Marriage comes with its own challenges the first time around, but being a second wife comes with unique issues to confront and be prepared for. As a second wife, you need to face marriage with both a stiff upper lip and a wry sense of humor. In all likelihood, there will be an ex-spouse to deal with, stepchildren to win over, and the entire spectrum of second-wife syndrome to navigate.
According to a study by Pew Research Center, in 2013, 64% of eligible men and 52% of eligible women remarried in the US. So if you’re reeling under the pain of being a second wife, find solace in knowing that you’re not alone. So many others are navigating similar challenges, and that should give you hope that it’s not as insurmountable as it may seem.
While there are some benefits of being a second wife (hopefully your spouse got most of his hijinks out of his system by now!), it’s not going to be your run-of-the-mill marriage. The first wife vs second wife comparisons may seem inevitable, both in your mind and that of your spouse – and if there are children from your spouse’s first marriage in the picture, these comparisons can augment manifold.
You know what, every adverse situation has something positive about it and so does having to deal with disturbing second-wife issues. Stay with us till the end to see the silver lining. Kranti Sihotra Momin, an experienced CBT practitioner with a Master’s degree in psychology and a specialization in clinical psychology, tells us some hard truths about being a second wife and what you should be prepared for.
What are the disadvantages of being a second wife?
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We believe the major disadvantage of being a second wife has more to do with the chattering of society rather than the risk of an unstable marriage. Yes, of course, there are some pivotal challenges like an overbearing ex-wife, but most of it is often cooked up in your head. Our reader Chloe shares her story of marrying a divorced man all the way from New Orleans.
Chole says, “For the first few years of our marriage, I could hear whisperings and felt all the eyes are on me whenever I went somewhere with my husband. I imagined people mocking me, “Here comes the second wife”. Some of the older relatives would often bite their tongue before almost calling me by his ex-wife’s name. But later on, I realized a second marriage is about two people willing to learn from their past and live the rest of their lives together, happily.”
Now Chloe’s story was a bit different because her husband was one hundred percent into this marriage. And he made it easier on her to the point of actually believing that being the second wife is better in many ways. But if the man you are marrying is an emotional mess, hung up on his ex-wife, or financially broken after the divorce, it may not be as smooth sailing for you.
He may give you many reasons to hate being a second wife. As much as we try to focus on the good parts, there would some disadvantages of being the wife of a man tired of two marriages:
- He may not want any grandeur in the second marriage robbing you of your dream of walking down the aisle in a Donna Karan
- He can be very cynical about the idea of eternal love and being with each other till death parts you because he has seen it get shattered in front of his eyes
- You may feel like an outsider being around his ex-wife and the kids, adding to your pain of being a second wife
- If both of you are divorced, there will be a lot more people involved in the scenario like both exes, the kids, and the ex and present in-laws. Your holidays will be more complicated than you think
- Going beyond the conventional frame of marriage and relationships takes a lot of courage and consideration even though remarriages are more easily accepted these days
9 Challenges You Should Be Prepared For Being A Second Wife
Along with the ever-present comparisons of first wife vs second wife, there is also the question of the second wife and family issues, the second wife and property rights, and so on. Despite all the fairy tales about evil second wives and wicked stepmothers, being a second wife isn’t quite as black and white.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how does it feel to be a second wife. Each woman’s experience in this role can be markedly unique, governed by her own personality, the nature of her relationship with her spouse as well as the individual baggage of both partners. Even so, there are some challenges that are common to this experience.
To accept being a second wife, you need to learn how to navigate them skillfully. To help you do that, we’ve rounded up challenges you could look out for in your role as a second wife, so you’re equipped for anything that might come your way.
1. The stigma, the stares, the questions
When Marcus and Chantal got married, it was the second marriage for both of them. They had been dating for a few years, and both were in their late 30s by the time they got married. “I wasn’t exactly young and naïve but I really wasn’t prepared for the judgment and constant, curious questions that came our way.”
“I’d known Marcus during his first marriage and people assumed I’d been the other woman, that we’d been secretly seeing each other behind his first wife’s back. Also, his first wife, Diane, is still much loved by the neighbors and general community so I could feel that they thought I didn’t quite measure up, that I was different,” says Chantal.
