Combatting Insecurity in a Second Marriage
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Lore Ferguson WilbertLore Ferguson Wilbert (pronounced Lor-ee) has lived all over the United States but will always be most at home in the Northeast. She holds a degree in English from Lee University. She has been published by Christianity Today, Fathom Magazine, LifeWay Leaders, LifeWay Voices, The Gospel Coalition, Revive Our Hearts, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and more, on spiritual formation, faith, culture, and theology in life. She also teaches writing and edits on the side...more
Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
As a second wife or second husband, have you ever felt second best? Ron Deal talks with Lore Ferguson Wilbert about how to combat the insecurities that naturally arise in second marriages.
Combatting Insecurity in a Second Marriage
Bob: Whether other people know it or not, Lore Ferguson Wilbert says she carries with her the knowledge that she is a second wife; she’s married to someone who’s been married before. She says there’s a stigma that’s attached to that.
Lore: You know, in the church in particular, I think there are some unfortunate narratives around divorce and remarriage. I think I feel acutely aware of being a second wife, depending on who I’m around, and what their thoughts about it are, or what they suspect to be my husband’s story but don’t know to be true. I’m reminded I don’t have maybe a traditional route here in the way that I got to marriage.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, March 25th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What’s it like to be a second wife in a second marriage?—to carry that with you. We’re going to hear more about that today from Lore Ferguson Wilbert. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think all of us, in this culture in particular, wrestle with the whole issue of comparison. Social media fuels this; we look around and we go, “Why is everybody else’s marriage good?”
Dave: Oh, I never compare myself, Bob!
Ann: Absolutely, I do it every day. Do men not do it?
Dave: Oh yes we do. I’m kidding; we compare, I think, daily.
Ann: I guess you don’t talk about it as much as women do, because women talk about this.
Dave: They do?
Ann: We do struggle with this.
Bob: I will confess that—we’ve done interviews here on FamilyLife Today, where it’s been a husband and wife—and the wife has been/she’s just been the biggest admirer of her husband.
Dave: You’re talking about Ann? You’re talking about Ann!
Ann: Oh, you’re talking about me. [Laughter]
Bob: She just said: “You know, he is so this and so that,” “I love his preaching,” or “…his…” I’ll go home and go, “How come you never rave about me the way I hear other wives rave…”
Ann: Do you say it or think it?
Bob: I’ve had that conversation with Mary Ann, where I’ve just said, “So—
Ann: —“do you like me?” [Laughter]
Bob: —“do you think I’m special?”—right? I think all of us think: “Why doesn’t he look at me the way that other guy looks at his wife?”
Bob: “Why doesn’t my wife hold my hand the way that that woman’s holding her husband’s hand?”
Dave: Where are you going with this, Bob?
Bob: Ron Deal, who gives leadership to FamilyLife Blended®, did an interview recently—a very interesting interview—with Lore Ferguson Wilbert. Lore is a second wife; her husband has been married previously. She wrote an article in Fathom magazine, where she talked about what it’s like to be a second wife and the constant sense of comparison.
We should mention, by the way, that in four weeks, FamilyLife®’s Blended & Blessed® event—there’ll be couples watching it in their homes; there’ll be groups that are getting together to watch it—there’ll be thousands of people all across the country tuned in for that.
Ann: —and churches that are doing it too.
Bob: Yes, absolutely. Again, more information online. The Blended & Blessed event is the premier event every year for couples, who are in second marriages/blended marriages. You’ll get real help for your family/for your marriage by attending this event. Again, there’s more information, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Let’s listen to the first part of Ron Deal’s conversation with Lore Ferguson Wilbert about what it’s like to be a second wife in a marriage.
[FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: Here we are; we’re still in the middle of the COVID crazies, as I’ve come to call them. [Laughter] That’s certainly not a life we ever expected, or counted on, or anticipated; yet, we find ourselves living in this and trying to make the best of it. Is it that sort of an experience? Is that a good parallel for you?
Lore: Yes, I think they are the experiences that are like: “This isn’t what I wanted, and so I’m just going to begrudgingly find contentment in it.” Then, there’s the surprising experiences; I think of Lewis’ famous book, Surprised by Joy. There’s just things we’re not looking for/things we’re not necessarily paying attention to, and suddenly, God drops them in our lives; and we think, “Well, that was totally unexpected.”
I think there have been moments, maybe spread out along our marriage, where I have felt like: “Okay, this is harder…” or “…different.” I think those moments get less and less as time goes on.
Ron: Okay, I’m pulling together a couple of dots there. I heard you say, a little while ago, you don’t really think about it very much—being the second wife—until something prompts that; then it comes up. Maybe somebody refers to you or says something from the outside that reminds you: “Oh, yes, that’s true.” Then I just heard you say there’s moments, where that just kind of resurrects.
