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Jun 08

Being a second wife

It’s a different topic than being a stepparent. Because being a second wife is all about your relationship to a woman who used to call your husband hers. And it’s a completely surreal experience – it bears no relationship to anything I’ve ever done before, and it’s one of the hardest things I do. I’m exceptionally happy in my marriage. Marc is perfect for me. He’s brilliant in all the ways that I really respect and admire, he’s much, much nicer than I am, his first instinct is always to do the kindest thing. He’s patient and calm where I’m impatient and emotional, he’s relies on me to be exactly who I am. He values most the things I like best about myself.

But he used to be married to someone else. He used to share a life, a bed, a home, with someone else. He still shares children with someone else. And that’s just… hard. Because she’s still here. She still yells at him like a wife. She still gets to determine all sorts of things about his life, and as a direct consequence of that, she gets to determine stuff about my life. About my kids’ lives. She’s still at family functions, she’s a factor in almost every huge decision we make. Where we live, how we spend our vacations and weekends, etc.

When you are with a guy, you know he’s dated before. You know he’s probably even been in love before. You almost certainly know that he’s had sex before. But in most cases, these women are in the past – you don’t confront them all the time. You aren’t barraged with evidence of their love and life together. And after more than seven years together, I’m still baffled and confused about how to handle that.

I think we have a cordial relationship. I spend almost as much time with her children as she does, after all. She has to not hate me, just because otherwise it would be utterly intolerable for her. So we’re polite, warm, even. At times. We married the same man – in theory, we’d have a lot in common, wouldn’t you think? In reality, I feel as though we couldn’t be more different. She’s organized, structured, very focused on what’s proper and appropriate. She puts a much higher priority on cleaniliness than I do. I think dirt is okay and even desirable when you’re a kid. I think a grubby child is a sign that the kid played hard, had a blast, and will sleep well tonight. She thinks a grubby child is a sign of neglect. I think. I don’t really know her that well at all. She’s ten years older than I am – I feel a lot of times like she’s the grown up and I’m the teenage babysitter. Or at least I think she thinks that.

I stay as far as away from my husband’s relationship with her as possible. He makes plans with her re: the girls. Even though it makes things a lot more complicated, he’s much more prone to let her make the decisions and tell me after the fact, I don’t want to get in the middle of it. The child support is handled thru the state, and comes out of his paycheck before either of us see it. Which makes it a lot easier on a day to day basis. The custody agreement gives Marc unlimited visitation, so we see the girls as often as possible. Marc’s always been adamant about keeping his relationship with her as calm and conflict-free as possible, because that’s what’s best for the girls, so on the surface, at least, everything is lovely.

But underneath it all, I’m pretty sure she’d much rather I be on the other side of the earth. And I know that underneath it all, I’d much rather pretend that she lived in China as well.

19 comments

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  1. Heather

    I can so relate to this post, because I'm in the same situation as you are. I always tell my husband that I'm happiest when I can pretend that she doesn't exist, but that's not realistic. It's really, really hard. I hate that all the things we've done together – marriage, children, buying a home – he did with her first!

  2. Anonymous

    I'm 24 ina relationship with a 27 years who has a 6 years old girl with his ex. His ex is really controling i.e. blackmale's him to do what shewants or he won't see his daughter. They don't love eachother but they both struggle for control. I love him, but it bothers me so much to have some other woman in the picture. Do you think I should cut and run?

    P.S. he even called her his wife when we first started dating, but then said it wasn't a term of endearment.

    Thoughts?

  3. Melissa

    My thoughts? Honestly, if you love him, and you trust him – then go for it. Even though being the second wife is incredibly hard at times, I wouldn't trade my marriage for anyone's. A couple of pieces of advice (that I wish someone had given me) – total honesty between you and your partner. Honesty, trust and respect – if you've got that, then the ex can't get between you two, I know that I'm the most important woman in my husband's life. Also – if there's a legal divorce, then there must be a binding custody agreement – she might not have the legal right to restrict access (and if she does, then you guys should try like hell to get it changed). Also – know that sometimes, you will inevitably come second, his relationship with his daughter is always going be a priority. Being a stepparent is even more complicated than being a second wife :-), but the rewards are much greater as well.

    Let me know if I can be of any more help – it's not always an easy road to walk, but totally worth it!

