Someone called me a second wife recently. I am not the offendable type and I took no notice of it until my husband later casually mentioned something about his first marriage. “It is true,” I thought, “I am the second.” The second wife, the second marriage, the second chance at death do us part.
There was another wife, another human, another once best friend and I have never known her. She is not a part of our lives or our marriage, but she shaped the man I now call husband, for a third of his life. I have her to thank, in part, for the man he has become, the good and the bad.
I never dreamed of being a second wife, or of marrying a man who had been divorced. At twenty, twenty-one, twenty-six, the child of a crumbling marriage and then a messy divorce, I imagined marrying a man unsullied by the thing I hated more than anything: divorce.
Yet in this marriage, I have never thought of myself as the second of anything. I am fully his wife, his only wife today, his one wife.
Two Marriages, One Man
Divorce is not usually the best choice and should never be the first choice, but sometimes the choice has been stripped from you and you’re the only one willing and working. When I was simply the child of divorce I could not understand it. I looked to both of my parents and the litany of faults fell equally on both sides. “If only he…” I thought. “If only she…” I reasoned. There was no sense to be made of their selfish choices to stop loving, stop respecting, stop listening.
I suppose there is such a thing as what some would call their no-fault divorce, but I have never seen one entirely without faults. Neither has my husband.
He is an honorable man, faithful, kind, gentle, loving, and selfless—and he would say most of those traits were learned after the Lord disciplined him through his divorce—but he is still a man, a human, a sinner. He is malleable and tender, full of both fear and frustration, pride and personhood. He is the best man I know, but still only a man.
He is a man who never planned on divorce being a part of his narrative, never made any provision for the possibility of a second wife, and who walked faithfully in submission to godly men when it seemed his first wife would never come home again. When I first met him, in the foyer of our local church, he stammered and hardly met my eye. I didn’t know until months later that he, though legally divorced, had set himself inside a timeline posturing himself for reconciliation if she should desire it. This man lived in the haven of repentance, the home of discipline, and the hope of the gospel.
Whenever my husband meets someone for the first time and tells his story, her sin hardly enters the story. He tells of his failures, a mile long and an acre wide. He makes himself the bad guy, the one with all the faults. There’s a small defense in me that starts with “But” and continues with “she…” but he will deny it, and give the list of ways he could have, should have, would have, and didn’t. On our first date, he did this and I should have been turned off but my heart warmed instead. It warmed to this man who had gained the whole world, lost it, and still counted it as the greatest grace of God toward Him. Discipline in the presence of divorce brought him face to face with his greatest need and best good: the Lord.
Walking Confidently Into A Second Marriage
We married with the affirmation of all our counselors and friends, but there were a few whose hesitations had nothing to do with the man of God he was or the preparedness of our hearts for one another, but with instead the question of divorce and remarriage. I understood their hesitation and agreed, it is a tender topic and one for which I cannot answer others for themselves. I know someday we will stand before the throne and give account for our actions, for our marriage which, God as our witness, was done in our full confidence of His blessing.
The specifics are too complicated for me to be prescriptive for another’s story. Did he leave her? Did she leave him? Was there abuse of any kind? Was there another man? Another woman? Were you a child of God? Was she? Did you submit the outcome—whatever it be—to the men and women around you in the local church? Did you submit your life to the commandments of scripture? Did you buckle under discipline or did you see it as the gracious endeavor of God toward you? Can you stand before God and give account for your actions? We answered those questions for ourselves with godly men and women around us, the Word of God inside us, and in full trust, covenanted to one another. But it might not be so for others. A prescriptive approach for remarriage after divorce can be cloudy and is best walked out within the confines of good counselors and community, in submission to the Word of God.
When those questions are answered, though, and the blessing of marriage is given, there is still no prescription for how to walk on the thorny, landmine filled landscape of a second marriage.
Our marriage is ours, theirs was theirs.
The wounds of a former wife or former husband can be deep and raw, and a mere misstep of the second spouse can be wildly more painful than we knew. We walk by faith and in grace and with a ready and present repentant heart.
We move old habits around and create new rhythms, different preferences. So what if she slept on the left side of the bed? I sleep on the right. She preferred spring and I love autumn. She liked musicals and getting dressed up and I like espionage movies and staying in. She liked granite counters and I like butcher block. We are different people. We have different tones and different dreams and different personalities. Even if my husband adapted to her for a dozen years, he must now learn the good and sanctifying work of curving toward me. Even as I curve to a husband who has been a husband far longer than he has been mine. Marriage is a mere slice of my life but it is more than a third of his. We walk with patience, endurance, and lose the expectations that lead mostly to resentments.
I remember, too, that just as our marriage is a covenant to one another, their marriage was too, as much as they understood it to be. I learned this early on when, out of curiosity and envy, I asked him a specific question about their sex life. He was uncomfortable in answering and I realized later why: their sex life was not ours and so it was not my business. The same with their pitfalls, they are not my fodder. Their struggles are not mine to lord over. Their finances are not our finances. Their decision-making process is not ours. Their vacations cannot be replicated. Their traditions cannot be kept. This painful teasing apart of what was theirs and what is ours may take a lifetime, but we have it together because we have covenanted it. I enact trust in my husband by not asking for what is not mine. Our marriage is ours, theirs was theirs.
I am a second wife, but this is not my second life and it is not my husband’s either. His marriage covenant with her did happen and was broken because we live in a broken world. Our marriage is happening and has many whole and beautiful parts, and many broken parts too. But all of it was or is alive, even the marriage that died once had life. My husband needed that marriage to show him his greatest need was not an intact marriage, a willing wife, or an equal partnership, but to show him his greatest need was God alone. And God knew I needed to be the second wife, not the second best, the plan B, or the backup wife, but the one who would enter in at the right time of his life and mine. At the time when the presence of the other would lead us into more joy, more sanctification, more hope, and more life together. This is our first and only life, our one aim is to be found faithful in it.
Cover photo by Celia Michon.