Michael Middleton, 07.03.2017

Making a second marriage work - what you need to know

Conventional wisdom tells us that we can learn from our mistakes, so why is the divorce rate as high (if not higher) for second marriages as it is for first marriages? The key to making a second marriage work is dealing with your emotional baggage, staying optimistic, and striving for a balanced, happy relationship.

Maybe the difference between first marriage and second marriage is that the second time at least you know you are gambling.

- Elizabeth Gilbert

Writing in her book ‘Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage’, is Elizabeth Gilbert’s view of second marriage an unduly negative one? Given the divorce statistics for first and second marriages it seems not – but isn’t there room for a little more optimism when entering into a second marriage?

Optimism is important, because the trap of believing that ‘you’ve failed once’ and ‘it could happen again’ is all too tempting. The first step to making a second marriage work is to understand why your first one didn’t. The second step is not rushing into remarriage; research suggests that divorce is much more likely in rebound second marriages – those in relationships that are less than a year old when the nuptials are toasted.

Besides optimism, the right attitude to adopt is a pro-active one. A second marriage won’t necessarily take more work than your first – but it certainly won’t need less! Marriage, as with all relationships, requires a careful and constant negotiation between you as a couple, with open lines of communication and a readiness to tackle problems as they come up.

It’s easy to underestimate the many unique challenges of being married for a second time; common problems include trust issues leftover from your previous relationship, unrealistic expectations, and blending your families together – particularly if you have kids or troublesome ex-partners still in the frame.

With that in mind, we take an in-depth look at some of the challenges facing second marriages and how to overcome them… 

Understanding how you got here

There is much to learn from analyzing why you married each other and what led to experiencing a loss of trust, companionship, and love (assuming the marriage had that foundation to begin with).

– Dr Kalman Heller

Everyone has baggage. Given the fact that you’ve come through a separation or a divorce, or even bereavement, you’re likely to have more than a fair share of emotional weight on your shoulders. This is completely understandable.

There are many reasons a marriage falls apart, and a one-size-fits-all method of coping is impossible to prescribe. What you’re left with though tends to have some semblance of failure, guilt or feelings of inadequacy. It’s easy to become deeply depressed. But – as you may know by now – this doesn’t last forever, and often you can feel so relieved to not feel awful that you can’t imagine anything worse than going over it all in your mind once again.

Yet, some deep self-analysis and reflection on where your first marriage went wrong is really healthy – remarriage really isn’t advisable without it. Working on these personal issues is good practice too, since no marriage is successful without adapting to new problems and changes of circumstance. Don’t delude yourself into thinking a second marriage will be any less prone to these sorts of challenges.

In any case, if you’re still wondering whether you can ever love again then take the time to heal. Only when you’re really ready for a relationship can you tackle this possibility – the prospect of second marriage is (and should be) distant from your mind if you still have some grieving and acceptance to do.

Second Marriages: the gender divide

Men and women tend to act very differently after the breakdown of a marriage. Generally (and statically) speaking, Men tend to enter another relationship relatively quickly and are more likely to remarry. Women are much less likely to want such a serious relationship again, and very often will seek to reclaim their independence.

Both genders tend to have different approaches to the second marriage too. Writing for The New York Times, relationship expert Stephanie Coontz shares anecdotal evidence of how this difference usually plays out.

The men I interviewed tended to attribute the success of their second marriage to their having learned to be a more involved father and a more egalitarian partner.

Stephanie Coontz

If a second marriage is an opportunity to right the wrongs of the first, it’s in this spirit that men tend to become fairer in their handling of family and domestic matters. Absenteeism is a classic and typically male contributing factor in the breakdown of marriage, so consider if this applies to you. Did your spouse complain of never seeing you? Did your career always come first? Perhaps your ex had a point, so be sure to reassess your priorities before entering into another, similar union.

The women, by contrast, usually reported that they had changed what they were looking for in a potential mate… they were drawn to men who listened to them rather than trying to impress them.

Stephanie Coontz

Everyone wants to be heard. When you marry young, it’s difficult to anticipate what you’ll need in a partner as you grow old together. It’s only natural that your priorities change, and it’s common to be found wanting for something else; if your marriage fails to evolve (and it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault when this happens) then you have to expect this.

