Does Love Feel The Same The Second Time Around?

February 25, 2024

Does Love Feel the Same the Second Time Around?

Loss of a spouse is not for the faint of heart. Any solo parent knows that life is already overwhelming. And to add to that, a romantic element can feel very risky. Love the first time around is very different than the second time around, which can sometimes make us question ourselves. So does love feel the same the second time around?

The loss of a partner or a relationship is definitely life-changing. So when you think you might be ready to love again, it feels like new territory and you might be second guessing yourself, wondering if what you’re feeling is actually love or isn’t love. Does love feel the same the second time or third time or fourth time around? Today we’re going to cover three main points. Number one, we’re going to talk about how love feels and is experienced post-loss or post growth. Number two, we’re going to talk about the person. You’re in a relationship with a completely different person, and maybe more importantly, you have also changed as a person. And number three, we’re going to talk about your former spouse: the coexistence of your love for your former spouse and the love for the next person can get very confusing. Entering into an intimate relationship after loss or a failed relationship feels very unknown. You’re not sure what you should or shouldn’t be feeling, and this time around your kids are involved.

Let’s talk about the experience of love the second time around versus the first time.

I was probably 20 years old the first time I actually met my first husband. His name was Bill, he was so cute. And I very quickly was like, “I want to be with this guy all the time.” He was the adventure that I was missing. I lived in a fairly controlling home and he represented danger and living on the edge. And so it was like, “Yes, here’s the excitement I’ve been missing in my life.” And that just sparked even more emotion and feeling. I was head-over-heels and was just ticking away the minutes until it was appropriate timing to get married.  There was this idea that if you just work hard enough, the relationship will be perfect no matter what you do and you can overcome. Who cares if he’s a good guy or you’re a good person—as long as you work hard at the relationship, love is going to triumph. Love never fails. So we were going to just have a perfect marriage.

When I got married to my ex, I had just moved to Nashville. I was involved in the music business and things were happening really quickly. It was such an exciting time. I had actually met her years before in a different setting. The night before a convention luncheon kickoff, I actually had a dream about her. I hadn’t seen her in five or six years, and she was the first person I saw at this convention. She was so sarcastic and witty, and I remember going, “Wow, this is just really, really cool.” Honestly, everything in my life felt magical. The stuff I was working on was getting some prestige and some success. And I remember that feeling of invincibility. The time between meeting her for the second time to getting married was only three months. I just felt so sure.

I was infatuated with my first husband. He was in a band, he was the lead singer, guitar player. He had really great arms. And I remember going to see him play one night. We had mutual friends and had been around each other a few times at this point. He was opening for another band and when they finished playing, he came off the stage. We talked, and ended up standing at the bar the entire night. It was like the whole world melted away. We stood there and talked until last call. They turned on the lights and it was probably three hours that we stood there and talked. And I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is it.” I remember pulling up their band website and showing my mom his picture, and I said, “I’m going to marry that guy.”

We were so infatuated with each other. It was stupid; it was like nothing else mattered: Love will conquer all. No reason, no logic. Everything’s out the window. This man was divorced with two kids. I didn’t care. I was like, “Oh, it’s great. It’ll be fun. Sure, I can be a stepmom. I’m 25. It’s easy.”

I bet if you polled 90-95 percent of people listening to this right now who are single parents, they probably have a very similar story to this with the mentality that we can do anything. We can conquer anything. This is a common denominator for all of us, even though it didn’t work out.

Most people know I’m in a long-term relationship. We aren’t engaged, we aren’t married; we’re just trekking down the road with our dating relationship and it’s great and we’re doing fine. But that next move feels like such a huge step: either get engaged or get married. And we’re trying to be really mindful of that.

When you remarried, how did you know to take that next step?

I look back at how stupid I was back then, and I don’t want to make that mistake again. I want to be really thoughtful and wise this time around, so I don’t end up divorced again.

I often met a guy and then weeded him out very quickly. There could be any minor thing that would be triggering like, “Oh, nope, that reminds me of my past relationship. It was nice to meet you. You’re probably a fine guy. Maybe you’d make somebody happy, but it’s not going to be me.” And there were a few guys who I spent a little bit more time with, but there was always that red flag. And I got to the point where I’d been a single parent almost five years, and it’s like, “Okay, am I going to find somebody? Maybe not. Maybe I can’t get myself comfortable with somebody.” And when Matt and I reconnected (we’d known each other years before) there was something about that. It was not the same kind of spark as it was with Bill. Matt is a lot more responsible. And I was in a place of my life of less adventure seeking. I was wanting the adventure to end. I wanted somebody responsible in my life. I didn’t want to be the only responsible person. That experience, therefore, did feel a little bit more calculated. We weren’t going out and taking a whole bunch of risks. We enjoyed time together. When I introduced him to my kids, it was a very specific introduction. “I’m not introducing you to a man who’s just going to leave you again. I want you to have somebody in your life, but I want you to have the right somebody in your life.”