  4. Megan Carter, Instructor - Founder of Grayce Academy

    I stumbled across your blog on the keywords "being a second wife". Thank you for your perspective and you have written something really well here. >smile< Remember that it's natural to have the feelings that you are having toward his past life. Ya, it's hard and sometimes it just downright really gets old. I agree with Melissa said. Keeping total transparency will make your relationship even stronger than his first one. Since communication is one of the biggest keys to a successful relationship of any kind... you are doing some amazing things to help your marriage stay strong like being civil with her, emotionally managing and keeping a level head and setting the example of what great relationships are made of. I am blessed because the kids are grown...but I have the challenge of her coming back for more cash...and I am 15 years younger than he is...so that is also an interesting challenge as well. None of us, I think , grows up to think here comes the bride…again..and then experience being related to this women in some strange fashion as we continue to fall more deeply in love with our husband's over time. Underneath it all..remember that people can have self-hatred issues and will make your life difficult because of them. Ironically, my guys name is Mark too! I am sure that his ex would rather have me on the otherside of the planet too…and even admits that to my face. I just smile and worry about what I can control…and that is to love Mark with all my heart…. Strange yes, impossible sometimes…but absolutely worth it! Keep up the great work you are doing and keep feeling your way through it— it's awesome of you to do that. By the way..I'm a marriage and family counselor and have done ALOT of work with marriages, divorces and second wifedom… STAY POSITIVE!

  5. Anonymous

    Being the second wife is sickening at times. We've been married almost a year and our first baby is due in weeks, but I came into it when his ex was 6 months pregnant with their daughter, because she wasn't a legal citizen she convinced him to do it "one last time".. Well she has residency now and a 6 month old paycheck, 25 percent of our income, which is equivalent to a full time job for her. He never sees his daughter even though he's gets visitation but she's made it so her daughter will never meet or be around me, she calls me a husband stealer and brings me to tears constantly, she had the affair, she lost him. And his family adores her, my sister in laws hate me because "if it weren't for me they'd have worked it out" its hard in my situation, and to be honest when he spend the little visitation he gets it can't be near me, and its made me hate her and her child. I'm envious of your position and wish women would just understand that they can be civil and just move on. This is my second marriage as well and he's every part of my boys lives, my ex doesn't even mind them calling him dad because he says he is their step dad. I get along well with his new wife and hold her in the same regaurds. Idk what to do about it. I hope things get better..

  6. Anonymous

    I am so pleased I found your blog! I have fallen in love with a wonderfully kind and amazing guy… I feel really lucky, but… :) he has an ex wife and two children. She cheated on him and that is the reason the relationship broke down. Like you I too am baffled and confused on how to handle the fact that he spent over 10 years with someone with else. I have never been married and have no children and we have talked about building a future together. I feel like he has already done all of those things and ticked those boxes. Wedding, kids etc. He says that he wants all of those things with me and they will be special. Although that makes me feel somewhat better, I can't help feeling that he has already 'been there done that' and it somehow is not as special or significant if he does those things with me. I feel resentful of the fact that he has had those feelings for someone else and I am not sure of how to process all of this. I don't want to destroy the relationship, but at the moment I can't find a way to accept all that has come before me. Any advice?

  7. Anonymous

    I found your blog looking for a way to deal with always feeling second…in this case, to my husband's medical career. He is always busy, always working and medicine always comes first. The latest issue I have been dealing with is that he has already seen childbirth many times in his training and in many ways I just can't help but feel like I have been cheated of experiencing that with him for the first time as well. I realize that your own child is different, but I feel like it just won't have the same impact because it's very "been there, done that." I know that I am not a second wife, but I am looking for some comfort in trying to deal with always coming second in his life to his career, so in some ways I feel like I can relate because all of what you are saying is how I have been feeling. Medical school takes all of our $, medical career takes all of his time, patients come first…

  8. Anonymous

    found your blog while googling on "being second wife"

    well at this moment, i am not a "second wife" yet,i might have to work on it for while.

    i have been having this relationship for almost more than 7 years, with this amazing married man with 3 gorgeous kids.
    the relationship was started just like that, i was under the impression that he would divorce her anytime soon.
    as they were and stil are not the couple anymore considering they are living in separate country.
    everything was perfect, even my relationship with the kids, as they were only 12, 11, 5 yr old at that time.
    the kids'r staying with him, until the mother started being jealous & worried that he might leave her for real this time,she gave ultimatum to the kids for not calling her mom if they re still seeing me, the boys followed, except the little daughter, and finally there was something that forcing him to send the kids back to the mother for study.
    now after all the big and long probs gone, he still cant decide whether he should divorce her and marry me or vice versa, in the name of the kids feeling and happiness…

    so confused… i love him very much, we have and could have a better relationship thou there will always problem and trials a head of us.

