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Question

I am considering a second marriage to a man that has also been married before. I truly love him and have for more than a year. We are both “silver” divorcees – both married over 40 years. Between us, there are seven grown children and upwards of nearly 20 grandchildren.

We are both very active, engaged members of the church and also very involved in the lives of our children and grandchildren. Both families have strong traditions in terms of holidays, birthdays and family events. The grown children on both sides of our families are well-adjusted successful adults.

I’ve been told by my future fiancé that he never wants me to be involved in the lives of his children or grandchildren in any way, shape or form. His preference is that our marriage never includes any type of blending or inclusion by either of us with our respective children or grandchildren. He never wants to meet my children or grandchildren. He has requested that I understand that I will be automatically excluded from every holiday, every birthday and every church ordinance in his family and that my presence at such events would be unwanted. He intends to spend all holidays with his ex-wife and his children and grandchildren.

No one in either of our families knows we are dating. My relationship with my ex-spouse is very respectful, kind and considerate, as is his. However, his ex-spouse is a very manipulative and controlling individual.  She has made it perfectly clear to him that if he remarries, that person would not be welcome at any of his family events and if she ever saw a picture of “her” grandchildren with “anyone” else, she would be appalled and would do all in her power to assure that any relationship with his ‘second” wife would be negatively impacted, if she could help it.

My future fiancé’s requests are sending out serious red flags to me. My perspective is the exact opposite of his. While I would never “force” myself into relationships with his children or grandchildren, I would like to believe that over time, we can be a part of each other’s families. His feeling is that our children and grandchildren were our “first” family and that he has no intention or motivation to be part of a “second” family. He tells me his children would never want to meet me.  He is making decisions for his children already and they do not even know I exist in his life. He wants a private marriage with no family members invited to attend. No public celebration.

Is it wrong of me to feel that the ‘second’ wife will forever remain ‘second’ best in his eyes and that his children and grandchildren have the ‘right’ forever more to be his ‘first’?

I love this man deeply and want to share my life with him, but I’m so hurt by these requirements that I’m at a loss as to whether or not to take this next step in my life. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer

While I’m delighted you’ve found a satisfying relationship with this good man, I’m concerned that he’s not ready for remarriage. I don’t know how long he’s been divorced, but he is still having difficulty separating from his ex-wife. I share the same concerns you’ve expressed. You don’t want to start your new marriage in second place.

In all fairness, it’s healthy for a new spouse in a blended family to take second place as they slowly enter the new family system. It requires flexibility and patience as they assimilate into the new system. There are times when the children and grandchildren’s needs and preferences will need to be balanced with the needs of the new marriage. However, when your fiancé is already organizing around the needs and preferences of his ex-wife at your expense, this is likely a recipe for heartache.

I’m sure he’s completely overwhelmed with his ex-wife’s threats and the emotional chokehold she’s exerting on him. However, his plan is impossible to keep secret. Plus, do you really want to be the secret wife? A significant reason for marriage is to make a public declaration of love, commitment, and devotion to each other and to each other’s families. It’s a new link in the chain that connects past and future generations.

Second marriages are difficult enough without having to manage a significant secret and constantly living in fear of being discovered. The security of marriage is to know that you have a safe harbor where you can throw off all self-protection. This will be more difficult to manage than either of you can imagine in your current state of infatuation.

If his ex-wife and children are likely to sabotage you with a formal introduction to his family, imagine what will happen when they discover down the road that he’s had a secret wife this entire time. It will slip out and create more problems than you’ll be able to manage.

Also, please recognize that he may not want you to meet them, but it’s important for you to meet them for your sake. In other words, it appears that he’s hiding you from them, but he may also be hiding them from you. You will learn a lot about him by spending time with his children and grandchildren. It may seem extreme, but I’ve seen cases when someone marries without meeting the rest of the family and discover a completely different story than what they were told. If he wants to hide parts of his life from you, then those are the areas of his life you need to understand the most.

If his relationships with his children are so fragile that he can’t introduce a new wife to the family system, then you might want to ask some questions about why this is the case. His ex-wife may be territorial about sharing her maternal presence in the family, but why can’t he give his children the chance to grow and adapt to their changing family dynamics? Again, if the divorce is still too fresh, then perhaps you’ve arrived before they’re ready.

Of course, you can work out any arrangement you want, but please recognize that it will be very difficult to have a marriage that you can’t share with your children and grandchildren. It will be painful to know you can’t share in the most joyful aspects of family life. Instead, you’ll be hidden away from each other’s families like you’re a shameful secret. There is nothing shameful about either of you finding a new companion and slowly connecting them to your families. It’s challenging, but it’s more challenging for you to know that you’re hidden away not just during holidays and special events, but every single day.

 

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT