It is easy to look in on someone else’s life during the tumultuous period of divorce and the choices they make afterwards and make judgements about whether they are making the right ones. Was their first husband or wife really as bad as they say they were? Was the grass really greener on the other side of their first or even second marriage? Did they bring it on themselves by cheating, or do they have a right to chase their own happiness when their kids might be made unhappy in the short term as a result?
I am a child of a divorced family. I have watched on as my mum, now in her 60, has grappled with multiple marriages in her life. But every marriage has added flavour, interesting parts and interesting people to her life, including a whole lot of kids that I know she finds fulfilling. And when she sits back at 64, she seems to have no regrets. Getting married over and over has made her who she is today and it is something of which she is not ashamed. She can however reflect with some wisdom about marriage in its many incarnations.
When she reflects on her first marriage, she does so with great fondness. This is the marriage of her youth and idealism. She left home on her wedding day, moving to her wedded house, to the somewhat unexpected shock that life with her husband was not like being a daughter at home. But the joys of the first decade were a-plenty. International travel, following her husband’s career, despite the enormity of the size of the world back then, was a huge highlight of the life she lived.
Young children arrived and it was time to put down roots near the family core, and that they did with joy. The years that ensued were ones of community and children and, dare I say it, excitement. Until it became hard.
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That’s the thing about marriage: it gets hard, for everyone, sometime. And at that point, depending on the circumstances and your personality, it is fight or flight. The way you react to the situation you are in as a marriage is struggling is a very personal thing.
Marriage number two seemed to come along straight afterwards for my mum, but in reality it didn’t. There was five or more years of tumultuous self-seeking, dating, doubting and judgement before she found happiness again. But this was different. He was much younger, from a very different background. He made life outrageously exciting, for a while. There was adventure, financial hardship, team spirit, and more children. All the good years came around again, just like the first time. Every wave of excitement added a little more to life… until things got hard. And when things got hard they went to different places because they were from such different backgrounds and value sets. Her second husband was a serial cheater. He has ended every marriage he has had with adultery, and he has had many other marriages since.
Many women I have known who have divorced and then remarried say that their first husbands came from a very similar background to them. That is, they went to school together, they were educated in a similar way, they had very similar value sets and then, perhaps even grew up near to each other. But when they get to the second marriage, these people are met at a much different place in life, with less historical similarities making the bridge between them and their partner very different. Not wrong, just very very different. My mum attests to this. She says the choices she made second time around were not around values but instead around excitement. It wasn’t until later on, when the marriage wasn’t working that she realised just how having such extraordinarily different backgrounds impacted on their success as a couple when it was good and when it was bad.
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“People try to tell you about the differences in value sets when you are in the thick of it, but you don’t listen,” she says.
Marriage number three for my mum is about settling in to who she is and sharing it with someone she cares about. She and her partner are just that, partners. In fact, my mum has probably stepped forward as a leader in her second and third marriages more than she ever did in her first. Also from very different backgrounds, which she points out is a fact of life once you move away from your roots, marriage number three looks like a keeper.
Have you grappled through multiple marriages in your life or do you know people who have? Do you relate to how differently your marriage works first second, or even third time around, when you look at the differences in your background or values?