Divorce and remarriage are hardly unheard of but because they shatter the myth of that one perfect marriage and one soulmate, there is still a certain amount of stigma attached. This means you’ll feel the heat of curious stares and annoying, mosquito-like questions at least for the first year or so.
The first wife and second wife comparisons, and the unpleasantness stemming from them are definitely among the many challenges you may have to face in your marriage. These wouldn’t count as one of the advantages of being a second wife, but if nothing else, it will help you stand your ground and tackle uncomfortable situations that are bound to arise.
“Relationship conflict is natural and can happen with even the happiest of couples,” says Kranti, “But in a second marriage, it will almost inevitably flare up. You’ll be butting heads with society in general and there will be times when it feels like the whole world is against you. But resolving conflict is key to being a second wife, so be smart and pick your battles.”
Related Reading: Second Marriage After 40 – What to Expect
2. Second-wife syndrome
Yes, that’s a real thing. The second-wife syndrome is when you feel like you’ve stepped into an alternate reality created by your spouse’s first wife and family, and you’re constantly feeling inadequate. The weight of all of these can fan second wife insecurities even in most self-assured women. Here’s what happens when you are unsure about how to deal with being the second wife:
- You’ll constantly feel that your spouse gives more importance to his first wife and kids than he does to you
- You’ll wonder if they control his schedule and decisions more than you do
- You’ll compare yourself to them constantly and always think you’re falling short
- A sense of insignificance will make you hate being a second wife even more
- You may end up trying to influence your husband’s life choices more than his ex-wife
It can get rather overwhelming, but remember, if you insist on being stuck in the vicious first wife vs second wife competition going on in your head, you’re not going to get very far in your marriage. If you feel that as a second wife, your husband is not spending time with you, talk it out with your spouse instead of sulking or throwing hissy fits every time he talks to his first wife or has to pick up the kids.
Chances are you’ve walked into a ready-made family, even if it’s fractured, and in such a situation, a second wife and family issues aren’t uncommon. If your spouse is a widower and lost his first wife, be even more prepared that he will be honoring her memory and also paying a lot of attention to his children, if he has them. One way or another, the invisible presence of the first wife only augments the pain of being a second wife.
Kranti says, “As a first wife, you would maybe marry your partner and their family. As a second wife, you go a step further and marry a partner, their family, their kids, and in some ways, even their ex. It’s not just a family, it’s a whole extended family and you may end up feeling like the proverbial square peg in a round hole. But as a second wife, it is key to be able to navigate your way through awkward or uncomfortable situations.”
3. Ready to be a stepmom?
Speaking of children, how ready are you to become a stepmother? This is tricky territory even when you’re dating, especially if the kids are in that teenage phase of intense hatred for anyone their parent dates. You might want to start laying the groundwork while you’re dating and before marriage, so you don’t walk into a household of extreme hostility.
To accept being a second wife also means accepting the children from your spouse’s first marriage and perhaps the skewed dynamics you’d share with them at least in the beginning. Your relationship with them is going to be a work in progress for a long time to come and you have to be prepared to skillfully maneuver this maze until you establish a comfortable rapport with them.
Myra and Leah married after 2 years of dating, but Leah’s daughter from her first marriage barely acknowledged Myra at all. “Leah’s first wife passed away, and their daughter, Rose, was still processing her grief when Leah and I started dating,” Myra says. To Rose, her mother dating anyone else was sacrilege and she could not accept Myra even after two years.
“It took many years of work on both our parts. We went to therapy as a family; I tried my best to talk to her and convince her that I was as much a friend as a parent and that she could trust me. It was hard. But, she’s in college now, and I think we’ve made real progress. We might not be mother-daughter BFFs but we have a healthy respect and affection for each other,” Myra adds.
4. Money matters
Your spouse probably had a financial plan mapped out with their first wife. Maybe there’s alimony being paid now and a college fund for the kids. As a second wife, you don’t really have a say in any of this, because all of it was done before you came into the picture at all. Nonetheless, you may not be happy with the situation. The pain of being a second wife is that you find yourself on the sidelines of a lot of things going on in your spouse’s life.
