Let’s start with the good news. A report from The Marriage Foundation, a UK registered charity, has finally challenged the popular idea – often reported as fact in the press – that second marriages are more likely to end in divorce than first marriages. They find instead that second marriages have a lower divorce rate than first ones. Second time round, people are older and have a clearer idea of who they are and what they do and do not want in a relationship. This makes perfect sense to us. Read the report.
But few marriages are without problems, and some of them are very specific to being a second wife. One common cause of friction in any marriage is money – but in a second marriage, there is always a twist.
And with all my worldly goods I thee endow.…unless I have been married before.
Your husband may well have ongoing financial obligations to his ex-wife and children, and your joint spending decisions will have to take this into account. Most second wives accept this, but what happens when the financial distribution does not seem fair?
Over the years, we have had many posts in our Forum about non-working ex-wives living a lavish life-style or taking frequent expensive holidays thanks to divorce settlements that were agreed when circumstances were different, while the second wife and her husband are working full time and struggling to make ends meet. Or, child maintenance that should be supporting the children apparently being spent by the mother on herself, while the children turn up in worn-out clothes or without books they need for school. What does a good father do? Raise the subject with his ex-wife and risk yet another confrontation? Or pay again for things he has already given money for – at the expense of you and your family? There are many second wives whose hard-earned income or savings have ended up directly subsidising her husband’s ex- and children in this way. Things can be doubly difficult and depressing if his ex-wife is actively unpleasant, but still expects you and your husband to make financial sacrifices for her or her children’s benefit – sacrifices she is not prepared to make herself. Or when your own husband is the one who cannot see why you might resent this.
Everyone’s situation is different, and we understand that there are always two sides to the story (actually, three sides quite often at the BSWC), but finances really should take into account everyone’s needs, and be reasonable. This ought not to be a controversial statement, but as many second wives will attest, logic, reason and fairness are not always part of post-divorce life. People will fight quite hard to avoid a drop in their income, no matter how just it might be.
So what can you do when financial issues are affecting your marriage? This is not a question that can be answered quickly or easily, and in some cases, regrettably, the answer is that there is nothing that can be done and you will either have to accept, or move on if the situation is truly intolerable. But most of the time, in the end, it is possible to bring about a change. Sometimes this can appear quite straightforward – perhaps as simple as submitting updated financial information to CAFCASS. Still, a lot of men may be reluctant to do this, for fear of upsetting an ex- or his children, and as with so many second wife problems, the solution ultimately lies in getting your husband or partner to understand what his responsibilities and priorities are – or should be – and together working out a way to redraw the boundaries accordingly.
Another frequent problem is that although you may agree in principle about how to bring up children, his children from his first marriage may be rude, or badly behaved, or disrespectful to you, and he is so delighted to have them in the house, or afraid of upsetting them, that he does not stand up for you. And what happens when you disagree about parenting styles? They are not your children, but they are part of your marriage, and ideally you and your partner need to agree what expectations you have. This is a process that can take some time, but if it is not addressed, it can be very damaging to your relationship.
Another common issue is that the relationship between a man and his ex-wife does not always come to an end with divorce, especially when there are children involved. Many separated parents manage to build a good working relationship, and in some cases this includes new partners as well; but some people have great difficulty re-establishing appropriate boundaries with an ex-spouse. As our Membership has demonstrated over the years, sometimes it is an ex-wife who does not want things to change, but men are just as likely to stick to old patterns, even men who have remarried.
It can be hard for men on a second marriage to know how to behave. Understandably they want to look after their children, and they want to make life easy for their children’s mother, or an ex-spouse they still feel responsible for. But where should they draw the line and what happens when it has an impact on your life and your marriage?
Is it acceptable for him to rush out to fix his ex-wife’s washing machine or help her set up her new laptop?
Or to change your weekend plans at the last minute to accommodate her new plans?
And what about pet names, or text messages twenty times a day, or boxes of old love letters and photographs?
What happens when his ex-wife remains close to his family or friends, and they refuse to accept you and your marriage?
The answers to these questions might seem obvious, but it is quite remarkable how many men in a second marriage cannot see them. Sometimes this is driven by guilt, sometimes habit, sometimes it is because the final, painful cutting of ties has not actually taken place. Sometimes he has just not thought it through carefully enough. Sometimes, he is succumbing to emotional blackmail. Whatever the reason, it does not make for a healthy and happy second marriage and can cause resentment, anger, disappointment, sadness, confusion, or jealousy. Clearly, behaviour needs to change.
We find this link particularly useful, or you may wish to join our Forum for support, discussion and advice on your own personal situation.