But I think what I saw in Matt was at the heart; he had the core that I was looking for, just being a man of integrity. I watched him keep his word. I watched him do certain things that had been missing in my first relationship. There was a kind of metric or a benchmark that was set with my first relationship. I started getting a lot more comfortable with him, but I’ll say it never felt like a 20-year-old. And Matt rides motorcycles (Bill didn’t). Matt and I would go on a motorcycle ride you’d see in Top Gun, but it never felt like being a 20-year-old falling in love.

I think the bigger issue for me was I didn’t feel the same excitement and the same butterflies. And so, we dated for three and a half years before I remarried. I would go through the metrics and go, “I’m not looking for anyone witty. I’m not looking for sarcasm. I’m up to the brim with all that.” I was looking for something different. When I found something different, although I loved her, I didn’t feel the same butterflies and the “I cannot live without her.” I think that’s an important distinction because as a solo parent, you start becoming more independent and creating your own ways of how the household works, even if you share custody. And so I wasn’t as excited about getting into a relationship where I become a little more dependent— especially if I’m not feeling what I remember feeling the first time around going, “Am I going to risk becoming dependent on someone again?” And I mean in a healthy way. I don’t mean it in a codependent way. I’m not sure I remember having a conversation with someone and saying, “This checks the boxes,” but I just didn’t feel like I used to feel. I think Barb, my wife, would say that I was just afraid. And there might have been some of that, but it was just new territory to me. And so I questioned it, “Is it the kind of love that would sustain a marriage?”

Elizabeth, there were probably times with Josh you didn’t feel the way you felt with Jason. It has nothing to do with the person. Actually, it has to do with where you were, right? “Yeah. 100 percent. It was exciting. It was fun. Of course, a new person, new experiences, and all that. But sitting here today, we’ve been together for a while. Nothing is new anymore. That adventure’s gone. I mean, it’s not gone—but it’s not the adventure of someone new. It’s just different.”

I remember one of the things I told my counselor early on before I started dating was I showed everything. I showed all my cards to my ex. He saw me at my worst, saw me at my best. He knew me and still chose me every day until he didn’t. But I was like, “I don’t want to put myself back out there again. That was the most painful rejection. And to risk that again, that’s crazy. Nope, I don’t think so. I don’t think I’m ready for that yet.” And so yeah, it is different. It’s totally different. And I feel it for the people who are just right there on the fence.

Now that we’ve talked about the experience of love, let’s look at the people involved. How does that change things?

It may seem obvious and it kind of is, but when it comes to the second time around, the people are different. I’m learning much of how I react now in my relationship is based on how I was treated in my marriage. I make a lot of assumptions in my relationship now based on how I was treated and how the reactions were in my first marriage. And these are things we’re working through in couples counseling. He’s saying, “Wait, I’m not that person. I’m not him, so you don’t have to tiptoe around me. You don’t have to do this, you don’t have to do that.”

It’s a whole different person and I’m a totally different person. My reactions are maybe the same as they were, but you’re bringing in the healed version of yourself. Hopefully they have done some healing as well. They’re bringing in their newness, and it’s just different when you’re with a different person. The expectations have to be different because we go in with expectations of how someone’s going to react or be in a relationship and it’s almost like you have to go in with a completely clean slate. Let the person show up as they are and learn as if you’re a toddler versus going into it with assumptions and expectations.

For me, with my first husband, it was a very tough relationship. He also passed away, and there’s a lot of me missing him, which I know we’re going to talk about later. There were times when (while married to Matt), I’m like, “Okay, there’s a man here” and I would expect him to be Bill. But it would be Matt. And I’d be like, “Oh, you don’t do that. Bill does.” And I could have hated how Bill did it and loved how Matt did it, but there was this pang of grief because he wasn’t Bill. And it was so weird because on the other side, with the same exact brain, I’m thrilled that he’s not Bill. And it just took me a moment to figure out a new normal, a new cadence, a new rhythm to life with Matt. If I say, “Hey, I don’t feel like going out right now” Matt’s going to be like, “Woo score.” If I had said that to Bill, he would’ve been like, “Why are you so boring?” Because Bill was always wanting to be out, out, out. And sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. It’s just learning to navigate a new person and a new way of interaction.

We’re going to celebrate our 10th year anniversary this year. We dated for three and a half before. So at this point in my life, I’ve been with Barb, my current wife, longer than I was with my ex-wife. And still at this point, the feeling of “This is a different person” comes up. And it’s not that I miss the old person, it’s just like, “Oh, this is a different person.” And that could be for good or it could be realizing I’ve got wounds: “No, I can actually trust this person and she’s not going to use something against me if I say something.” It takes a while, which is why it doesn’t feel like the first time, the time you feel invincible.

The second time around, you’re a lot more measured and you have kids and have to factor that into everything and go, “Okay, and this isn’t their biological dad or their biological mother.” And that’s taken a long time for me with my daughters and my current wife. They are closer now with my current wife than they are with their bio mom. They still love their bio mom. But it didn’t happen overnight, which made me question, “Is this right?” The reason this is so important is in normalizing all these feelings of, “Okay, this must be wrong. Because the first time I remember what love felt like, it felt like this.” And the person is different; the experience is going to be different. You’re never going to have that abandon again, the “anything goes” mentality. And probably most importantly for me, I was completely different. So the fact that different people are involved matters.

Jax and my boyfriend have a great relationship and that’s slowly built over time. Josh (my boyfriend now) is very different than my ex-husband/Jack’s dad. So there’s a different dynamic in how they interact. But I can see in Jax’s face that there’s a hole there. And so that brings up grief for me, or even just like, “Man, is this right?” And I think this is probably the same way for Josh too, with me and his kids. We’ve brought it up in couples counseling before where he’s questioned, “Do you even love my kids?” But it’s just a different dynamic. And it’s so hard when you have the kids in the mix and different people showing up in different ways. And for me it’s not going to be the same as having Jax’s dad by my side staring at this boy in wonder and having somebody to share that with. It’s not the same. It’s a different person and they don’t have the same connection and the same bond; he’s not his biological father. You know what I mean?

I think for me it’s almost the opposite for my kids and Matt. I kept expecting them to be like, “I love you, but you’re not my dad.” And so I’d put those feelings on them. But then in the past couple of years, my kids have just spontaneously said different things to me. Like Hunter, on the anniversary of his dad’s death saying, “People reached out to me and said I was so strong. But I don’t feel strong. First of all, I’m just living life. There’s nothing I’m doing that’s different from what the person sitting next to me is doing. I just have a life that has a hole or had a hole. But secondly, I don’t feel that hole because I have a dad, because my dad skis with me, he snowboards with me—all the things that I think a dad should do” (speaking about his stepdad). And so then I’m like, “Oh, I’m the one who’s grieving.” But my kids are like, “My hole’s filled, my life is filled.” And I don’t know if some of that’s just because their dad cannot be in their lives and Matt therefore is.”

When I got engaged my daughters actually asked me, “Please don’t marry her. Can you just date? We’re fine with you dating, but just please don’t get married until we’re out of the house.” But the answer was, “I totally understand and I respect that. I’m not asking you to agree with me. I’m just asking for you to trust me.” And I say all that to say there’s a very important nuance to all of this, whether it be you’re dating or you’re actually married: It’s the idea of a romantic connection with anybody else, whether it’s long-term or short-term, is a disruption to your kids.

That’s just the facts. And so there will potentially be resistance or overcompensation and attaching to that person. So the point is that the barometer on whether it’s love or not is not in your kids. But for your kids, I don’t care how good the person is, it’s a disruption. And to go full circle now, “They have all said to me, I’m so grateful that you got married. And we are so close to Barb.” She’s so different from my first wife, but they trusted me and I’m really glad I didn’t trust their barometer as an indication of the health of my relationship.

When you’re trying to find love again, but you still have a first love/your first marriage or the memory of them still around. How do these coexist?

