A Second Wife’s Journey of Healing
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Ron Deal and Lore Ferguson Wilbert discuss the healing journey she’s experienced as her husband’s second wife. She suggests adopting a heart of compassion instead of competition.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 26th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. As we’ll hear today from Lore Ferguson Wilbert, it takes a lot of grace, a lot of humility, a lot of wisdom and maturity for a second marriage to work well. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. One of the things you guys have often talked to couples about is how, when we start marriage, we bring unopened suitcases into the marriage with us; right?
Dave: —a whole bunch of them.
Bob: We think we’ve opened most of them; but we get there, and we go: “Oh, I forgot about this one,” “I forgot about that one.” They are all kinds of surprises that come along later.
Dave: Yes; I think, in some ways, that’s the beauty of marriage. I mean, it’s really, really difficult; but you get to open wounds and things you’ve carried. I mean, there are moments, where you look at your spouse; and you’re like, “What is that?!” They are like, “What are you talking about? This is who I am,”—
Ann: Well, we don’t even know.
Dave: —not realizing it’s something you’ve carried in that is harmful.
Ann: It seems like, sometimes, a marriage can bring out and up some of those things in our past.
Bob: All of us have got those suitcases from our childhood, from relationships we had in high school or in college, or whatever has gone on. You get into a second marriage, and there is a whole new set of luggage that comes with that. That’s what we’re focusing on today. In fact, we’re going to be listening to excerpts from an interview that our friend, Ron Deal, did with Lore Ferguson Wilbert.
Lore had written an article for Fathom magazine called “Second Wife, Second Life,” where she just got really honest about the challenges of dealing with the fact that she was number two, and that there had been a number one. That meant—there is just a whole lot of expectation; there’s a whole lot of adjustment—there is a whole lot of reality that’s got to be dealt with.
Ron reached out to her; and for his podcast, FamilyLife Blended®, he interviewed her. They peeled back the layers that a lot of second husbands and second wives have got to deal with. Let’s listen to a part of that conversation.
[FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: Let me ask a question out of the blue: “What’s your relationship with his first wife?” What I mean by that is, even if it’s just your internal dialogue, how do you posture yourself in your mind? Maybe you’ve never met her—never had a conversation—but there’s still a relationship there. How would you describe that?
Lore: I think that, again, has changed over time. I think, in the beginning, I felt more insecure in relation to her. She was a bigger personality; she was—would go out more, more extroverted—enjoyed different things than I enjoyed. I felt inferior to her and insecure. I think the more time has gone on, my heart has just become more broken for the choices that she made, and the damage that happened there, and the way that she placed other gods before God in her life. I just lament that.
Now, I’m in a place, where I/I’m careful to make sure that—I don’t think that Nate necessarily, my husband, needs to be praying for her and thinking of her often—but I’ve just taken the posture that, whenever she comes to mind—which sometimes, in some seasons, is often and then, in other seasons, is not at all—whenever she comes to mind, I just try to pray for her and just ask the Lord to be near to her; because I think there is something broken in her that needs to be healed/that the Lord wants to heal, so I’m just going to pray for that.
I think, for me, my posture has come from just an insecurity to now I’m able to pray for her with more open hands. But I don’t—again, we don’t have children—and I think that adds an element to marriage and second marriages that I think complicates things in some really beautiful ways and some really difficult ways. She’s not in my life in the sense that she’s there; but yes, I hear what you say about we still do have a relationship in a sense.
Ron: One of the things—I want to talk to the listener for a minute, who maybe does have stepchildren, and is in a complex situation, where kids are moving between homes and you do have interaction on a regular basis with the other household/your spouse’s former spouse—it’s easy to have a relationship there that’s parental but then crosses over into the “what was” and “what happened” and “what’s ongoing” because of how the other person acts or behaves, or what they bring to the equation through the children, that sort of stuff.
Checking your dialogue, I think, is really important; because if your dialogue to yourself about them are things like: “Oh, they are such a horrible person,”—and you just throw them into that category constantly—or “They’re the competition,”—or somehow not helpful to the children/the enemy, whatever—that just makes it really difficult for you to pray for them [or] to honor them in front of the children. You just might find yourself slipping down those roads, where you’re bringing up old negative stuff and saying negative things.
[Practice instead,] if what you’re thinking in your head was said out loud, and the other person were to hear it, that you would not be horribly embarrassed by what they just heard.
Lore: I think, too—I so agree with that—and I think/so I just want for the listener, who might not know, I am the child of divorce. It was a very, very messy, very long, drawn out—lawyers on both sides said, “This is one of the messiest—
Lore: —“divorces we’ve ever walked through,”—I had to navigate that, as an adult, watching my younger siblings be torn back and forth between these/my warring parents. I had to watch that, as an adult, sort of interacting with both of my parents, as adults, and learning to verbalize: “Hey, that’s painful when you do that,” or “That’s not helpful,” or “Just as an adult, like, ‘Let’s be mature around this.’”
It started out giving me a lot of anger toward divorce. I had a lot of, I would say, a lot of baggage around divorce. I think the more time went on, the more empathy rose up in me—not just for my own parents—but I think for any adult, who has to walk through the pain of divorce. I think, by the time I met my husband, when I was 34, I had more empathy, just for him and for his story, than I think I would have had, as a 20-/25-year-old, still caught in the middle of these warring parties.
Ron: You say in your blog you hate divorce. What happened to your family, obviously, was detrimental and difficult for you—a 12-year custody battle; you had siblings, and they were caught in the middle of all of that—and you saw/it sounds like you saw the worst come out.
Lore: It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever walked through. I know that divorce doesn’t have to be like that; I know that, if you’ve got two people, who are endeavoring to honor one another in that process, it can look really different. But it didn’t look that way for my family.
It was—I would say it was one of the most formative things for my life—forming me in how I saw the Lord and how I saw marriage. I mean, I was terrified of marriage; I was terrified that marriage was going to be abusive, and dishonoring, and full of fights and anger. The Lord, in His grace, did not give me a marriage like that; but I carried that terror around for years.
Ron: I’m thankful that He didn’t bring that into your life—
Ron: —in this new marriage.
I’m wondering if you had any hesitations, though, when you met your husband, and started dating, and you knew his story at some point. Did you have any black and white: “Well, I can’t be with you then?”
Lore: I didn’t because I knew many of his close friends. I knew the pastors and elders he had walked through his divorce with from our church. I was very close to those people. I knew that his character was what it is, but I knew that because other people vouched for his character.
Ron: That’s very helpful; that’s a wise thing to do.
Lore: I think it’s necessary in these things. I think it’s necessary, no matter who you marry. I think it should be a part of that process of getting to know someone. But yes, I’m just really grateful that I didn’t have those concerns kind of coming along as baggage.
Bob: Let me break in here. We’re listening to a portion of a conversation that Ron Deal, the head of FamilyLife Blended®, had with Lore Ferguson Wilbert about the reality of being a second wife or a second husband in a marriage.
That point about doing a little bit of a background check and having others, who can vouch for the character—she was right; that matters, whether it is a first marriage/a second marriage—don’t just allow your own blinded infatuation to carry you through this. If you’ve got friends or family members, who are throwing up red flags about the relationship, you need to pay attention to those. If you don’t have people, who are throwing in the red flags, ask your friends, “Is there anything you think I’m missing here?”
Ann: I think it’s a little bit like wearing sunglasses. You see the person, and you think you know everything; but there are parts that you don’t. To ask someone else can be a really wise move; but let me ask you this: “If you are going into a second marriage, would you ask a former wife about her husband that you are engaged to?”
Bob: You know, I think that so dependent on all of the dynamics of how the breakup happened—
Bob: —and what the level of anger or hostility in all of that is.
Ann: She may have nothing nice to say, or he may—
Bob: I don’t think/you just have to recognize: “If you are going to ask that question, you’re going to get a subjective answer. You have to filter that through whatever wounds or pain led them to where they are.” I think I might ask, but I don’t know that I would necessarily take the answer—
Bob: —as being, “Well, this is for real or for sure.” I’d be more likely to ask other family members, people at church—that’s where I’d go—I’d go to the people, who know that other person on a spiritual level—
Bob: —who’ve watched what their walk with Jesus looks like—
Bob: —and they can comment on that.
Dave: As hard as it is, you want honesty.
Dave: You really want to know.
Bob: At the end of the day, their walk with Jesus is going to be the key thing to the success of that new relationship; right?
Bob: We want to continue hearing an excerpt from Ron’s conversation with Lore Ferguson Wilbert. Let me just say: Ron is going to be hosting an event, here in about four weeks, called Blended & Blessed. This is an annual event, that we do at FamilyLife®, that is the premier event for couples, who are in second marriages/couples who are in blended families—couples who are looking for help for their relationship—they just want to strengthen the relationship that they are in today.
You can go online to find out more about Blended & Blessed. It’s an online event this year. People are going to be watching from all around the world. Some couples will watch on their own; other couples will get together with other couples. There are churches that will be hosting this event. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about Blended & Blessed. It’s coming up four weeks from this weekend; that’s April 24th. The information is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Let’s pick up the conversation. This, again, is Ron Deal with Lore Ferguson Wilbert, talking about the dynamics of being a second wife.
[FamilyLife Blended Podcast]
Ron: Lore, I want to go back to something we were talking about earlier. We were talking about the wounds that your husband has from his previous relationship. You say in your blog, “The wounds of a former spouse can be deep and raw; and a mere misstep of the second spouse”—that would be you—“can be wildly more painful than we knew.” Tell me about a time when you inadvertently stepped on something raw and painful, and what did you learn from it?
Lore: Yes! I’ll give you an example from this morning, if I can.
Ron: Hey, relevant to today; that’s great.
Lore: Yes. We’re navigating life in this pandemic season, and we’re just trying to figure out some new rhythms in our home and some new normal. He’s not normally here in the morning, but he’s been here. That’s a new thing for me; I usually work from home, and I’m by myself.
We are trying to figure out a new morning prayer rhythm. This morning, he’s trying to implement some family prayer for us. He mentioned it last week; and I said, “Go for it.” This morning, he said, “Well, why don’t you take leadership on this?” I was like, “No, I want you to do it.” He was like, “Well, I’ve been doing it the past couple of days, and you fussed at me.” What I realized was—in his previous marriage, he was very passive; and he did not take leadership—he will admit that freely; he would say that, now, if he was sitting here. When I criticize his leadership, in even small ways, what that’s doing is sort of tamping down that little sprout of leadership.
He really is a good leader; I mean, he’s such a good leader at work, and in the church, and in our marriage. But in those moments, where I’ve specifically said, “Hey, would you take leadership in this?” and then I come in and say, “Well, why aren’t we doing it this way?” I’m aware that that thing right there—because how much she criticized and wounded him for his leadership in their marriage—I need to be careful around how I speak about it. I need to water it and give it sunshine instead of crush it under sort of a deluge of whatever I’m thinking at the moment.
Ron: It’s an ongoing learning experience; right?
Ron: I mean, that’s life: we recognize, and we work on it.
Lore: I think that’s so good; I’m so glad you said that. Because you know, we have a big blowup about something—we have conflict around something—and it gets ironed out and worked through; and we think, “Okay; now, we get it. We’re never going to have to deal with that again.” [Laughter]
Ron: I wish.
Lore: That’s just not the way that humans work.
Lore: We have to come again, and again, and again to the same things and make sure that we’re repenting often, and naming our sin often/our specific sin against another often. It’s just an ongoing process. It’s like peeling an onion in a lot of ways. You’re just constantly peeling back those layers, again and again, to get to the root of what God wants to heal.
Ron: It does get easier. I mean, the more we invite the Spirit in, and the more discipline we apply to ourselves, with time, we do shift those patterns and behaviors; and it does get easier. But even from a neurological standpoint, literally, you’ve got to rewire your brain sometimes—and that just takes time—so cut yourself a break.
Lore: Yes, it does take time; and it also/it takes another person to help rewire our brains. We can’t just do that by ourselves. If we’re with someone—with whom that conflict just keeps coming up again, and again, and again; and we’re not able to seek healing or have a good conversation about it—it might be time to bring in a third person, who is going to help sort of do the work of rewiring brain networks, and neural pathways, and all those things.
Ron: That might be a counselor, or a coach, or a pastor, somebody who’s really—and depending on the depth of the problem, somebody who’s really trained—a therapist to lead you through that.
Well, Lore, I want to come full circle to some of the themes that we started with and just wrap it up by, again, giving back to you some of the words in this really insightful blog that you wrote called “Second Wife, Second Life.” You say that: “Even though you are his second wife,”—in the blog, you say—“this is still his and your first life.” Yes, you’re the second wife, but this is your first life—“your first and only life,”—you said—“and that your one aim is to be found faithful within it.” How does being found faithful help when you feel second?
Lore: Well, I think remembering I am not second to God. I’m not an afterthought to God—rooting my identity in the Lord—knowing that I was perfectly formed by Him for this life. That includes, for me, 34 years of singleness; and now, 5 years of marriage with my husband; and whatever the future might hold. I don’t know what the future holds. The Lord has only given me one life. The Lord has crafted me for this life, and so not thinking of myself as second in that way to the Lord.
