By Mandy Stadtmiller
“Marriage … You’re in it for life in theory,” my husband ruminated while recording an episode of his podcast recently as he sidelined to talk about our union, which just reached the 14-month mark. “But you can still walk out. I mean this is my third fucking wife.” His female guest interrupted him, rightfully shocked as to what he just revealed.
“Wait — this is your third wife? Oh my God! Why do you keep getting married? What’s the point of getting married?”
“I just love it,” my husband replied sarcastically before getting earnest. “You fall in love, you stay with somebody, and marriage is just the next step. That’s the way it was the first couple of times. It wasn’t like that with Mandy.”
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Listening to their banter, I was tickled by all the things he was saying (“her smile is one of those light-up-the-room kind of smiles,” “we’re perfect for each other,” “sometimes I’m afraid of her”), but it was that last six-word sentiment that stood out the most. With that sentence, he broke down his philosophy to a successful third marriage as the Rule of Three (as in writing or comedy): In the first two you establish a pattern, and on the third you deviate from it.
My husband’s first two marriages came out of a deep love, but they also came out of something deeply flawed: A sense of obligation. Our own marriage came from a different place: He really wanted it, and the only obligation he had was to his own desires.
So what did I do to change his mind about marriage? In his words, I was the anti-wife. (I myself called it being “unwifeable.”) I am the opposite of wanting to have kids and move to the suburbs. The sex got better over time as opposed to getting worse. Our emotional intimacy grew to deeper levels of understanding as opposed to that creepy sensation of living with your roommate. There’s more honesty, more communication, more intimacy — and zero game-playing.
You might be wondering what my reasons were for being open to marrying a guy who’s been divorced twice. I suppose the same qualities that made me so right for him made him so right for me. I come from chaos: My dad is a blind combat vet. My mom has severe OCD. I understand very well that how someone appears to be on the surface is often never even close to the real story below.
To me, judging someone for being married twice would be like judging my father for how he looked or my mom for how she behaved. It’s an entirely superficial and socially imposed status designation. Failure, dysfunction, and lessons learned are how people succeed in life. To discount someone based on their past failings would be both petty and short-sighted.
But let’s be real, there are still many questions that you need to ask yourself if you are going to become the third wife. Say, are the past wives still involved in his life? Will he drop you when things get tough? Are some people just not meant to stay married — and will they just keep making the same mistakes over and over?
Here are my top three pieces of advice for marrying that thrice-charmed spouse.
Rule No. 1: Don’t get married because you’re with some guy who “needs to be married.”
“In none of my relationships after my second divorce was marriage ever something I aspired to be a part of ever again. Meeting you changed all that,” my husband told me right before he proposed.
But how did I change it?
He fell in love with me precisely because he says I was so different than past girlfriends — and didn’t care about ever getting married again. He knew that I was married from 25 to 30 to my college sweetheart and wasn’t planning on entering the institution again anytime soon. (Which I believe also made me an ideal partner for him. I know how tough marriage is, and why you shouldn’t enter into it without some brutal soul-searching.)
As for him, he made it clear that he wasn’t some “marriage fetishist guy” from the get-go. I remember attending one of his stand-up shows early on in our relationship and hearing him say he was “never getting married again.” My friend whispered to me, “Oh, too bad.” But I didn’t think so. After all, I was over marriage, too. Ironically, that mindset made us both open to the institution again — our negative Obligatory Marriage Disease baggage was in the past.
Only when something is truly dead (like killing off all that peer pressure from friends, family, society to get married) can something new, such as a natural, powerful desire make a commitment of your own volition be reborn.
Rule No. 2: Understand what worked and what didn’t in your partner’s past marriages.
There can be a sense of dismissiveness (or shock) when people meet someone on their third marriage. But a lot of times this comes from a simple lack of understanding — and if you want to be a good Wife No. 3, empathy is your No. 1 priority. You best strive for compassion and emotional intelligence … unless you want to be reading an article by Wife No. 4 someday called “Four Rules for How to Be a Good Fourth Wife.”
In looking at what didn’t work in my husband’s past marriages, we both started analyzing his perspective, maturity, sobriety, self-awareness and experience. He gained these things as he grew older, which makes each marriage easier to understand. He was 20 the first time he got married, and 31 the second time. When he married me a year ago, he was 45.
Marriage No. 1: What worked: They loved each other. What didn’t: They were far too young, he hadn’t gotten sober yet and they both grew up and out of it.
Marriage No. 2: What worked: They loved each other. What didn’t: They stopped being able to communicate their needs to each other and he had a malleable moral compass at the time. (Translation: He cheated.)
Our marriage: What works: We love each other and are grown-ass adults who have spent thousands of dollars on therapy to gain self-awareness and compassion. What doesn’t: We forget to have gratitude sometimes, which can lead to petty fights and resentments.
What saves us: We have 87 years combined experience between the two of us and a whole lot of perspective. Neither one of us “majors in the minor” and we are able to draw upon various lifehacks in order to hit a kind of metaphorical reset button — often.
Rule No. 3: Resist the urge to throw his past marriages in his face.
I’m ashamed to admit I’ve said things like, “No wonder you’re twice divorced!” But it’s something I learned to stop saying after the first few major fights (hey I needed three tries, too!). It’s low, cheap, irrelevant, ugly, off-topic, and poisonous. Ask yourself how you’d feel if someone brought up your failed relationships whenever you fought. I myself am once divorced, and my husband has never thrown in my face a similar admonition like: “No wonder you got divorced!” He knows it only feeds the blech. Don’t feed the blech.
Instead, feed the “firsts”! You may be the third wife, but think about it: You have a lot of firsts with your husband. For us, our marriage marked the first time either of us had an official wedding (he had previously done courthouses, I did a chapel in Vegas). It’s the first marriage in which we’ve both continuously fueled each other’s creativity. And it’s the first marriage in which we’ve both been sober.
You may be the third wife — but if you make each other your first priority, you’re guaranteed to be the last.
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