On the way over here, I was flipping through the radio and some song came on and it triggered me; I started crying. This is seven years after and I still miss Bill. And that is not because I do not love Matt. And in fact, sometimes I’m like, “Okay, so if Bill were still here and if he had healed and your relationship was a little more solid, what would you do with Matt?” And I’m like, “Well, I’m not willing to give Matt up.” And then I’m stuck. I’m in some kind of weird relationship where I’ve got to have both of them and I love both men; I am so grateful both had their time in my life that they do. I’m ecstatic that Matt is here. And the really amazing thing about Matt is that he gets it. He has never once felt threatened. Even when I have a bad day and I’m like, I just kind of miss something about Bill.” It’s not like I’m walking around the house moping and telling Matt, “I’m pining for an ex-husband.” But there are just those times that it just hurts. I miss something, I’ll see a picture on my phone and it’ll trigger something. Or I’m like, “That was a good memory.” And I love that memory, and I don’t want to taint that memory with, “Oh, well, he’s gone now, so I can’t be happy.” And it doesn’t mean that you don’t love the person you’re with.

I had to come to terms that I still love my ex. That won’t change. And that’s okay. There’s a hole there where he lived, and it’s there, and that’s okay. And I’m okay with that. And it doesn’t mean I want to be married to him again. It doesn’t mean that I’m hoping for anything to change. It’s just what’s true. And it can coexist along with those good memories. Because I was rejecting the pain that I still love my ex, it was causing me to kind of diminish those good memories and want them to be bad memories. And it’s like, “No, it’s okay.” We talked about the idea of loving your whole story. I spent 12 years with that man, and there are so many good times that we had. Times from before we were dating and all our adventures and getting married in Italy and our honeymoon in Italy and in Paris and all the things that came with that: our first apartment together, joining the military together. I mean, we have so much history and we grew up together and then brought a child into the world together. And he helped me. He was my birth coach while I birthed Jax. And I have such a soft spot in my heart for all of those things. And the day Jax was born, it was the greatest day of my life. And that includes his dad being there. And I’m not going to black him out. I’m not going to make him part of that process. It was true, and it is true. I think it’s important to cherish and hold dear those parts because they are part of me. They’re part of my story. They’re part of what made me who I am today. Even though we have our bad history too, I’m going to let it be both/and. I’m not going to let the bad overcome the good because that would be stealing and robbing from the joy I have from that part of my life.

Those good feelings that I have about my ex and about our experiences don’t take away from me building a new relationship, new memories, new adventures, different. It’s just added on. It’s just expanding. Our capacity grows. We’re not trying to replace anything.


1. Love the second time around (or third time or fourth time around) will feel different than the first time. Do not be surprised by that.
2. When it comes to love post-divorce or death loss, the people in the relationship are different, including you. So there has to be a tremendous amount of grace and understanding that things are different.
3. Your love for your first spouse or the memories and your love for the next person actually can exist in a healthy way.

Listener Question: I’m a solo parent looking for some encouragement. What would you consider to be your best parenting decision?

So I think for me, it was how I prioritized my kids’ relationships with other people and with God. I’ve spoken in the past about how several years ago, I was like, “I’m going to read a Bible commentary to my kids” because it was COVID and it was enough tv and I had nothing better to do. And that kind of set a groundwork. When my son had his first really major breakup, he turned towards God because he had started a foundation that was created.

My son goes to the gym regularly and a few months ago, he was like, “I’ve been talking to this guy.” My son is in this marketing track at school.” And the guy owns a Christian clothing line, and he told Colton, “Well, you can get a discount if you’ll do some influencing on social media for me.” And Colton’s like, “Great, I can learn more about marketing while I’m doing this.” And so I’m like, “Okay, great relationship, more people for you to learn from. That’s a fabulous thing.”

Well, fast forward, Colton had me buy something from the clothing line for his brother and he said, “Here’s my code. You’ll get a discount if you put it in.” So I put it in, I think nothing of it, and I submit the order. It’s an online website to me. An hour or two hours later, I get a call from a number I don’t recognize. It’s this woman I don’t recognize and she says, “I wanted to talk to you about your order.” I’m like, “What are you talking about? Oh! The code?” She said, “No, your son.” So she is the wife of the owner of this company. And she said, “I want to tell you how much my husband comes home and talks about your son and his faith and how your son makes him want to be a better man.” And this is like a 50-year-old man who is saying this because he has recognized that through relationships that my son has built (both with him but also with God) has turned him into the man that he is now at 18 years old.

I would say that I became far more present with my girls. I was so driven and so absorbed with creating a business that was successful that I just checked off the boxes when it came to parenting. But during the season of being a solo parent, I really got intentional about making moments where I connected with my kids. And I’m so grateful for those times. If I hadn’t gotten divorced, I don’t know if I would’ve just kept going 90 miles an hour and just kept plowing through. I mean, this really got my attention. So that’s what I would say.

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