How to Deal With a Spouse's Previous Marriage

Whether you're engaged or have already been married to that wonderful mate for several years, the idea of your spouse's previous marriage can be hard to stomach––especially if this ex is on bad terms with both of you. This how-to is written to help those of you who find it difficult to deal with the residue from your spouse's previous marriage.


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    Assess the situation. If everyone involved wants to try to get along (which is especially important if there are kids being shared), make an effort to be cooperative. Realise that your spouse's former partner is a human being; if he or she is making an effort to treat you with respect, you should do the same. Even if you're in a situation where the ex is being uncooperative or worse, accept that there's nothing you can do except try to ignore him or her and to stay pleasant whenever you're confronted by their presence. The best way to combat immaturity is by ignoring it and never joining it. If he or she doesn't get a reaction, then he or she is likely to give up.
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    Consider the source of your ambivalent or worried feelings about the ex. If any part of you is insecure about either yourself or your attachment to your spouse, the issue of the ex may really be an issue about your own insecurities. If you are worried that your spouse still holds a flame for his or her ex, or that the ex is still "in with a chance", it's time to look at the whole situation a lot more realistically, so that you can let go of these feelings. For example:
    • Ask yourself if your spouse would have gone ahead and married you if he or she still wanted to be with the ex. Marriage is a big commitment and shows that the person has moved on, so trust that. If there are issues of trust, now is the time to sort them out.
    • Have you had a bad experience in the past in which an ex did something to you that hurt your chances of being with someone? Put it into perspective––then is not now.
    • Are you being influenced by someone else's example, such as a loss suffered by a parent, a TV personality or a celebrity? Again, these are not good examples as they're not your personal circumstances!
    • Do you find it hard to talk to your spouse about his or her ex? If so, perhaps it is time to bring up the subject, including your discomfort, so that both of you can find a good way to approach discussing the ex. And don't forget, you probably have an ex too, so this is a good time to get your spouse's feelings reassured about your ex!
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    Deal with any children involved. Don't try to act like you're the biological parent of your spouse's children. They will grow closer with you if given time and space; let them set the pace. Continue being accepting, kind and thoughtful, even if their behavior toward you is somewhat otherwise.
    • Never hold resentment against your spouse for having to pay child support (if this is the case). Realize that when you accept your spouse into your life, you accept all of his or her baggage as well. Learn to think of the child support as a bill that one of you acquired, but both of you accept and pay together––much like credit card balances acquired before your marriage. Moreover, should anything happen to the two of you and there are children involved, you'd want to be reassured that your children are well taken care of, so allow this for his or her ex too.
    • If you think that the ex is greedy or is getting more than he or she deserves out of your spouse, be very careful about you raise this with your spouse. It is better to speak indirectly about the costs involved of raising children and to let your spouse reach his or her own conclusions. Be reassured that they will be doing just that, as it's their commitment to the children and an ongoing expense after all.
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    Know how to spot a toxic ex. Not everything is about being all sweetness and light or ignoring the ex. If the ex is truly behaving in a toxic way, this can end up poisoning your marriage and it needs to be put to a stop, gently but forcefully before this happens. Identifying a toxic ex is seeing beyond the occasional upsets and hurtful statements, to a pattern of using or over-relying on spouse. Some signs of a toxic ex may include:
    • They barge in unannounced to your home space, expecting to be able to see the spouse and/or children at any time.
    • They grill you over your activities, whereabouts and intended future plans.
    • They try to sabotage your relationship.
    • The children say awful things about you that could only ever have come from one source––the ex.
    • You and your spouse serve as the source of blame for everything not going right in their life, even their own bad behavior.
    • They can't help but make comments on the instability or incompatibility of your marriage. They comment on how your spouse and they did things, including criticizing what you're making your spouse do now. For example, "He never used to like doing that. He's only doing it to go along with you. One day he'll blow up at you the way he did at me."
    • Instead of complying with legal orders, they'll do nothing or the opposite, just to keep dragging you through legal processes.
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    Don't dwell on the past. It's likely that your spouse wants to move past the choices he or she made in the first place, so dwelling on it will never help. Indeed, if you harp on about the ex, you might serve as an unhealthy stumbling block for leaving that past behind and forming a more positively-oriented past belonging to both of you. Focus instead on making your time together now a good time, so that your positive memories start to crowd out the ex memories, for both of you.
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    Learn to be happy. Be grateful for the fact that you and your spouse found each other. Be glad that you are both happy. Don't think of yourself as the "second wife" or the "third husband". Numbers are only for the ones in the past––you are simply your spouse's husband or wife, and he or she is yours. It's as simple as that. Keep it simple and sweet and you'll keep your marriage a happy and enduring one.


  • Remind yourself that it took your mate's entire life’s worth of experiences to bring you two together, so really you should be grateful for every single experience in his or her past because it all led up to you two being together in the present. That does not mean every little thing is fun to think about, but having him or her now should outshine the past. You will not feel grateful every moment but try to call that back to mind when you need to.
  • Dealing with a spouse's previous marriage can be very difficult, especially if you came into the picture soon after (or perhaps during) the divorce. Try to be patient. Support your––he/she likely needs it because a divorce (especially a messy one) is very stressful.


  • If you can't stop obsessing about your spouse's ex, it's time to speak to someone who can counsel you about your obsessive thoughts.
  • It's easy to develop a self-centered way of thinking, particularly if you have never been married and aren't bringing baggage into the relationship. Try to steer clear of this and maintain positive thinking.
  • If the ex truly is vindictive, don't sit back and take it. There are times when you might need to bring in counseling, legal or financial help to work out objectively if the ex is being truly callous and vindictive.

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