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I Love My Second Husband. But Not This

Here's why I could live without his large riotous family.

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photo of a family, extended family is cut out.
Paul Spella (Getty 2)
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I have been married for two years to my second husband, Jack, who I love very much. What I love less is what comes with Jack, namely an extended family that loves nothing more than being together. They move like a giant amoeba when they visit. No one needs alone time and no downtime is required to recharge their batteries. There's not an introvert to be found.

Take last weekend’s reunion as an example. A dozen family members crammed into our TV room, which fits six on a good day. This was to watch my husband’s 15-year-old niece play volleyball in a small town in New Hampshire. All 12 pairs of eyes were glued to the set. “Go Avery, nice serve!” they shouted in unison. She is not a volleyball prodigy; the Olympics are not in her future. She’s just part of this sprawling, happy family that I married into, a family that ends every reunion by planning the next one.

I wondered as I stood on the periphery of the loud room, whether I needed to stay feigning interest or whether I could slink out and hopefully not look like Jack’s uninterested wife.

During the volleyball match, that coffee table was covered by legs and feet. No room for me or my beverage.

I’m 61. Aren’t I done faking interest in things for which I hold no interest? I stayed. Guess I’m not done. But resentment was brewing.

It wasn’t just that they loved to be together. It was also that Jack, the man who loved curling up on that sofa with me, kissing my neck and my cheek, saw nothing strange in their heaving group love-ins, a scene that happens often. It’s times like these that I feel like I’ve lost my primal partner.

We were all gathered for this reunion for Jack’s father’s 85th birthday. Aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces, sons and daughters flew in from Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Others trained in from Delaware, Boston and Manhattan.

Very sweet, yes? And it was. As were the other five reunions tightly packed into nine months — Thanksgiving (same cast), and before that their summer vacation on the Puget Sound, and before that the niece’s wedding on Martha’s Vineyard, and before that the nephew’s high school graduation in New Hampshire.

With this boisterous crowd, in which I often feel like a lone observer, I would prefer one reunion every five years. I think back to my youth in my own nuclear family of five which included my parents' exclusive madly-in-love unit of two. If there was a big family celebration, say my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary, then we stayed in our own respective habitats.

I see my three adult children, two who live in London, one with a grandchild, the other in New York, several times a year. I divide my time between New York and Connecticut. Typically we meet for a great meal or a long walk where there’s lots of chatter and laughter. And then we retreat to our separate spaces. We love each other very much, but we also all need our privacy.

Jack’s family likes to sit around the kitchen table for hours with one conversation going on. When they move to a different locale, like the TV room or maybe to go for a walk, they all go in unison. It can feel like a swarm of bees, and often, I want out. And worse, I knew Jack’s family would probably not notice if I did disappear.

Before each reunion there are dozens of texts flying around on the "Big Family Chat," planning and then post-reunion, reminiscing. I asked my son if there was a way I could politely leave this chat.

He said no.

I married Jack when I was 59, two divorced empty nesters who were lucky enough to find each other in later life. What a relief that I would always have a companion nearby! What I didn’t realize is that a lot of other people would be nearby, too.

I can’t say I wasn’t warned. On our very first date, Jack described his annual summer vacation on the Puget Sound, and how the entire family would bunk up in one house. And if there wasn’t enough space, they could pitch a tent on the lawn. I shuddered at the thought of this rustic crowded holiday. But heck, it was just a first date, who cared how he spent his summers? I might never see him again. Ha!

Those of us growing older with our health are blessed to have these elongated lifespans. However, our longer lives also make us rethink our later years. With more time on our side, this fuels both the decision for a divorce and the choice to start over in a new marriage.

However, at this age and stage, I am less patient and less willing to compromise on issues I consider important to my happiness. Take a constant stream of noisy houseguests as an example.

"Managing the children/family of our second partners presents particular challenges,” notes Tara Saglio, a couples’ counselor at Notting Hill Psychotherapy in London, “Very often these stresses are the reason for second relationships breaking down.” She advocates having open conversations and keeping an open mind as the means to working through the inevitable challenges that erupt when adapting to a new partner and his or her tribe.

After a few heated discussions, Jack and I have agreed to host fewer reunions and spend time alone during these riotous get-togethers. We are also planning some romantic twosome getaways, which I fear I may enjoy more than he does.

Jack is a social creature, gregarious and hospitable. And I must admit, after their multiple appearances in our home, I have grown to like a few of his cousins and their spouses.

Have any of you been married more than once? How do you get along with your spouse's family? Let us know in the comments below. 

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