It’s important to get a sense of what those priorities are though before you enter into a second marriage after divorce. Have you picked someone like your ex? Are you falling into the same old patterns? If, for example, you need a partner who pays more attention to you – be sure your new partner really does have the time and temperament for that. Remember, unrealistic expectations are the number one killer of second marriages! 

Learning to trust again in your 2nd marriage

Life tends to go better for those who have the courage to trust others.

Dr John Gottman

Trust issues are some of the most pervasive worries to take into a new relationship – nobody likes to feel like their partner doesn’t trust them. That said, having a fear that your partner will leave, or cheat on you, or will find you inadequate, is incredibly (and sadly) common.

So how do you stop these trust problems affecting your second marriage? Well, they’re not going away by themselves, so it starts with being pro-active. Mistrust happens when one partner transgresses the unwritten rules of the relationship; these boundaries however vary from person to person, relationship to relationship. Take the time to relearn your behavior in situations where trust is required, and give your new partner the benefit of the doubt until you’ve properly learnt your new way of doing things. You owe this much to your new relationship – especially if you’re thinking about a second marriage.

It does take time to heal. Don’t worry if some of your trust anxiety creeps back up on you in the course of dating, just remember that those irrational thoughts you’re having aren’t worthy of affecting your new relationship. Has your partner ever given you a reason to mistrust them? Chances are they haven’t. And with time you’ll be ready to give them your whole heart while still enjoying time individually and together.

Consider talking to your partner about these feelings of mistrust – if they’re worthy of you, they won’t be bothered by a few irrational fears, especially if they know those feelings are simply a nasty by-product of being hurt in the past. Dr Gottman – a relationship expert with over 40 years of clinical experience – is entirely correct, it does take courage to trust others, and to trust again. Just bear in mind that the rewards for doing so are boundless.

Remarriage and children

Those who remarry often have unrealistic expectations. They are in love, and they don’t really understand that the replacement of a missing partner (due to divorce, desertion or death) doesn’t actually restore the family to its first-marriage status.

Maggie Scarf

Bestselling author and stepfamily expert Maggie Scarf writes extensively about the problems of remarriage – particularly on the issue of blending families. Being a step-parent is a tough job, and not one that many people are prepared for. Not knowing whether to be another parent, a best friend figure, or something in between – it’s a difficult balance to strike.

Scarf recommends taking on a role somewhat like ‘a nanny, an aunt or a babysitter’ – someone who can keep an eye on the kids, but who doesn’t lay down the law in the way only a parent can (and perhaps should) do. How to bring up children is an incredibly delicate subject, and one that can cause many problems between you and your new spouse if you don’t get it right – try to set some boundaries before you marry or even live together.

While in many cases it’s important to learn lessons from your first marriage to apply to your second marriage, you should steer clear of this where blending families is concerned. Continuity is an ideal you can seldom achieve when new parents and children come into your life, so treat it as the special and occasionally problematic issue that it is – acknowledge to all parties that you’re new at this (don’t worry, they are too) and you’ll be best placed to figure it out together.

Here, perhaps more than for the other common problems in second marriages, having unrealistic expectations are fatal. It is vital, Scarf writes, that families ‘get to work on self-consciously planning, designing and building an entirely new kind of family structure’ – one that will suit your new and unique situation.

Second marriage tips: to conclude

Once you’ve gotten over the heartache that divorce or bereavement can cause, a second marriage or long-term relationship can be the light at the end of the tunnel. But, as with any marriage, there will be challenges and pitfalls; go into this union with a renewed sense of self, and your eyes wide open, and you’ll give the relationship its best chance at survival.

Simply: don’t rush into a second marriage, take the time to learn from your previous mistakes and treat new challenges with the seriousness they deserve. Gamble though it may be, any ‘failure’ in your first marriage need not define your remarriage or future happiness – so don’t let it!  

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EliteSingles editorial March 2017

If you have any questions about how to make a second marriage work, let us know! You can leave a comment below or email us at editorial@elitesingles.ca

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