Third Time’s the Charm: Tips for a Successful Remarriage

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third times the charm

Joan Leof shares her inspiring love story—the third time’s the charm!

Joan Leof’s life work is to help others empower themselves through both therapeutic and creative writing. She created her own business, Write to Heal where she facilitates journal workshops for groups and individuals. Joan has filled 238 journals and published many personal essays. She is also the author of a memoir, Fatal If Swallowed: Reclaiming Creativity and Hope Along the Uncharted Path. Her new book is a collection of her personal essays called Matryoshka: Uncovering Your Many Selves Through Writing. It includes questions for reflection or writing at the end of each essay.

I interviewed Joan about her chapter on remarriage, Third Time’s the Charm: Why I was grateful to become a member of the Thrice-Married Club. Highlights of our radio show interview appear below.

Third Time’s the Charm: Tips for a Successful Remarriage

Your chapter on the thrice-married club begins, It wasn’t a club that I ever wanted to join. Only 3.5 percent of married Americans belong. Yet, at 55, I was grateful to become a member of the Thrice-Married Club. How did you remain so hopeful and optimistic for this third marriage?

I never stopped working on myself and the lessons I learned with all of my romantic relationships, not just my marriages. I didn’t allow myself to feel like a victim. I learned how to make healthy choices. I wanted a partner, but I also wanted a spiritual path, and work that I loved. A partner was not something that wholly defined who I was. 

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was when someone asked, “Are you in love? You’re just glowing.” I was not in love with a partner, I was high on life!

Sometimes I also felt like I was in an outward bound program, learning to survive alone. I learned to make the whole range of emotions work for me.

You wrote, I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t enter into my first two marriages with the same evolved consciousness that prompted me to stop eating meat or prefer walking to owning a car. What did I truly know about love, or self, at 23 when I got married in the mid-’60s?” What did you learn from your past two marriages? 

In the first marriage, we were in counseling, and the counselor said something that stuck with me. He said, “It’s not fair to expect someone to read your mind. You have to ask for what you need.” Many of us don’t ask for our needs. Many of us don’t even know our own needs. That was one of the biggest things I learned. It still took a long time to know I deserved to have my needs met. I had to heal my own wounds. We all bring wounds to a relationship. 

After your second marriage failed, you wrote It took a decade to heal this time, but I continued to believe I would find the “right man” to spend the rest of my life with. I don’t think it was a coincidence that when I finally learned to understand my wounds and the management of them, and finally believed I deserved a husband who could do the hard work of having a marriage succeed, Lee appeared.

We were both 50. He, too, had been previously married. Like my two prior husbands, Lee was sensitive and open-minded. But unlike the others, he had learned to manage his sensitivity. His out-of-the-box thinking enriched his life rather than destroyed it.”

What are some keys to making marriage work?

a. It’s understanding that you’re a team. There’s this third entity, the marriage, the union. You make conscious positive choices to honor something bigger than you both.

b. Don’t believe that divorce was a failure, but rather a lesson.

c. Keep working on yourself to be emotionally healthy. My wounds haven’t fully healed. Triggers still come up. I still work on them and own them and manage them. My husband helps me manage them. 

d. Be clear with each other.

e. Talk to a therapist, a confidant, someone who can help you talk through your stuff. Your partner is not everything for you.

f. Believe in yourself. 

g. Believe that a good marriage is not a myth. It requires hard work. And I found a man who was ready to do the hard work. 

I was happy to find that at 50 there could still be “firsts.” Lee taught me how to be part of a “team”—to see beyond my challenges and dreams, beyond his challenges and dreams to create that larger entity that is “us.” He wasn’t a cook like my Indian husband. But he knew the ingredients for a healthy marriage: openness, humor, patience and respect.” 

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