No one in their right mind would ever remarry if they believed the statistics about the failure rate of second marriages. After all, the divorce rate in which at least one of the spouses has been married once before is between 60 and 67 percent compared to first marriages having a failure rate ranging from 40 to 50 percent. Thankfully, I can be a little stubborn and decided to try to beat the odds -- believing that as sobering as the statistics are -- my background as a counselor/researcher specializing in divorce would help me and my partner to weather the storms of remarried life.
My main objective after my divorce was to heal the wounds from the breakup of my marriage and to help my children feel secure. I was determined not to repeat the patterns of the past - especially because divorce runs in my family. If you read my Huffington Post blog Breaking the Legacy Of Divorce, you'll learn about how I feel wired to recreate the past at times and have plenty of baggage from my first marriage.
The late Judith Wallerstein, a renowned divorce expert who studied the same 60 families for over 25 years, came to this conclusion: "Of course, all marriages harbor ghosts: the ghosts of our childhoods, of our parents' marriage or divorce, of prior loves and losses, of the girl who got away and the man who kept you on hold too long. You hope to forget, but the ghostly presence of the recent divorce reminds you that whatever happened earlier could happen again. And when the first slip occurs, your fears are often too hastily confirmed. And the marriage, pushed by ghosts, begins its downhill slide."
As Dr. Wallerstien's quote alludes to, second marriages bring many challenges and should not be undertaken lightly. Even if you've sworn off getting married again, the chances are that you'll throw your hat in the ring. According to E. Mavis Hetherington, by 6 years after divorce, over half of women and 70 percent of men remarry.
Let's face it, most second marriages face obstacles that first ones don't. You might wonder why this is so since intuitively we should learn important lessons from our first marriage and carry those into second ones. However, we can get blindsided by ghosts from our past that tell us that our marriage is doomed to fail like our last one did. Piled onto that baggage is the realization that there are often a lot more players in a second marriage -- such as children from former spouses, step-children, and sometimes even new children from this union. Add to that our ex's, their new partners, and extended family members. Simply put, there are a lot of opportunities for rivalries, conflicts, and possible breakdowns in communication.
This new family configuration can cause stress and tension for new spouses who need private time for intimacy and having just plain fun. It's common for newly married couples to crave time alone. But I remember feeling guilty about leaving my two children out -- so we ended up including them in most of our weekend activities -- leaving little alone time for us.
From my firsthand and clinical experience, there are many opportunities for conflicts in second marriages and remarried families. Stepparents and parents often disagree on parenting strategies, for instance, and kids get caught in the crossfire. Past histories can collide and divided loyalties rear their ugly head when kids feel they have to defend their biological parent or carve out space in a new territory -- not to mention often living between their parent's disparate worlds.
Often newlyweds in remarried families start off with urgent needs -- such as a larger home and/or car, and a bigger vacation budget. Money is one of the most common things couples argue about in any marriage. The stress and strain of struggling to pay child support and maintaining multiple residences can worsen financial stress and burdens.
How can couples avoid the pitfalls that threaten the happiness and success of the second (or third) marriage? Knowledge from experts like E. Mavis Hetherington has helped my family to defy the statistics that say we're doomed to fail. In her landmark study of over 1,400 divorced and remarried families, she explains that marital endurance is arguably the key to success.
In the beginning, the newly remarried couple faces stiff obstacles to achieving stability as compared to remaining a single parent. However, aiming to weather the storms of remarried life can offer the couple and their children both financial and emotional security.
Here's a summary of protective factors for second marriages:
• Make sure you have an open dialog regarding concerns of all family members. Don't be surprised if some of your discussions are heated -- especially around hot-button issues such as money, time with biological parents, vacations, etc.
• Attempt to take a minimum of several weekends off a year from parenting and do activities you enjoy with your spouse. Don't let guilt stop you from finding pleasure in private time without your children.
• Don't ignore red flags such as increased tension and clashes in values or expectations. You might want to seek counseling if conflicts increase for more than a few weeks.
• Expect plenty of rough patches -- especially around holidays and special occasions. There are few guidelines for remarried/blended families to show you how to navigate birthdays, graduations, and weddings of adult children -- so expect that loyalty conflicts and tension might increase during these times.
• Most importantly, develop a mindset of endurance -- not giving up easily can provide the stability you all need.
Divorce and remarriage is common in the U.S. and families need guiding principles to deal with the stresses inherent in second marriages. The main factor that contributes to the success of the newly configured family is a strong determination to stay together. In time, family members can adjust and thrive.