However, it takes a huge amount of reflection, work and introspection to really make it work. Marriage after all, entails a commitment to do right by your significant other every time you wake up. Even more so the second time, or in some cases, even the third time around.
Susan Reid Moore, also known as Hilda Koronel, left a thriving career in the Philippines as one of the country’s premier film actresses. Singer Becca Godinez left the country in the late 1980s to build a new life in the United States. Here are their individual journeys towards finding a second spring.
SUSAN REID MOORE
Susan had been married a few times and was in the process of a very bitter annulment when she and Ralph crossed paths sometime in 1994 in the Greenhills Commercial Center in San Juan. “I was out walking and he was jogging. That’s how we first bumped into each other...literally, “ Susan recalls with a smile.
It wasn’t love at first sight and she says it took a few years before they began to go out. “My heart wasn’t set on going out again after the break-up of my marriage. I wanted to concentrate on raising my son, Diego, who was only two years old when his father left us,” Susan recounts. For the next three years, she focused on getting her career back on track.
Ralph remained a friend, and it was only several years later, in 2000 that they decided to get married. “It was a difficult decision because Ralph had also been previously married. Like me, he was reluctant to go that route too. But I guess we really love each other, and we love being together,” she narrates, “The adjustment was challenging because being our age (in their mid-40s), we were already set in our ways... but gradually, we adjusted.”
Susan describes Ralph as a very nice man who is easy to love. “I never really thought about living in the U.S. I had no plans at all. My life was in Manila. My kids, my grandkids, work -– everything was in Manila and Manila was my home.” However, in 2006, Ralph had to return to California and work there. “He went first and it was really hard for us. I cried a lot and you can imagine what our phone bill looked like!”
Susan and Diego visited during school break and then went back home; but by August, Ralph asked her to come over again. “ I returned and he never let me go back, but my son was back in school and, of course, I could not leave him there. So we decided to bring him here too.”
When I ask her what she did differently this time around to make her union with Ralph work, this is what she says: “I don’t think you can really prepare yourself. Maybe I was older when I met him, and more mature. Of course, I try as much as I can not to repeat the mistakes I did during my other marriages. I believe I have become more patient such that when my husband is angry, I try not to engage him until he settles down,” she explains. “In the old days, I would scream too and cut my husband down with my words. I don’t do that anymore. When I’m angry, I say things that I tend to regret later on. It’s very hurtful and the other person will never forget it.”
Susan also believes that communication is an important key to making it work. “I think it’s very important to always talk, and even more important is that you have to learn how to listen. Marriage, after all, is a partnership. Try not to keep secrets from each other, and no matter how long you have been together, try to keep your marriage fresh and exciting. Now that our kids are older, we have more time for each other, which is really great!”
For those who are newly divorced or annulled, Susan’s piece of advice is this : “Take time before you get into a relationship. Really get to know the person first. Find out if you have a lot in common, if you share the same values, are on the same wave length. It is best to start off as good friends and that you really like this person. Loving him will be a totally different matter. Ralph and I are the best of friends.”
I ask Susan how she manages their blended families, considering that between them there are several children in the equation. “I will only speak for myself on this issue,” she begins. “It’s hard, but we do it because we love our children and though we sometimes dislike our exes, my children’s mental and emotional wellbeing comes first always!”
Susan requires all her children to have a relationship with their dads, which in her own words has not always been easy. “I lost one daughter for 19 years because the father took her and kept her from me. So you also need to be very careful about the way you deal with your exes. I grew up without a father. I know what that’s like, so I won’t ever do that to my kids because it’s an important relationship for a child to have, regardless of how you feel about their dad. Oh, and never bad mouth or say bad stuff about their father in front of them.”
The parent needs to make an effort for the child’s sake, even if the split was not amicable. “I don’t want my kids traumatized, so I always remind them that the fight was between myself and their father and that it had nothing to do with them. I tell them that their fathers love them in their own ways and that no one is perfect, including myself.”
For Susan who has weathered many a stormy relationship, so much wisdom has come with the wounds of the past. “Life is too short so you need to forgive, forget and move forward. Don’t waste your life thinking of what could have been or should have been. Tapos na iyon. Be done with it. You can grieve, be angry for a while, that’s normal and necessary, just don’t stay in that grief and wallow in it. Don’t waste precious time; go get a life!”
Becca met and married her previous husband, a Brazilian, in Manila where they both tried to set up a normal home. In 1985, they sold their business and moved to Rio de Janeiro and stayed there for a year after which they moved to the United States. Unfortunately, their marriage ended in a painful divorce.
