Boomerangst: Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries – Marriage The Second Time Around
What to do if your husband talks about his first wife a lot? Here, a seventy-something woman asks for advice on her second marriage.
Q I’ve been married to this wonderful man for the past six years. It’s a second marriage for us both. He’s a widower in his 80s and I’m in my mid-70s and divorced. Here’s my dilemma. He talks A LOT about his first wife – “we did this, we went there, I remember when we…”. I understand that each of us is the sum of our life experiences, but those are his memories, not mine. It makes me uncomfortable when he goes on about her and the days gone by. I’m not part of that ‘we’ and nor can I ever be. What should I do, if anything? Am I being selfish?
A No, you’re not being selfish, but you may be taking it too personally. “It’s very common in a relationship to personalize something the other person is doing,” says Joe Rich, a Toronto-based social worker who specializes in family and relationship issues. Your husband’s stories, he says, don’t mean he had a better life with his first wife or that he’s insensitive to your feelings. “It’s just a developmental time of reflection. This man is at that age and stage in life when people talk about what they’ve done in the past.”
Mr. Rich thinks you need to change your expectation that he’s going to stop talking about his ‘other life.’ As a counsellor, he has plenty of experience dealing with second marriages and he hears your kind of complaint regularly. “There are always issues of what we call loyalty conflict. It’s endemic to second marriages.”
Without knowing anything else about your husband Mr. Rich thinks it may also be possible he’s experiencing a loyalty conflict and still feels obliged at some level to honour his first wife. And it can snowball. “Talking about her may relieve his own loyalty conflict, but it also increases his new wife’s conflict, so she ends up feeling he’s more loyal to the first wife than to her.”
While most people who remarry think they’ll just get married and have their own memories, Mr. Rich says it isn’t that simple. You can’t erase the past, but you can stop taking references to it so personally. Try changing your perspective, he advises, because “when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” He suggests telling yourself, “‘she was his number-one first wife and I am his number-one second wife. The first wife has her spot and I have mine’.”
Easier said than done? Probably, but attempts to prevent your husband from talking about days gone by are doomed to fail. And something else you might think about: “You have to realize that he chose you to share his memories with. At your ages, sharing is an intimate act. Besides, you’ll only get to know him better.”
Send Diane a brief description of your dilemma, along with your first name and where you live, to [email protected]
A professional journalist for more than 25 years, Diane Sewell has written for some of the top newspapers and magazines in Canada and is a baby boomer herself. Her new blog “Boomerangst, Turning Dilemmas into Discoveries” is interactive with readers and focuses on life issues – like aging, dating, second marriages, sex, death, family and fashion. Diane will use her expertise to find the right expert to help solve your predicament, unearthing kernels of truth and quickly getting to the heart of the issue.