06/21/2013 05:27 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2014

Second Wife, Second Best?

My neighbor is what her mother-in-law refers to as my son's "second" wife and no, she does not belong to a religious group where polygamy is practiced. Her husband was divorced, and a single man, when they tied the proverbial knot yet his mother sees his wife as second.

But my neighbor has told me that the word "second" seems appropriate to her situation. At times she has felt that she was "second" to everyone in her new husband's family. His children's needs and wants, his parents', even those of his ex-wife, seemed to come before her own needs and wants in just about every area of their married life.

"I knew his children resented me when their father remarried, but I never realized just how much. I come in second, third, or even fourth on his list. Even the little one, his 7-year-old daughter, introduced me to her teacher as 'Daddy's second wife.' Thank goodness the teacher corrected her and said, 'You mean Daddy's wife.' The teacher is in a remarriage herself."

A second spouse shouldn't mean being in second place but there are times when a wife is made to not-so-subtly feel that is the case. While children will always see parents, divorced or not, as "Mom and Dad," they need to know, in no uncertain terms, that when either parent decides to marry again, they have a new life together with another person. That parent and the new spouse have made a commitment to each other that should include personal time together not compromised by anyone else. A child, no matter how young, can be made to understand 'alone time' for Daddy and his new spouse. Be generous in explaining, be understanding with their questions, but be firm about your need to be alone.

A second wife has issues that don't appear in a first marriage. Surprise, surprise! Life is not just you and your husband. You're dealing with exes, their children together, and a second set of in-laws. You may find out that most of these new people in your new life aren't very supportive of the marriage. You are sharing your husband with the ex, the in-laws, and the kids in three separate ways; demands on time, emotional issues, and financial constraints.

Then there is the ex-wife who won't let go. She still feels she can call her ex-husband, (now married to you), for every, and any, little problem in her life. Dealing with that is a major challenge for any married couple. The bonds of relationships are complicated and complex even when two people are no longer sharing a life together. While it is aggravating to the ultimate degree to have your husband's ex constantly calling him, understanding why she does it may help you, together with your husband, find a way to stop it. Acceptable communications from your husband's ex should be important to both of them.

If there are children in the picture, phone calls between your husband and his ex are inevitable. If she is calling about a sick child, a little understanding on your part will not only help your husband but will make his ex see you as a kind person. The problem of being divorced parents is a serious business no matter how funny divorced couples are portrayed in sitcoms; in real life it is no laughing matter. When it comes to the child's health and care, both parents need to be involved. This you must accept. The welfare of pets in their former marriage also falls into this category.

Calling or emailing him to let him know important information about schools, relatives, and children's activities are sometimes necessary too but they shouldn't be frequent. There is information he needs to know and some he can live without.

Unacceptable communication from her would be anything that is harassing, or excessively needy. Does she call him to complain about money problems, or alimony and child support? Is she "email abusive?" If your husband is on time with his payments as stated in their divorce settlement, her calls and emails are to be considered harassment and can be stopped legally.

Is she calling him to do things she can readily do herself or have done professionally? Picking up her car from the shop is no longer your husband's concern, nor is mowing her lawn or re-grouting the tile in her bathroom. Your husband has to make it clear to her that he will no longer be available for "chores."

A red flag should go up if she is calling because she's "lonely" or if she "accidentally" bumps into him, or shows up to wait for him at places she knows he'll be. When your kind-hearted husband feels sorry for her, it is time to have a very serious talk with him about commitment and your life as a couple.

Your husband's first and foremost loyalty is to you as yours is to him. That is an unchangeable fact of life. Tell him that you are uncomfortable having her constantly get in touch with him unless there is a very important reason to do so. Chances are he feels the same way.

Another problem faced by a new wife are family gatherings where you and the ex may have to meet. Graduations, weddings, etc., can be difficult if certain social rules aren't followed. In reality the new wife has to be willing to make some concessions and to act in an adult manner as far as some situations are concerned. They should not force social interaction if is inappropriate. I remember attending a wedding where a woman named Helen had to endure having her ex-husband's new wife, the woman who was responsible for the break-up of Helen's marriage, seated in a place of honor at the daughter's reception. That was not a happy situation and the new wife should have had the grace not to attend.

Sometimes ex in-laws create problems for the new spouse, making you feel as if you are taking away the "daddy or mommy" from their grandchildren. Your new spouse's family may have really liked the ex-wife and are constantly comparing you unfavorably to her.

While it is always best to have a discussion about children, in-laws, and ex spouses before you say "I Do," if a problem arises after marriage, don't hesitate to have a talk as soon as possible.

The rules for a remarriage should be respect for everyone involved in your lives. You shouldn't be considered second to anyone.

© 2013 copyright Kristen Houghton

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