Then I think—I think it’s just a process, you know?—I don’t think that anyone does this perfectly. We are all navigating life differently with the faith that we have, and the story that we have, and the insight that we have. I think it looks different for everyone. We have to give ourselves a lot of patience, and give the other a lot of patience, and walk by the Spirit.
Ron: What you just said would be really good advice to somebody, who is really struggling with being second. Is there anything else that you might add to that for somebody, who is really wrestling with: “Yes, I really want to be first; but I’m not his first”?
Lore: It’s just so helpful for me to remember that: “Today, I am his first; and today, I’m the choice that he has made to love, and honor, and walk with in sickness and health, and all those things.” That helps me just to keep my eyes on today—on what I can do today—and not be thinking about all that’s come in the past, whether that’s a first marriage, or whether it’s just a history of a sexual past, or an emotional past that someone has.
It just helps me remember that God’s doing something new today—He’s doing something new in our marriage today; He’s doing something new in the world today; He’s doing something new in the church today—and I get to be a part of that today. That helps me to feel less like second best, or secondhand, or plan B. I’m not plan B to God, and I’m not plan B for my husband in God’s eyes.
Bob: Well, we’ve been listening, again, to a conversation Ron Deal had with Lore Ferguson Wilbert. As she’s talking, I keep thinking about one of my favorite verses in Scripture from Isaiah, where Isaiah says that God brings beauty from ashes. Ron Deal has often said: “Every second marriage/every blended family, these are born out of loss, whether it is the death of a spouse or a divorce. Whatever it is, you are coming from a place of loss.” There are ashes at your feet; and God says, “Watch what I can do with these ashes. I can make something beautiful out of this.”
Ann: I love what she said in her blog, when she said, “This is still your first and only life.” When I’ve talked to engaged women, whose fiancé has a past—and a lot of times even a sexual past—I’ll say, “But there is no one else in the entire universe like you.
Ann: “This is all new.” But that is not always easy to remember in the moment.
Dave: I think, sort of, one of the lies of the enemy is to take us into the past—
Dave: —and sort of have us live there, when it’s the past. It was hurtful; but it’s gone, and it’s done. We have to go the future; but more importantly, live right here.
Bob: You need to hear these things, not just once; you need to hear them over and over again. That’s why people subscribe to Ron Deal’s FamilyLife Blended podcast, so they can listen to new episodes; and they can go back and listen, again, to episodes that really spoke to them. There is information on our website, at FamilyLifeToday.com, about how you can subscribe to the podcast as well.
It’s why people are going to be joining us on Saturday, April 24th, for the one-day livestream event called Blended & Blessed, our annual event to help strengthen couples, who are in blended marriages/blended families. When you sign up for this event, as a church, your church will have access to this content on an ongoing basis. There is more information about the one-day livestream event available on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Ron Deal will be giving leadership to this and will be speaking at the event, along with a whole host of speakers. Again, it’s a great one-day event called Blended & Blessed. Get the information you need on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you have any questions; or we can help you get signed up for the event.
Of course, speaking of the event, David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife, is here with us. This event, this podcast, all that we are doing to help blended marriages and families really is part of the larger commitment that we have, here, at FamilyLife to effectively develop godly marriages and families.
David: Thanks, Bob. You know, the vision at FamilyLife has been, for a very long time, that we would be about every home being a godly home. Everything we do points to: “How do we pursue people and families and help them grow in their godliness?” That’s why I’m so thankful for Ron Deal being a part of the FamilyLife team, helping blended families—a large subset of families in our nation—with very unique challenges. It’s why we are grateful for events like Blended & Blessed because, many times, blended families will go to marriage events at their church—and just seems like there are helpful things—but it doesn’t always connect to their exact situation.
That’s exactly what Blended & Blessed is for. It’s a whole event specifically designed for the unique challenges and opportunities blended families have. It’s coming up soon. I would encourage you—if you are part of a blended family, if you know someone who is in a blended family, if you want to minister and understand the needs of blended families—I would encourage you to sign up and pass on that information.
But it’s also why we develop resources like the FamilyLife Blended podcast. We want a place, where blended families can know there is something coming for them/uniquely wired for them. Make sure to check out Ron’s FamilyLife Blended podcast and Blended & Blessed.
Bob: Yes; again, you can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, for information about the podcast and about Blended & Blessed.
And with that, we’ve got to wrap up for this week. Thanks for joining us. I hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to talk with our friends, Jackie and Stephana Bledsoe, about the phases that a marriage goes through and how we need to adapt and adjust when our marriage is in a new stage or in a new phase. I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We got some extra help this week from Bruce Goff; of course, our entire broadcast production team is involved. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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