  9. Anonymous

    being a second wife and step-mother are the hardest two things I do because there is another woman controlling my husband!! I mean he doesn't ever stand up to her and she makes amost all decision regarding their child and him. And the part that REALLY,REALLY bothers me is that he spends way more time and is more devoted to his first child than he is to the second two. Ultimately he knows I am going to be there for everything for my own kids no matter what so he feels he can take a back seat but that absolutely burns me up. Any thoughts on how I can get him to do more with our kids? When I bring it up he thinks I am jealous of his oldest daughter which is not at all the case. I treat her like my own and do almost everything for her that I do for my own two. Comments? Help….

  10. Anonymous

    I found this blog wile looking for a support group to deal with all the hurt feelings I have. I relate so well to all of the stories I have read here. I am in a relationship with a wonderful man. He got married young to someone he was not compatible with. They had two children and two years of couples therapy before he finally left. He was raised to make things work. It just was not possible. I met him after he left, after the papers had been filed, yet I have been to blame for the end of the marriage. I have been judged by his family. My four year old son has been ridiculed. This is by his ex wife and his family. I financially and emotional supported him through a nasty divorce, false child abuse allegations and rather long spells of litigation. Yet I am referred to as the mistress. His family acts as if I do not exist. I understand that there are people in the world that do not share my points of view but the things I have had to endure are beyond just hurtful, they are unnecessary. Now we are trying to blend our family together and start fresh and I am angry. I don't understand how she can do the things she does so openly and how I have to pay the consequences. I guess this all boils down to being the second wife sucks sometimes.

  11. Anonymous

    Sometimes you need to think, about whats best for your self. When i met Jim i thought he was "almost divorced" as he said. Its been one yr and 3 months sinceb we have been dating! His soon to be (hopefully) Ex wife is the craziest bitch i have ever met in my life. She even accused him of breaking his sons finger when his two boys (8 yrs n 10 ) were playing WWE..we went even present at the time, we were at starbucks n his parents were in the house, as a result she filed charges and got an order of protection against him for the kids. Heb didnt see his kids for 3 months, then his stupid attorney had him sign an agreement where his parents could supervise him so he COULD SEE HIS KIDS! consequently he was arrested at his sons baseball game because his dad who has one lung was running late for the game and he was there" unsupervised" so he went to jail and i had to put up 850.00 bond. The list goes on, needless to say id have left a long time ago if i wasnt in love but he is amazing and i have never loved someone so much. She is very evil and money hungry, he is currently paying all of her bills and giving her 200 a week in CS. I hate the sound of her voice, everything about her..i dont believe ther is a civil bone in her body. I drink lots of wine these days :(

  12. Anonymous

    I too am a 2nd wife. I came into the picture 4 yrs after the divorce. But he still had her picture around the house "for the kids". He still kept his wedding band on his dresser and on rare occassions play with it absent mindly like worry beads. He didn't want me to go to functions that she might be at as he didn't want her to know there was a new woman, he did say that he would remarry her if she would have him. I took all this in but I wasn't looking for a serious relationship let alone a hubby. Well we have now been together 10 yrs and married for 7. Today we were with a group of friends and he was telling a story from years ago and referred to his bride. Everybody looked at me and he said no, no my first wife. I was hurt, embarrased, and amazed that he would refer to her as his bride. It brought back all of the confusion I had years ago when out of the blue he proposed (after she remarried). They have two teenagers and talk via cell phone. She has never called the house. I get along fine with her. She always is gracious and grateful. He had a 7 year affair and I know she is still hurt twenty years later. I think he is still in love with both the ex and mistress but guilt destroyed him and he walked away from both of them. Thanks for letting me yack. I know he cares but maybe settled so as not to be alone. His business is and has been his mistress since I met him.

  13. Anonymous

    I came across your blog after googling "second wife". Thank you for being so transparent ladies as it helps me to understand why my ex-husband's new wife projects her negative emotions onto me. The fact remains your connection to your husband is a separate relationship from the one he has with the former spouse. More often than not, romantic feelings are non-existent, and any interaction between former spouses is for the benefit of the child(ren).

