Marrying a Divorced Person Awakened Unexpected Insecurities in Me

When you’re dating over the age of 30, the odds of dating someone who is divorced are pretty high. I didn’t mind the idea of dating someone who was divorced. I had been in a long-term relationship that felt almost like a marriage, so I would look like a hypocrite if I wasn’t open to the idea of dating someone in a similar position. Ironically enough, I only dated one divorced person, and I ended up marrying her. My wife’s divorce was never a problem in our relationship (except how long it took), but I was caught off guard about the insecurities it awoke in me.

I’m not a jealous person, but insecurity is definitely something that takes up a supreme amount of my brain space. Admittedly, I don’t think I’m all that great or special as a person, so it’s hard to see or understand why people care about me or want to be close to me, whether it’s friendship or romance. Surely there has to be someone funnier, smarter, prettier than me out there. Usually, I don’t make my insecurity the problem of other people. I keep it all swirling around in my own mind where it can’t bother anyone else.

When my wife and I met, she and her ex had been separated for almost a year. They started dating in college and had been together for almost 20 years. I found comfort in the fact that we had each only ever been in one serious relationship. Even though hers had been significantly longer than mine, it felt like we were on a more level playing field. Actually, I had been single longer, which kind of gave me an advantage over her in some ways. Our relationship that was only supposed to be casual escalated quickly, but it felt good.

It took a few months before the insecurities started slowly creeping in. My wife was so open about the insecurities she had about my past that I tried to do the same, but I hated the way I sounded, so I kept them from her and mainly unleashed them on my besties instead.

One of the things that was the hardest for me was how present her ex was. Even though they were no longer in contact, she still felt like she was looming over me. Whether it was the fact that we look similar or constant presence in my wife’s memories and photos, I started to feel like there was no way I was ever going to live up to this stranger. My ex and I may have shared a child together, but she and her ex shared a life.

Because they started dating when they were so young, her ex was quickly embraced and folded into the family. Over the years, she formed her own relationships with my wife’s family, and even after their separation, those bonds remained. I wasn’t jealous that she had relationships and I didn’t — our lives are at different places, and I have complicated feelings around family anyway. But every time I’d see on social media that her ex had spent time with her family, it hurt me pretty deeply. It’s still a sticky subject for us, and it’s hard for me to articulate what exactly about it hurts, but it does.

I know her ex and I are so vastly different that it feels weird to be insecure about our differences, but I am. I have a big personality, and I’m constantly worried that it’s off-putting. I’m loud, flashy, brash, combative, and can have a bit of a mean streak. My wife has never been anything other than wholly accepting of my personality — in fact, she says it’s one of the things she loves about me, which I find mindboggling. Every time I lose my temper, I immediately think to myself I bet she regrets being with such a loudmouth. If we argue, I fear she misses her less confrontational and combative ex.

After some soul searching, I’ve finally figured out what my biggest insecurity is: What if I’m bad at being a wife? I had been a girlfriend before, and it was something that I felt comfortable with and knew I was good at. But it’s different when you’re a wife. You have more responsibilities when you’re someone’s wife. Some things feel easy — I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll be together forever. But how do I show up for her the way she needs even when I’m feeling like I can’t? Can I learn how to be a little less big? Do I even want to? I’m a caretaker, and I take on a lot of our family’s emotional load, even when I can’t. What if it’s not enough? I’ve wanted to be a wife, her wife for so long, what if I totally suck at it? When I’m feeling particularly low or vulnerable because of other things in my life, these feelings come back, flying around my brain like a bunch of gnats that I just can’t seem to kill. Yes, I’ve talked to a therapist about this, before anyone makes that suggestion. I can’t help these thoughts.

There is one thing I know for sure though. The relationship I have with my wife is the best relationship I’ve ever had. We have so much love and respect for each other. When other insecurities flare up, I never feel insecure about the way she feels about me. As for the rest, I’m working on it.

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Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 122 articles for us.

6 Comments

  1. I am set to marry my once-divorced fiance in August! Reading your story sounded SO familiar – she had been separated from her ex for roughly a year when we started dating, and I went with her to the courthouse when the thing was finalized. Her ex was (in her words) “the smartest person she knew” and was/is also a successful lawyer making six figures while I am a bleeding heart bohemian artist working a low-wage non-profit job. And that (similar again to your story) is what makes me the “heart” of this relationship, doing the emotional lifting and navigating complicated feelings. But OF COURSE insecurities remain about whether I can “take care” of my wife, if I’m interesting enough, if she thinks my interests are juvenile or “low brow.”

    What I take comfort in (besides regular therapy and THC/CBD) is the idea that we complement each other. We’re very different people, and I am very different from her ex, but she’s not looking for that person anymore – that’s why they divorced. She was looking for me. And your wife was looking for you!

  2. Thanks for this, this line leapt out at me: “my biggest insecurity is: What if I’m bad at being a wife?”
    I’m divorced and if I were ever to remarry I think I would first have to overcome the feeling that my divorce, and the marriage that preceded it, kind of proved that I am bad at being a wife! I’m part way there, knowing that it was this circumstances, with that person, which didn’t work, but there’s a lot of unpacking for everyone involved in a divorce I guess. Thanks for this perspective, really interesting and helpful.

  3. Wife of nearly 7 years (together 11 next month) here….
    Wanting to be a good wife is probably half of the battle. Her ex clearly wasn’t the right wife – that’s why they’re not together. She picked you. So, as hard as it seems – stop focusing on why you might not be good enough and start focusing on being good enough and figuring out what that means to her. I feel like my capacity to be good at it as grown over the years as we have successfully navigated the crises of life. We did do couples therapy to gain more tools (with an awesome queer therapist) and that helped, but often times being a good wife to my wife looks like:
    – making her tea every day
    – buying her the odd little treat (like coming home with her favourite type of ham)
    – celebrating her wins, and making her feel seen and worthy
    – listening to her when she’s having a tough time and asking what my role is – am I fixing, or just listening?
    – telling her why she is awesome
    – And, I suppose – being ok with talking about my emotions and needs (I do not like doing this but turns out, I always feel better) so she doesn’t have to guess what’s going on, because of course she can tell something is going on. Then we can approach it together

  4. I’m 31 and newly single after moving to the middle of the country, and I’m terrified of having to date divorced people. Not because there’s anything wrong with them but because the biggest issue in my life has been being persistently alone (longest relationship being the year long one I just lost), and I think I would feel incredibly insecure about how different our life experiences and perspectives are. Not to even start with these sorts of insecurities :(

  5. I find articles like this so confusing. You seem like a lovely person who understands that her wife and her wife’s family love and respect someone who was in their life for twenty years. I’m in a similar position – I think my ex’s ex spouse is an amazing person, who I enjoy and respect – but it genuinely saddens me that MIL now vilifies the ex.

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