Getting past a fiance’s first marriage

Carolyn Hax
Columnist February 25, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

My amazing, wonderful fiance made what he has referred to as “a very bad decision” and got married at 20, while he was still in college. He was divorced by 23, and not amicably. We met and began dating a few years later, and he was very open about it from the get-go. Throughout our four-year relationship, the fact that he was briefly married has barely registered as a blip on my radar; people make mistakes.

But suddenly, now that we are engaged and beginning to plan our wedding, I can’t seem to stop dwelling on the fact that he once publicly promised to spend his life with someone else. It has never bothered me until now. I don’t doubt his commitment to me, or that this is a well-thought-out decision. I just wish I could get over this odd, unexpected “second place” feeling. I know I need to take a step back and recognize that it’s water under the bridge. Any advice on how to do so would be really appreciated!

The Second Wife


Are you able to step into your past a bit, to rummage around for an experience that can help inform your understanding of your fiance? And banish that “second place” notion for good?

Specifically, I’m thinking of a past relationship in which life with that person was the only future you could envision. I don’t see a huge difference between “publicly promised” and privately felt, except perhaps in the timing (say, if you were still in high school when you felt that way) or degree of impulse control.

Either way, your life was this person . . . until it wasn’t.

Now your life is with your fiance, and you’re both fully in this moment — despite your past loves and his.

Or, because of them. This depends on what he learned from it all, but I could argue that his nuptial oops enables him to be more present for you than he might have been without one. Couples so often struggle with ideas of what marriage “should” be, and there’s a decent chance his experience beat out of him such a rigid notion of bliss.

Re: Second Wife:

I was in a very similar situation with my now husband. The best thing I did was just say out loud, “It’s really weird that you’ve done this before with someone else.” The resulting discussion really made me understand the difference in where he was then and where he is now. Your fiance already seems very open, so give him the chance to make you feel better about it.

Anonymous

Sounds good to me, thanks.

Re: “Second place”:

When I look back on the relationships I had at 20 and at 25, I thank my lucky stars I wasn’t asked and didn’t agree to marry either of these men. At the time, I would have said yes and would have probably ended up exactly where your fiance is.

Anonymous 2

Thanks. I believe many people, especially those who lived with a boyfriend or girlfriend, have these paperless marriages in their pasts.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at bit.ly/haxpost .

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