I’m curious: is there any pattern to those moments? What are those moments about? And then what happens in you when you go, “Oh, yes, that is my life”?
Lore: I think I am most acutely aware of being a second wife in those moments, where something is tender for my husband. I’m aware there’s a wound there that I didn’t cause; and yet, it’s a big part of his story. I am called to care for that wound as his wife. I’m called to be invested in the healing of that wound—even though I didn’t cause it, even though I/I’m devastated that it’s there—just aware that it’s there.
In the church in particular, I think there are some unfortunate narratives around divorce and remarriage. I think I feel acutely aware of being a second wife, depending on who I am around, and what their thoughts about it are, or what they suspect to be my husband’s story but don’t know to be true.
We don’t share the specifics of his divorce with everyone, even though there were biblical grounds for it. It’s just a hard story, and we want to be careful. But I am reminded—yes, it’s an uncomfortable subject for some people; so I’m reminded—“Oh, I’m not/I don’t have maybe a traditional route here in the way that I got to marriage.”
Ron: I want to come back to the wounds in your husband that you see; that’s a good one.
Let’s just stay on those church narratives for a minute. Yes, conversation—the way we teach and preach, dialogue, and the assumptions that people make—those are big; right? And what a bind for you to want to gently handle the circumstances around your husband’s divorce; yet, people almost demand an explanation. What do you do with that?
Lore: He decided, early, on that he wanted to comfort others with the comfort he had been given—Corinthians talks about that—so we are very, very openhanded in how we shared about the story. We’re very careful to, as much as we can, to cover a multitude of sins and to not be specific about sins done against him. He’s very specific though about sins he committed, so he leads with that. In his sharing of the narrative, he leads with his brokenness in the marriage/his failures in that marriage. We’ve just decided, as a couple, we’re going to try and comfort others with the comfort we’ve been given and be open about that. We have taken the posture—and this isn’t the posture for everyone—but we’ve taken the posture that nothing is off limits: if someone asks, we’ll tell them.
We can’t control the outcome; we can’t control what’s said about us; we can’t control the narrative that people make up in their minds about us. We just have to be faithful to the story that God’s given us to live; we have to be faithful to stewarding that story. All we can do is be honest and truthful about it and be honest and truthful about where we’ve seen God’s healing, and where we’re waiting for God’s healing, and where we’re praying for God’s healing, and just walk in faith that way, which is not easy.
Ron: Right, right, right. But I so appreciate that because, as somebody, who has spent close to 30 years ministering to people—in circumstances that they didn’t always choose or want to be in; and sometimes, they did choose/it was their fault; they did bring it about—but nevertheless, it’s the: “How do we, as a church, respond to others?”—and your courage and willingness to be open with the story. In fact, this blog that you wrote is just so insightful and so revealing. Just for you guys to do that—publicly in writing, for example; and privately, in conversation with people—I think that is where redemptive moments happen for others.
To the listener right now, I just want to say: “You may never have thought that you had a ministry, if you will. You always felt like you had to be the one ministered to; but you underestimate the power of your personal story in the hands of somebody else, who is also struggling and wrestling with some question, and how that brings encouragement and courage to people, who feel second class.” It’s not just the second-wife thing but it’s that second-class thing. I think you said a little while ago, “secondhand”;—
Ron: —and I was struck by that. Yes, right; you feel secondhand—almost like it’s a demotion or something to be the second wife—to be, even in church circles, there’s just those messages that make people shrink. I see you saying, “No, we don’t have to do that; we can stand up.”
Lore: Yes, I think the whole—to me the whole point of the gospel is that we are all fractured jars—we are all broken in some way; we have all experienced brokenness in some way—and God wants to make us whole. He wants to take what’s been broken and He wants us to be the letter that He’s written to the world—that’s what Paul calls us—so: “How do I take what isn’t what I expected and choose to be the letter that God is using for my life to the world to preach the gospel?”
Also, it’s just a good reminder, to me, of the gospel that our marriage is not any more special to God than their marriage was. God was for their marriage; He was in their marriage. Even though sin fractured it to the point of divorce, God was still for them in that marriage. God is in our marriage, and He’s for our marriage, and He’s working through our marriage. I don’t have to compare our marriages to one another.
Ron: Yes, and that’s so good. Why compare? It’s okay to say, “Of course, God was for that marriage,” like He’s for your marriage.
Lore: Yes; that was actually/I will say that is one of the most freeing concepts that I’ve had in our marriage. I think, when we were just newly together, I had questions about his past: I had questions about his sexual past, questions about his conflicts that they might have had, or specifics in their marriage. I found somewhat of a reticence in him to talking about some of those things. At first, I thought, “Well, I’m going to be your wife. Why won’t you talk to me about these things?”