    It is difficult for me to understand why there is competition between former wife and current wife when each occupies a different point in time, and each relationship has its own nuances and challenges.

    Hurting each other only perpetuates more hurt. :-(

  14. Anonymous

    Hi ladies. I also am a second wife. My husband has 3 kids from his first wife and I have 3 kids from my first marriage. They range from 16-21 years old. My ex leaves us alone but his ex wife constitantly text and calls him trying to fight with him most of the time. I am fed up with her. Also my stepdaughter tries to cause problems between us and also between my daughter and her boyfriend all the time. I love my husband so much and he is very good to me but if I had it to do over again, knowing what I know now, I would wait until the kids are all grown to get married. Would have been best that way. Too many hard feelings are developing

  15. Anonymous

    I am a second wife also, been married going on three years he's been divorced four years. He has three kids and I have two. My kids were pretty much grown when the relationship started 19 & 17. His were 17, 11 & 8. Myself and my step kids get along really well. However, the ex- wife doesn't and will not communicate with me in anyway, even though I am sometimes solely responsible for the kids because he works all shifts. I envisioned having a relationship with the ex-wife for the good of the kids and am very open to being called or ask to do things when my husband can not always be present. She refuses to talk to me much less acknowledge anything about me being a good step parent. It has actually made me hate someone(her) whom I don't really know. She still tries to be in control of my husband, making him look bad by asking him to do things at last minute knowing he works all shifts. She then tells kids he doesn't care etc. Because he won't do what she wants at the short notice. Again I could be available for most of this and never get asked. Makes me sad, because she doesn't want him in the kids life it seems like and my kids grew up without a father( he died in an accident when they were 11 & 9. So I know what it is like to not have the ability to have the father present. Oh well just needed to vent. So frustrated with the situation. But my husband an I have a wonderful relationship and it keeps me going.

  16. chattycathiechatters

    Wow. Beautifully and poignantly written. I can't begin to comprehend how this must feel, but you've done a really nice job have helping me understand. I'm off to read more of your posts. I loved this one.

  17. Barbara

    Hi Melissa, I’m curious how you feel now about being a second wife – 8 years after you wrote the article. You expressed exactly how I feel and I worry that it isn’t getting any better. Has it gotten easier for you over the years? If so, what has helped? Thank you.

    1. Melissa Cohen

      It does get better. Or at least, it gets more familiar. It was a major milestone for me when we passed seven years of marriage, longer than they had been together. We’ve been married for fifteen years now, and looking back… it got easier. The kids got older, which made it easier. We started being able to make plans with them directly. I’m a part of all of their best childhood memories, and they’re fantastic big sisters to my kids.

      I still stay out his relationship with her. I don’t get involved in child support or any sort of financial discussions. I try and support and encourage his relationship with the girls – I think my job is to make him a better father. I remain pleasant but distant during conversations that we have together – but mostly, his ex and I don’t have much to do with one another. My stepdaughters are 18 and almost 16.

      I know that his ex will be a part of my life forever. She’ll be at the graduations, the weddings, the birth of grandchildren. But she’s just a small part of it – and the life we’ve built together, the family we have together, with all five kids, her two and my three – they all share one dad. Their relationships with each other are primary, and I like to think I made that happen. We spent as much time as we could with them, as often as we could when they were little. It worked. All the kids think of themselves as siblings, and my oldest stepdaughter is more like me than she is like either one of her parents.

      Being a second wife is so much less than what I am, I’m a stepmother, and a mother, and a wife. His relationship with his ex… it’s nothing really. Not anymore. The kids grow up, and then her impact on our life lessens. Doesn’t go away, but lessens.

      Hang in there – it gets better :-)

      1. Barbara

        Thank you for your reply. I think I just really appreciated hearing that it is a hard situation to deal with emotionally for other people too. I have no reason to doubt my fiance’s commitment but I’m struggling with the knowledge that they share 20+ years of memories, have kids together combined with the frequent contact between them now. It’s all regarding kids – graduation, prom, college, cars but it makes it fell like she’s always there with us. It probably doesn’t help that our kids were older and didn’t really come together as a family – his daughter especially is still not happy about the situation. So when he goes and spends time with the kids it feels like he is going back to his other family. His ex and I don’t have much of a relationship other than saying hi at family functions and I have no problems with her…. I just wish I wasn’t reminded of their life together constantly. You always want to feel that your relationship is special and unique and her presence makes that hard some days. But it’s good to hear that it gets easier :)

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