Unfair Comparisons: Understanding Communication Differences in a Second Marriage

Graphic of a man and woman in conflict, with their backs turned on each other. Their wedding rings interlock around them, keeping them united despite their communication differences
What do you do when your new spouse communicates differently from your previous spouse?

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

It sounds crazy, but I thought communication in a second marriage would be easy — or, at least, easier. After all, I was older and wiser.

I knew the pitfalls, and I’d learned my lessons. Since my new spouse, Robbie, and I were both previously widowed, I thought we had an advantage over the never-been-marrieds.

Now, more than a decade later, I chuckle at my naiveté.

Communication was our biggest stumbling block. Coming from a previous marriage where communication was easy, I found conversations with Robbie perplexing. And the problem showed up in the most benign exchanges. . . .

Robbie: “Will you pick up some tuna from the grocery store this afternoon?”

Me: “Why?”

I saw this as an exchange of information, but Robbie’s response was one of offense—a “look,” followed by a shake of the head and a huff.

Robbie’s curt replies hurt my feelings. I didn’t understand how asking a clarifying question could warrant what I considered to be a passive-aggressive response.

As these small wounds piled up, I was tempted to compare my new marriage with the old one. But comparison is a dangerous game—one that can steal contentment and set your marriage on shaky ground. Having come from a good previous marriage, I was tempted to see my former spouse, David, as the good guy and Robbie as the bad guy. But the temptation to compare doesn’t just affect those of us who had happy first marriages. It also applies to those with painful memories from the past.

So how do we stop comparing and find contentment in a remarriage relationship? Here are a few ideas that helped me.

Don’t Give Up

Pinpointing our communication problem took a few months. It was largely a result of my requests to know “why?” — a simple question in my mind, but for Robbie, it was filled with ulterior motives.

I saw it as a clarifying question. If I could understand why Robbie wanted a certain task done, I could be more efficient in fulfilling his request.

  • Did he want tuna for dinner? I was planning to make spaghetti.
  • Did he need it immediately or could it wait? Going to the grocery store would affect my timeline for the day.
  • I might need to purchase other items, like bread or mayo, to go along with it.

In truth, Robbie just wanted tuna for lunch the next day. But my request to know why sounded to Robbie, a military man, like a sign of disrespect. It conveyed a lack of trust, like he was incompetent or ignorant.

It was a simple misunderstanding, yet one that caused a lot of problems. We finally worked it out, but it required intentional conversations over several months. Finding resolutions and compromises takes time (sometimes years) and a lot of grace. But it’s worth it.

Control Your Thoughts

The mind is a powerful force, a force that has the power to heal or hurt your relationship. Memories, for example, can help us learn from our triumphs and our mistakes. But if you’re not careful, memories from the past can also be used as weapons in the present.

The way you think about your current marriage will help guide your actions. If you believe your marriage is good and has a hopeful future, you will work toward that goal. But if you see your spouse as inferior and your relationship as hopeless, that’s the path you’re likely to follow.

When tempted to compare my two marriages, I reflected on Philippians 4:8. I built a habit of setting my thoughts on whatever is true, honorable, just, lovely and commendable—excellent and worthy of praise. I had to learn to keep my thoughts in balance. Whenever I had a thought like, “David always . . .” or “David never . . .” I focused my mind on Robbie’s good qualities, compelling myself to think, “Robbie is a good man, too. He always or never . . .”

It’s also important to avoid a preoccupation with negative traits from a previous relationship. A difficult first marriage can cause a person to expect a new spouse to behave badly. Someone in this situation often “sees” evidence of hurt, even when there is none. In this case the offense is not real, but only perceived. Counselors call this projection. This affected me once when I dated a divorced man whose wife cheated on him. If I even looked in the direction of another man, he suspected me of longing for someone else, even though his perception wasn’t accurate.

Whether comparing your previous marriage to the current one is a result of good or bad memories, little cracks formed through comparison and doubt can undermine the strength of your current relationship, making your remarriage vulnerable.

Value the Good

When I married Robbie, I’d been a single mom of two preschoolers for three years. I celebrated my new marriage as a gift from God. But the miscommunications we experienced sometimes made me forget that blessing, and I occasionally found myself longing for those single-mom days.

Remarried spouses can sometimes be like the Hebrews in the wilderness who celebrated their freedom from slavery only until they had nothing but manna to eat every day (Numbers 11:4-6). Even though they were free from slavery and looking forward to a land flowing with milk and honey, they quickly grew discouraged when times got tough.

Likewise, when we’re hurting, it’s easy to think back to a time in the past, even the difficult past, when things seemed better. That’s because it’s easy to focus on the bad in life. Bad stands out like a stinky smell—no matter how small the source, you can usually find it. The good, meanwhile, can be much harder to find, but—much like buried treasure—it’s worth the effort. As Paul told Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

Keep digging till you find the good in your marriage, and focus on that.

Working It Out

Robbie and I have now been married for more than a decade, and while we might not ever be able to read the other’s mind, we do have a new respect for each other every time we come to an understanding. Working out our communication issues gave us the confidence to work out other differences. I’m grateful for Robbie’s strengths, and he’s grateful for mine.

It would have been easy to simply give up and explain away our differences, saying, “We’re just not right for each other.” Aren’t you glad God doesn’t give up on us as readily as we give up on each other? A relationship needs time to mature. It’s much harder to have faith that your hard work will pay off in the future. But our hard work did, and so can yours.

This article first appeared in the February/March 2024 issue of Focus on the Family magazine as “Unfair Comparisons.”

Dynamic CTA Template Below


About the Author

Read More About:

You May Also Like

Picture of pills with words asking is abortion a sin?

Is Abortion a Sin

In the controversial world of Pro-life advocacy, one of the hottest debates begins with four little words: Is abortion a sin? Every possible response feels

A man searches the Bible for what is says about abortion.

What Does the Bible Say About Abortion?

While current culture is divided on the abortion issue, we search the scriptures and ask ourselves, “What does the Bible say about abortion?”