But the more time went on, the more I thought, “If I’m walking into covenant/if I’m in covenant with this man, that means that our marriage is precious in the eyes of God and is to be protected by God. It’s wrong of me to assume that I’m allowed to know everything that happened in their covenant that was protected by God.” That freed me up to just say, “You know what? I’m going to trust that, if my husband needs to tell me something, he’s going to. But if I don’t need to know something, or it’s not my business, I don’t need to know it.” I can be free to just say, “God was in that.”
Ron: Let’s drill down on that. It’s not your business—like if you had another couple come up to you right now, it wouldn’t be your business to be probing into parts of their relationship that they’re not opening to you—is it that same sort of thing?
Lore: I think there’s moments when we need to probe in our friends’ lives and ask specific questions.
Ron: Yes, good point.
Lore: But I think that when I’m—if my motivations in probing are to feel better about myself, or to compete with a previous marriage in any way, or to put down someone else, or to excuse my sin in the way that it might be wounding my husband and to sort of put that on her—that’s not a good motivation. I think, when I’m probing with a couple, if my motivation is just to dig up dirt, that’s not a good motivation. But if my motivation is to care for and shepherd, that’s a good motivation; so I want to probe in those moments. I hope that’s a helpful distinction.
Ron: It is; it’s a very good distinction. I appreciate that wisdom.
Bob: Let me step in here. We’ve been listening to the first part of a conversation between Ron Deal and Lore Ferguson Wilbert, talking about what it’s like to be a second wife. I think the point about—“What’s your motivation as you dig into these subjects?”—that’s a great question to be wrestling with.
Dave: I can remember, when I was in middle school, my stepmom, who was my dad’s second wife, asking me questions about my mom. I could tell, even as a 13-/14-year-old, she was comparing—like, “Hey, I’m funnier than your mom was; right?”—it was a little awkward; I mean, I can remember this decades later. I’m now realizing she was comparing, and she was wondering about that.
Ann: That’s interesting; because the first time I met your stepmom, she was cooking. She was asking me questions, like, “Oh, what kind of cook is Dave’s mom?”—because she was extraordinary cook—but I remember feeling like, “Oh, she’s feeling some of that comparison.”
Bob: Well, and in Part Two of this conversation between Ron and Lore, they talk about how a healthy sense of your identity is necessary to know who you are in Christ. That’s so critical when you face these kinds of issues of competition. Let’s listen to the conversation as it continues here.
[FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: Let me dial down. We’ve used the word, “competition,” a couple of times. I think it’s great—you saying, “Hey, from God’s point of view, He was for the first marriage; He’s for this marriage,”—let’s look at it from your point of view for a minute. Let’s just get earthly about this: “Doesn’t every woman want to be first in her husband’s heart? What do you do with that thought that you’re second?”
Lore: Yes, I feel that. What helps me is to know that I am my husband’s first right now. He has chosen me; he is not thinking about her. We have open conversations about these things.
But there have been times, where—we moved away from the city where we lived for a while; because there were just some bitter memories for him here, because of their previous marriage—and then we had to move back a few years later. That was really, really difficult for him to just imagine being on the same streets, around the same grocery stores, and all those things. He had to really dial down and wrestle with the Lord over: “Am I going to honor, and please, and love my current wife?—or am I going to be continuing to think about my previous wife?”
He chose to come back here; he chose to come back to the city, because he knew it would be better for me. This was where our community was. In that choice, I was able to see how he laid down his life for me—he does that every day—lays down his life for me.
Part of being first to him/part of being his covenantal wife right now, is deciding to actually, not overlook those wounds when they come up, but to step into those places. For instance, if we drive past a location that has a specific bitter memory attached to it for him, and he gets quiet—instead of just letting that happen—stepping in and saying, “I am the wife that he has now. I am the partner with him and with God in helping to heal these wounds; so I’m going to step into that and say, ‘Hey, what’s going through your mind right now as we pass that place? What are you thinking about? How can I love you through that?’”
The more time goes on, and the more talking that we do about it, the more God heals those places; so he can drive past places that he couldn’t drive past, even three years ago, without a bitter memory coming.
Ron: One of the things I’ve wondered about “second wife”—reflecting on your blog—is that your husband has to maybe unlearn some patterns and some rhythms of the past. You talk a little bit about sleeping on a different side of the bed. Clearly, you’re different people; and your husband has to adapt to that. Have there ever been some ripples in there, where you go, “Okay, this is a leftover from the past.” Again, is this just an adjustment, or what’s your attitude around those things?
Lore: I think, again, the more time goes on, the fewer those ripples are. I think, in the beginning, it was around things—I actually prefer to stay in; she preferred to go out—it was around things like that. I’m just much more of a homebody than she was, and it took changing. He ate—he drank a lot of soda—and ate a lot of sugar before we got married. [Laughter] I was like, “I can’t live like that; I don’t have her body. I have a different body. I can’t eat those things and keep the body that I have.” It took a change of diet and just saying, “I’m not…we are different people.”