Around two years after her divorce, Becca began going out with a new group of friends. “One day at the office, I responded to a call and I remember thinking what a comfortable and attractive voice this man had. The following Friday, I walked into a usual hangout with my friends and there was this guy leaning against the bar watching the performer as he sang and entertained the crowd,” Becca recalls of that first meeting.
“My heart had been shut a long time but when I saw this man, my heart fluttered. It surprised me really. About 30 minutes after that, someone in my group asked, don’t you speak Cebuano? I said yes. She then asked… do you know Benito Miranda? He speaks Cebuano. It was the name of the man on the phone with the attractive voice and it was the name of the very same man at the bar! An hour or so later, he was leaving and no one introduced us -- but he put his hand on my shoulder as he walked by. Oh, my goodness, I was giddy as a teenager about that hand. The next day, he called the office asking for my boss but ended up speaking with me.”
Becca says that unresolved issues from one’s first marriage need to be resolved, otherwise they will be repeated and the possibility of a second divorce becomes even higher.
“I did not want to be part of that statistic. I had anger and insecurity and was defensive. The fallback position during spats would be… Hey, I was divorced once before and I can survive without you because I came back to living with just my daughter and myself. All of that had to go away. Benito also carried the fear of failure from the collapse of his own marriage. We decided to work out at being friends first. The struggle to adjust to a new permanent person was tough, however. We both agreed that we would talk things through –- that we wanted better than our previous relationships. We understood that with this new go-round we would make a commitment to commitment and with it, we felt we had a chance to make it work. It was very tough at first, but we knew we wanted this to work.”
There are three important lessons that Becca has learned about starting over and loving again. First, and most important for her, is that God must be at the center of the relationship. “People are egotistical beings. Early in the marriage, we would stand our ground and dig in to prove who was right and who was wrong. When God’s presence became truly important in our lives, we learned to be humble about our mistakes. We learned to back off and take a time out to figure out why there were issues to deal with.”
Second, she stresses that whatever issues belonged to their past marriages were just that –- the past. Returning to one's parents for compassion when issues rise was okay for a while. “However, it is with our mates that we chose to belong and within that union is where the resolution, goals and dreams must take root. Solutions and resolutions should be faced for the good of the relationship -– at God’s feet and without the interference of outside influences.”
Third, similar to Susan, Becca says she cannot overemphasize the importance of communication and of talking. "Don’t assume or presume to know all that goes on in a man’s heart and mind. I learned that men need you to sit them down and tell them what’s on your mind. I learned that you must say what time and when you want to do something. I learned not to ask for anything or expect much while he is watching TV. Thank him for the things he does around the house. If he has hurt you, take a step back, calm down before talking to him. He may be defensive at first, but in time he will say sorry and give the best hugs in the world.”
Blended families can be tricky terrain, and through experience Becca has found that putting children together from both sides for extended hours at a time can be a formula for disaster, more so when they are young. “Children have it just as hard and it can be deeply emotional to have to see their dad or mom carving out a relationship with a new person. Give it time. They will find a way to become friends or choose not to at all."
Dealing with ex-spouses can be just as challenging. “I did not understand Benito’s ex-spouse at first. However, after several years and most especially after both daughters were done with college, we now actually get along very well. Benito, his ex and I sometimes have dinner together when she is in town. My ex and Benito are good friends too and when he comes into town, he finds a hotel close by and we hang out with Benito’s and my circle of friends, eat out and even go to church service on Sundays together.”
The best piece of advice she would give to someone who has been recently divorced: “The divorce and failure of your union does not identify you or your future. The pain, the isolation, the rejection, the shame, the disappointment, the loneliness -- they all go away in time. Ask God to show you where to go –- what to do. Find a circle of true friends who can be with you simply to listen. One day, you will find that you can breathe again, that you have the strength and the will to take baby steps towards healing.”
Everything works out in the end, Becca says. Keeping God at the center helped her navigate the most difficult years. “We are all such good friends now. It may not always work out like mine did, but God will always be there to guide, support and love unconditionally anyone who asks Him into their hearts and lives. I love Benito more now than I did when the romance part was new. I love the man that I married so much more today.”
Cathy S. Babao, mother, author, columnist, grief educator and counselor works as a communications consultant for various multinational companies, and teaches grief education at the Ateneo de Manila University.
She writes "Roots and Wings", a weekly column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She has written two books, Heaven's Butterfly, a children's book on grief, and Between Loss and Forever: Filipina Mothers on the Grief Journey, a finalist for the 2011 National Book Awards.