For Sally, it was a perpetual thorn in her side that the house she shared with her husband Bill had his first wife’s name on the lease along with his. They couldn’t move out because Bill didn’t want to displace the kids and Sally couldn’t say much about it, but it niggled her all the time. It annoyed her excessively that the financial planning didn’t seem to include her or her comfort. Along with finances, the whole second wife and property rights issue is bound to flare up at some point.
Again, the best way to get your feelings out there without burning your marriage down is to have an honest conversation with your partner. If finances and circumstances permit, move out to your own place – living in the same house as the first wife is rarely a good idea, as anyone who’s read Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca will tell you. You don’t want to succumb to second-wife depression owing to the pressures, insecurities, and unpleasantness in your marital life on account of your spouse’s past.
5. Dealing with your partner’s baggage
Since this is nobody’s tremulous, maiden love affair, get ready to handle some emotional baggage as a second wife. Your spouse has lost their first wife either to divorce or death, both of which bring immense, albeit very different, pain and coping mechanisms. Hopefully, they healed to some extent before getting involved with you, but a loss of this kind runs deep. It’s possible this is your second marriage, too, in which case you’ll be able to empathize.
In case of an acrimonious divorce, your spouse could have trust issues and intimacy issues, making it difficult for them to open up to you completely. If they lost their first wife to illness, they will be battling some amount of grief all their lives. A friend of mine married a man who would lay flowers at his late wife’s grave every Sunday. She wasn’t sure how she felt about it at first but he was grateful that she allowed him that space and time and it ultimately strengthened their bond.
One of the advantages of being a second wife is that you bring a fresh perspective to this baggage, and you become a partner who stands by their side as they work through it. Ensure they don’t lose themselves in the past; remind them that they have a whole new future with you to look forward to even if they choose to honor the memory of their first wife in their own ways.
Related Reading: Challenges Of Dating A Separated Man Going Through A Divorce
6. Handling the ex-spouse
If your partner’s former spouse is still in the picture – taking care of the kids or as business partners or just meeting occasionally – you’ll need to learn how to deal with them without letting the first wife vs second wife insecurities consume you. There is a very fine balance to maintain here.
You’ll need to be understanding of the fact that the first wife will keep showing up in your spouse’s life, that she has her place, and you have yours. It’s possible there are needs in the family’s life that only she fulfills, for instance, if they are co-parenting after divorce, she will be around. She could also have a good rapport with the in-laws, and could still be seeing them.
As a result, you could be left feeling that she’s there a little too much and stepping on your toes. It’s easy for resentment to build up here and the first wife vs second wife battles to flare up. In an ideal situation, you could co-exist, acknowledging that you each have a unique space in the family. Unfortunately, we’re human and insecurity is bound to creep in at some point. The first wife could also feel that you’re replacing her completely and start jealously guarding her space.
“Comparison with the ex is toxic all around,” Kranti says, “Even if the comparison tips the scales in your favor, it comes from a place of unease and insecurity. Comparison only feeds these feelings, and there’s absolutely no upside to holding yourself up against your spouse’s ex.”
It benefits being the second wife who is mature and secure in her marriage to be able to deal with such an equation. There’s no easy way to handle the twisted past of a man tired of two marriages, except to give it time and patience. Don’t let your second-wife syndrome overwhelm everything else.
7. Being the bigger person
There’s no patron saint for second wives, and you needn’t start pitching for the role. But, there will be a lot of times when you’ll need to give in with grace for the sake of everyone’s peace of mind, including your own. Accept being a second wife and find a way to be comfortable in your role without begrudging your spouse’s ex for getting there first. It will help everyone involved in the equation.
“Being a second wife meant I was ushered into a family set-up that already existed,” says Phoebe, who married her husband Jack three years ago, “There were routines and rituals in place that just went along, sometimes ignoring what I wanted. Initially, I tried to fight it but it ended up becoming an exhausting battle every time. I finally realized I needed to choose my battles, and that meant grinning and bearing it sometimes.”
A good way to go about this is to outline clearly what is absolutely non-negotiable to you, and where you can compromise. Establishing healthy boundaries is essential for any relationship and all the more so for a second wife. Remember, you’re allowed to have your limits and put your foot down as well; just make sure you don’t embark on a battle royal every time you don’t get your own way because that’s not helping you or anyone else.
