Not Being The First

Posted by: Center for Growth Therapists

            You found the perfect partner. You connect on so many different levels.  You really feel like they get you, and your family and friends all love them. There’s just one catch.  You’re not their first. They’ve been married or engaged before, or they’ve had a child with someone else. This is a hard fact to wrap your head around.

            To start, identify all of the hopes you had about where you saw your life going prior to meeting the love of your life. Think about how you wanted them to propose. Think about what you wanted for your wedding. Think about how you envisioned your families being involved. Think about what you thought you would feel when being proposed to, planning your wedding, or planning for a baby. What did having a family represent to you? How did you think you would be as a parent, how did you want your partner to be as a parent? How did you think you would know if you were ready for marriage or having children?

Now, do your answers to these questions change once you include the love of your life into the equation? In what way do your answers change? Do you see yourself getting back to your original answers with your partner?

            The answer to that last question should be, “no.” You’ve imagined a life with a person that has not been engaged, married, or a parent yet. But you’ve found a partner that has done at least one of these things. The sooner you can accept that your future may be different than what you imagined, the sooner you can embrace your partner for where they are in their life and can move forward with them. What you have to understand is, your partner and their past is not going to change. Your expectations need to change.

            Before moving forward, you must mourn the loss of what you thought would be. You thought you’d be the first. For some people, being the first is very important. However, not being the first can be just as important. You’re probably telling yourself that people won’t view you the same way as they did the first person. This is probably true. The reality is that you may be compared. You have to remind yourself that something didn’t work out in the last relationship and that now your partner wants to build a future with you. You may not be the first but you can certainly be the last. Can being the last become your new identity?

            If you continue to dwell on the fact that you are not the first you may experience these unhelpful thoughts:

            1. I’m not as good as the last person.

            2. I’m the outsider when it comes to my partner and their children.

            3. My feelings don’t matter in this situation; this is between the two of them.

            4. This isn’t as special for them because they’ve already done this.

            5. It’s awkward when they ask me how old my child is; it’s not my child.

            6. What if I can’t give my partner children?

            7. She/he might end the relationship with me, too, and therefore isn’t fully trustworthy

            Understand that all of these thoughts, while valid, might also undermine your ability to be present, available, and vulnerable. Can you identify helpful thoughts to replace these with?

            1. This isn’t a competition. You are who you are and you’re doing the best you know how.  The past is over, and all you have is the present and the future. Your partner chose you; they want to be with you now for all sorts of reasons. What are those reasons; can you identify what makes you a good partner? And how can you envision growing with your partner.

            2. As the outsider, you have a unique gift to offer. You hold a more objective perspective. Additionally, you can play the role of ‘trusted’ friend as opposed to parent.  Remember, your partner chose you to be a part of their family, with their children. Additionally, this is all happening to the child. She or he did not ask for this, and any “kick back” is normal. Your job is to be the adult and if you are open, consistent, reliable, and kind he or she will come around. It may just take longer than you would have anticipated. You hold a special place that no one else has to both your partner and their children.

            3. Your feelings are just as important as anyone else’s. You are entitled to your feelings and they need to be cared for just the same as everyone else’s.

            4. This is your partner’s first time with you and you bring something special to the table that no one else can.

            5. It is not your child, however you will make a lasting impression on the child, and you still hold a special place in the child’s life.

            6. This is a common fear, for anyone. What can you give your partner?

            7. Any relationship could end, or it could succeed if you work for it. Do you want to work for this relationship to succeed?

            It may be helpful for you to think about your partner. Chances are, your partner did not see their life unfolding the way that it has. Instead of building up possible resentment towards your partner, can you bond with them that you both are experiencing a change in what you thought would be? They might still be grieving because this isn’t the life that they had imagined.  They might be thrilled to have ended the first relationship and to finally have found you. Either way this is their life now and chances are, you are both experiencing feelings throughout this process. They may be feeling guilty, while you may be feeling cheated or sad. Allow conversations about these deeper emotions to act as a way to connect you to your partner.  Focus on being in the moment and allow yourself to be each other’s best friend.

            Continue to communicate about your thoughts and emotions throughout this experience. Having an open line of communication and allowing your partner to see your vulnerable side will keep you connected. Your partner can also help dissolve some of the distorted thoughts you may be having about the situation at large. It is too easy to let your thoughts go in a negative direction without checking in with your partner and checking the validity.

           Once you’ve mourned the life you thought you’d have, you can now begin to imagine the life that is in front of you. You can now embrace the new you. The you that is open to having a partner with a past. The you that won’t resent their partner in the future. The you that is confident in yourself. How will your engagement, marriage, having children be now? What are ways that your partner can let you know how special this occasion is with you? What do you need in those moments when the old you makes an appearance and you forget your confidence and everything you’ve just worked so hard on? You will have those days. The days when it feels hard, unfair, complicated, uncertain. Give yourself a moment to validate these emotions. Sit with them. Don’t try to burry them or ignore them. Don’t take them out on your partner. Sit and validate your experience. Tell yourself you’re allowed to have these feelings surface every now and then. Give yourself those hard moments, and then leave them in that moment and work to move forward with your partner. Start your newly identified life.