How Being Divorced Has Helped My Second Marriage

02/08/2012 12:29 pm ET | Updated Apr 09, 2012

I was divorced before 30 and remarried at 31. My first marriage was a year-long disaster that ended with me leaving my husband on my lunch break. I never would have pegged myself as the "Dear John" type, but our relationship had reached the point where leaving was essential, and my then-husband hadn't been acting what I would call reasonable. While starting a new life as a 29-year-old divorcee was far from a picnic, my first marriage wasn't a complete waste of time. Frankly, being divorced has been good for my second marriage. Here are just a few of the things that I gained:

Perspective on the wedding
When I planned my second wedding, simplicity ruled the day. I realized that it didn't matter what we wore or how fancy the food was--attending to the wedding details was less important than attending to our relationship. So we planned a fun party with semi-formal outfits, farmer's market flowers, barbecue fixings, apple pies, and local microbrews. Rather than jetting off to a tropical island after the wedding, we sped home and feasted on newlywed sex and leftover Chinese food.

A different take on vows
My second husband is a scientist who took a very conscientious approach to writing our vows, refusing to say anything along the lines of "until death do us part" since so many marriages don't, in fact, last that long. The romantic in me found this disappointing, but the realist saw an opportunity to create vows that acknowledge the possibility of failure in a way that (hopefully) sets us up for success. Our vows focus more on effort, honesty, and intention, a la, "Know that I will give all that I can to fulfill our lives and dreams together."

Awareness of relationship vulnerability
Watching my first marriage break down taught me the need for relationship vigilance. Being cognizant of the fact that my dear husband and I are not stuck with each other--things could, indeed, fall apart--benefits our relationship in three ways. One, it helps me remember to let the little things go. When my husband does something inconsequential that I find annoying, I remind myself that overall, he is an amazing partner, and I keep my mouth shut. But I'm not above sighing deeply once he's out of earshot. Or rolling my eyes; I'm a champion eye-roller. Two, it helps me examine my own annoying habits, because like most people, I have a tendency to reserve my least charming behavior for those who love me. Three, it pushes me to be proactive when we drift a bit too far off course. While marriages have their ups and downs, it's best to avoid crossing certain lines in the emotional sand.

Appreciation for steadiness
Life's too short to live in a constant state of conflict, but many people come to find themselves living with a spouse who essentially hates them--and the feeling is probably mutual. Since my first marriage became emotionally destructive and downright dramatic (the stuff of bad talk shows!), I have a true appreciation for the steady simplicity of a healthy union. These days, life with my husband rarely screams "romance novel," but that's okay with me. We respect each other, and most of the time, we bring out the best in each other. In a good marriage, not every day will be perfect, but every day is an opportunity to keep choosing each other.

Am I glad that I had a "starter marriage" to help me learn these lessons? On the contrary. I wish I'd married the right person the first time around, but whether or not my husband realizes it, I am definitely a better spouse for having been through my divorce.

Minneapolis-based writer Emma Wilhelm edits the blog Divorced Before 30 and also writes about life, love, and parenthood (with a little edge) at Emmasota. This piece was inspired by her yet-to-be published relationship memoir, From Splitsville, With Love.