“It’s all about valuing your second marriage,” Kranti says, “Unlike a first marriage, there will be a little idealization of the spouse here. Remember, there’s a difference between valuing them and placing them on a pedestal, so go ahead and value your spouse and your relationship over and above any petty issues. That’s really when you become the bigger person.”
Related Reading: 7 Strategies To Stop Fighting In A Relationship
8. Accepting a non-traditional relationship
Again, a second marriage by definition means most of the ‘firsts’ have been done and then some. You’ve both been around the relationship block, and possibly weathered a few scars from past relationships and/or marriages. Accept that this relationship will have a few quirks, it will make it easier to accept being a second wife.
You’ll have to make room for kids and their schedules, date nights interrupted by babysitters who aren’t available at the last minute, in-laws who already had their own expectations long before you came along, etc. “I had to get used to being introduced as Max’s wife and seeing the surprise on people’s faces sometimes.
“We had a small wedding, so not a lot of people were aware that he had divorced his first wife, let alone remarried. So, there was surprise and curiosity and just a hint of gossip in the air when we went out. It took some getting used to, but then, I accepted that this just wasn’t your traditional marriage,” says 35-year-old Dani
Non-traditional isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that you’ll probably have more questions thrown at you and get used to being seen as ‘not the original wife’. It helps to learn how to block these reactions out so that they don’t fan the first wife vs second wife comparisons in your own head. You owe no one any explanations, so chin up and go about your business.
9. The numbers go against you
Not to put a dampener on your marriage, but there are studies that suggest that 60% of second marriages end in divorce. And in some circles, people won’t hesitate to throw these numbers out casually in conversation. If you’re going into a second marriage, and these statistics are causing sleepless nights, remember that going into this with wide-open eyes and a firm belief in your own boundaries will go a long way to making a happy marriage.
There’s risk involved in any relationship, and honestly, there’s no guarantee any of us will be together forever. But that doesn’t mean we don’t approach every love affair and marriage with hope and all the emotional intelligence we can muster. If you’re really worried, consider premarital counseling with your spouse-to-be and get your concerns aired out. It’s always better to go into a major life decision well-prepared.
How do I cope with being a second wife?
Now all the discussions boil down to only one question – how to deal with being the second wife? There are two ways, either you let all the obstacles and unnecessary judgments wear you down or you focus on working on your marriage. And to do that, begin by not letting the ‘second marriage’ label weigh you down from the get-go. That will take off the extra pressure coming along with the fear of committing to a new person and starting from scratch all over again.
If you think, being the second wife is better in many ways. Your husband must have learned a thing or two about taking equal responsibility in a marriage. Plus, the divorce must have made him stronger and now he knows what not to do to sustain a marriage. Here are a few ways to deal with the second wife issues without letting them bother you so much:
- Take your time but try to learn to turn a blind eye to the critiques of your marriage
- Initially, the finances could be a little tight but you can always split costs and manage the expenses efficiently
- Instead of letting the ex-wife intimidate you, you can handle the relationship with grace and accept her as a part of your life
- Communicate with your husband about how much he wants you involved in the lives of the kids and don’t overstep those boundaries
- Build your home filled with love and happiness just like any other newly married couple
- The societal stigma is big distress in a second marriage
- Your wedding may not be that special as he can be uncomfortable going through the same rituals again
- You have to be patient in dealing with his relationship with his ex-spouse and the kids
- You have to be prepared to help him handle his financial crunches and emotional baggage
- You can try not to treat it as a ‘second marriage’ and enjoy your life with the man you love
How does it feel to be a second wife? Well, being a second wife takes a special kind of grit, humor, and possibly a lot of deep breathing. It’s a lot to take on and the fact that you’ve chosen to do so says a lot about you. Remember, you’re not just taking on a spouse, but their baggage, their exes, their kids, and a whole host of readymade problems for you to tackle.
Looking beyond the first wife and second wife differences, and pros and cons can make this journey a tad easier. There’s no one way to do this since every marriage is unique. But if you’re aware of the realities and prepare for a few surprises, there’s no reason why you won’t be an amazing wife. Second wife doesn’t mean second place – keep that in mind.