Now, she bears the image of God. She has intrinsic value and intrinsic identity given to her by God. I have a different identity and different value given to me by God. That doesn’t make her less than me or me more than her; it just makes us different. We have to figure out how to navigate those differences in marriage. I am a night person, and she wasn’t a night person; so bedtime and wakeup time has been an area where we’ve just had to learn to adjust to one another over the past.
Ron: There’s something else you reference in your blog. You said, “Walk with patience, endurance, and lose the expectations that lead mostly to resentments.” Have there been any expectations you had to lose?
Lore: I think everyone comes to every marriage with expectations. What I’ve learned is that my husband is a different man—that God disciplined him through that divorce—and he does not value the same things that he valued before. That has been such a good thing for me to just realize: “If I wanted the husband, who was making these decisions with a different heart before, that’s the husband that was not a good husband, and not obedient and submissive to the Lord in the way that he needed to be. Instead, I have a husband, who makes different decisions with his money; and yet, honors the Lord and loves me and cherishes me. I’m going to take that second/I’m going to take this husband.”
Ron: Which of those two qualities is worth more: “How he spends his money” or “How he honors his God?” That fills a different bank account; doesn’t it? Right, each one of those goes in a different direction; you’re right. You’re better off with the man that you have.
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening to a great conversation between Ron Deal and Lore Ferguson Wilbert, talking about what it’s like to be a second wife or a second husband. If you’re in a second marriage, how you deal with expectations, and adjustments, and the fact that there are, undoubtedly, going to be things about your first marriage that you’re going to go, “I liked it better with that other person.”
Ann: Just you saying that causes insecurity in my life, like, “Oh, that would be so terrible!”
Bob: It has to be the case.
Bob: I mean, we’re different people; you go, “That other person did this better than you do.”
Bob: But the insecurity that comes out of that—that’s where I think Lore’s point about: “Where’s your identity, and how do you then maturely adjust your expectations?”—you go, “Okay, my first husband did this”; but just as Ron said at the end, “I am where God has me today, and I need to learn to be content in where I am.”
Dave: I think it’s the greener grass syndrome; we all struggle—whether it’s your first marriage, and you’re thinking, “I was better off when I was single”; now, you’re in a second marriage, and you’re thinking, “I was better off…”—I think, as they got to at the end, you have to look at what you have that is good and actually realize it’s the best.
Ann: I would add: “And who you are/that you’re enough,” because that’s the identity piece.
There’s actually a lot more to this conversation. I would hope our listeners would, first of all, subscribe to Ron’s podcast. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and start listening, especially if you’re in a second marriage/you’re in a blended family. FamilyLife Blended is all about how you can thrive in the relationship you’re in today. That’s where God has you; that’s where you can grow, and expand, and thrive. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com; there’s information there about this particular podcast episode/about the FamilyLife Blended podcast, where you can subscribe to that.
There’s also information about an upcoming event, called Blended & Blessed. This is an annual event; it’s going to be a livestream event this year—one day, Saturday,
April 24th—online. All around the world, folks are going to be joining us for a day, where we focus on the issues that are facing couples in second marriages or in blended families.
Ron Deal gives leadership to this. We’re going to hear from David and Meg Robbins, Ray and Robyn McKelvey, a whole lot more. It’s an online event; and by the way, it’s also being streamed in Spanish this year. You can watch this with a group from church, with a small group, watch it just by yourselves. All of the information about how to sign up for the Blended & Blessed one-day livestream is available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. Check it out; and plan to join us on Saturday, April 24th, for Blended & Blessed.
Let me just add that there are a myriad of resources to help blended couples/blended families, with the issues you’re facing, available from us, here, at FamilyLife Today. There are links on our websites to books and articles; again, Ron Deal’s podcast is available. There’s so much we have available. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to check it all out. If you have any questions about the one-day livestream, give us a call at 1-800-FL-TODAY; that’s our number: 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I want to say a quick word of thanks to those of you who have called us or gone online to make a donation this week. We’ve been hearing from FamilyLife Today listeners, saying, “We believe in what you’re doing and want to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.” I think one thing that may be motivating folks is we’ve been offering a book called The Negativity Remedy; we talked about it earlier this week. That’s our thank-you gift to you this week when you donate to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Of course, your donations are vital for the work that we do here. We’re listener-supported. Without your financial support, we could not continue the work of this ministry; so thanks, in advance, for either making an online donation or calling 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Again, when you do, ask for your copy of the book, The Negativity Remedy. It’s our thank-you gift to you when you support the work of FamilyLife Today.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow. We’re going to hear more from Ron Deal and Lore Ferguson Wilbert about the reality of being a second wife in a marriage. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We got some extra help this week from Bruce Goff and, of course, our entire broadcast production team is involved. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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