari will react, seek a therapist to speak to on your own. You may decide to discuss your feelings with Ari at a later point either on your own or through the facilitation of a therapist.
It is also important to hear Ari’s perspective on your situation. It can be very enlightening to hear directly from him about his expectations for your marriage and for his relationships with your children going forward.
In order to successfully blend your children with your second marriage, you need to understand your children’s perspective and underlying factors that may cause them to struggle with this change. In Part 2, we will explore your situation from the angle of your children and discuss what you can do to improve your dynamic.
Wishing you much success,