How to Grow Together Instead of Apart

a photo of a lightbulb on the ground. A small plant is growing within the lightbulb.
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I’ve been married twice. The first time around, my ex-husband and I dated for three years before he proposed to me. At the time, we were sitting in our apartment at the table eating a steak dinner that I’d cooked.

He didn’t kneel down or do anything particularly dramatic. Instead, the proposal came out rather spontaneously. Practically mid-sentence.

“Hey,” he said, “you wanna get married?’

“Sure,” I said.

And that was that. We drove to the Super Walmart (the only real department store in Newport, Maine, where we lived at the time) together after dinner, and he bought me a plain white gold band.

I wanted something on my hand so that customers at Borders Bookstore in Bangor would stop hitting on me.  So I could hold it up and say, “I’m engaged.” And then — hopefully — they’d leave me alone.

It worked pretty well in practice, although some would criticize my fiance for there being no diamond. “I don’t believe in spending money on something so frivolous,” I’d explain. Which was the truth. Especially when we were so poor and trying to get ahead.

A year later, I was married. We stayed married for six years.

To be honest, being married wasn’t all that different than life before marriage. If anything, it was a little worse, because he stopped trying as hard after the wedding. Once I got a good job working for the hospital, he stopped working and went back to school. This would have been great if he had applied himself. But he didn’t. He went part time and failed a lot of the classes he was taking. Meanwhile, he kept changing his major.

All told, we lived together as a couple with combined finances for 10 years. So while the marriage lasted six years, I lived as though I was married for about 10.

The Second Proposal & Marriage

I went on to remarry after the divorce. We dated for exactly a year before he proposed. It was a different thing altogether. He took me to our favorite park and had a speech prepared about how much I meant to him, how he wanted to spend his life with me. The works. He got down on one knee.

And he had a ring. Opal. My favorite stone, because it provides a private rainbow visible primarily to the wearer. And it was his birthstone, so even more meaningful. Plus, he hadn’t spent a ridiculous amount on it, which I thought was nice.

Afterwards, we went out for wings and trivia, and then he drove me to a friend’s house where I shared the good news.

We were legally married a month later privately, eloping in a courthouse ceremony. The public ceremony was held 4-1/2 months later.

“I didn’t want to wait,” he said.

We’ve been legally married for eight years now, living together for nine. Close friends for 10.

I’ve Been a Married Person for Quite a Long Time, But It’s Meant Different Things

All told, I feel like I’ve spent nearly two decades as a married person, in some way, shape, or form. But it’s funny… because my second marriage is so different than my first.

My ex-husband and I lived far more separate lives. We often went to bed at very different times. Rarely ate the same thing for dinner at the same time. Never showered together (he didn’t like the act). Had separate blankets that we each wrapped up in, not sharing comforters. (He wanted his own.) We didn’t cuddle as we slept next to one another in the bed, because he didn’t like being touched while he slept.

My second husband is quite the opposite. I noted when I moved in with him that when my shift changed at work, he adjusted the time he went into his job (he had flexible start/stop at the time) to better match my schedule. He wanted to eat dinner with me, go to bed at the same time. I was delighted to find that he’d shower with me. And amazed when I found that he not only would share comforters but would pull me to him in bed at night, cuddling me while we both fell asleep.

In comparison to my ex-husband, he felt positively clingy… but in a good way.

Aside from that, the second marriage was a lot easier. We had more in common and enjoyed each other’s company more.

I Got Remarried Before I Had Forgiven Myself for My Divorce

Anyway, in spite of the many differences between the marriages, the ghost of divorce haunted me. I honestly remarried before I was emotionally ready — because I adored the person asking me, and I knew intellectually that he was right for me.

Still, I hadn’t forgiven myself at the time for the failure of my first marriage. And I didn’t feel like I deserved the happiness that had spontaneously showed up on my doorstep.

Furthermore, a small part of me worried that what had happened to my first marriage would afflict my second. That there was something fundamentally un-marriage-worthy about me that would rear its ugly head once enough time had passed. And that by remarrying, I was simply avoiding those profound structural defects within me rather than addressing them.

I also worried that we’d grow apart. That as time filtered in, what we had in common would disappear, and other new things would drift in that made us less compatible. Because people change — it’s inevitable.

And there’s no guarantee that when you’re in a long-term relationship that everyone involved will change in ways that make them more compatible.

When You Grow Together Instead of Apart

It’s funny because I’ve spent years catastrophizing and preparing for us to drift apart. And as we approach ten years together, that’s not at all what has happened. Instead, everyone we know has commented on how good we’ve both been for one another. How we’ve made each other healthier and happier.

And as I write this post, I find I’m even happier with him than when we first got together.

We’ve both changed and grown — but we’ve grown together instead of apart.

I find myself trying to figure out why. Why this happened in my second marriage and not my first. And the best I can tell is that it’s based on two major factors. The first is that we are actually quite compatible. Unfortunately, you don’t get a lot of control over whether you’re compatible or not with someone else; the best you can do is make sure you recognize it.

However, the second factor was just as important — because it’s why we’re still so compatible. We both have growth mindsets. We focus less on being right or appearing skilled all the time and focus more on what we can learn from anything we go through — whether that’s inside this particular relationship or in other areas of our lives.

Interestingly, I didn’t have a growth mindset when I went into this marriage. This was something I learned through therapy (something my husband urged me to do  since he’d done it himself and it had helped him a lot) and going back to school to be a psychological researcher.

I didn’t know it at the time, but at the exact same time I was worrying that this wouldn’t work out, I was doing precisely the work I needed to do to ensure that it would.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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