Unless There’s Abuse, Let Former Spouse Know about Your Engagement

A second marriage is the chance to redo everything again: the wedding of your dreams, celebrating a new life and not making the same mistakes as you did in your first marriage. But when someone gets remarried, is the hardest part planning your second wedding or telling your ex-spouse? The event is an awkward one – imagine having to tell someone you thought you’d spend a lifetime with that you’ve chosen someone else.

According to Dr. L. Martin Johnson in Honolulu, Hawaii, the first step is determining where your relationship with your ex-spouse stands. “That’s gonna really vary with each individual. For instance, it’ll be a very different situation if the former spouses are on good terms,” Johnson says. “It’ll be different if they parted by mutual agreement, or if the party now remarrying was the one who left versus the one who got left. All of those things come into play. What’s important is the current kind of relationship between the two of them,” he says.

“The other relevant variable is: are there kids? Have they been divorced for 10 years, or are they not in contact? If they’re both parenting young kids and have only been divorced for 18 months? Generally, the closer the relationship is, not necessarily emotionally, but how involved you are in each other’s lives is what determines whether you should tell someone.” Johnson says it is best that you tell your ex-spouse the news unless your first marriage has been extremely problematic or abusive. “The one exception to that would be if it was an abusive relationship, and you were the victim, in which case, hopefully, there’s little or no contact anyway,” he says.

Deciding what to say is a tough step. “If you have an honest relationship, say ‘I’m getting married again,'” says Jackie Garner, a University of Southern California master’s student and intern at Pilgrimage in Laguna Hills, Cal. No matter how you tell your ex-spouse, Garner says to keep in mind that he or she may not see your second marriage as good news. “It basically depends on the relationship. He can be happy for you, or he can be angry. It all depends on what caused the breakup,” she says. FamilyLawSoftware.com gives a fictional example of the kinds of feelings that can result from hearing the news.

“Everyone can expect Muriel to go into a tailspin. Lorne’s remarriage means that the chances of a reconciliation are finally completely gone,” according to the website. “Muriel may also feel that, while Lorne has found love, she has not. She may feel worthless and unloved, not to mention betrayed all over again.”

However, Dr. L. Martin Johnson recommends that you tell your ex-spouse if your marriage was not abusive. “There’s probably no obligation other than basic decency to let the person know,” he says. “Would you rather them find out from you or hear gossip? The great majority of cases, it’s better than coming from you.”

Steven Kalas, a marriage and family therapist at Clearview Counseling in Las Vegas, Nev., believes that “the more serious moral duty is that we have to alert the ex so that we don’t accidentally put pressure on the children. If I come home to my children and say ‘I’m getting married next week,’ and I don’t tell their mom, they’re going to be in a vacuum. They will be asking, ‘Should she know? Will she know? Will she be hurt?Will she be mad?'”

Kalas says that by not telling your ex-spouse but telling your children about remarrying, you will set them up for enormous responsibility and guilt. “They’ll have anxiety. Don’t accidentally and unintentionally set up a secret,” he says.

Kalas says that he himself has had the experience of being told about an ex-spouse’s remarriage and understands what people are going through, but that he, like everyone else, must not let the children feel at fault. “I’m a divorced father of three sons. That’s the part of being divorced I’m looking forward to the least,” he says, “is the idea of someone else step-parenting my sons. It makes me want to throw up. But having confirmation and being upset about that is my problem, not my children’s problem.”

Dr. L. Martin Johnson explains, “Often times, even in relationships where people have been divorced for many years, the step of being replaced as a spouse can have a certain sting to it. It’s one thing to know that the thing between you two is over. It’s another thing to know that you’ve been replaced.”

Above all, Steven Kalas says, realize that this will possibly difficult for both you and your ex-spouse. “This is part of the grief of divorce. Get over yourself, because that’s the way it is,” he says. “Unrequited love is the worst thing a human being can feel.”

About the author: Krystle Russin is a freelance journalist in Austin, Texas. She holds a degree from the University of Texas at Austin in government (pre-law), with minors in journalism and history. She can be reached at k.russin@Wevorce.com