October: Second Marriages
Susan and Roger, both divorced and in their early 50’s, fell in love three years ago after seeing each other frequently at the sports events of their kids. Susan had custody of her two girls, Roger had custody of his three girls from when the youngest was one year old, thanks to a drug habit of his ex-wife. He worked at his profession more than full time, rushing home to prepare dinner, do laundry and coach sports. His home was noisy, with piles of unfolded clothes, dog hairs on the floors and beds and unwashed dishes in the sink. Susan did not work and took pride in running an attractive, quiet refuge of a home.
Roger wanted to consolidate households and get married. He believed it made financial sense to blend expenses. His girls were delighted when Susan took them for shopping and manicures. Susan balked, saying she couldn’t stand the chaos that Roger and his girls would bring to her sanctuary. They consulted a couple therapist.
“Remarriage is the triumph of hope over experience” said Samuel Johnson. Is a second marriage better than the first? What makes it successful? Burdened with children and debt, grumpy ex-spouses and emotional trauma, don’t more second marriages fail?
According to the Census Bureau “Marital Events of Americans: 2009”, second marriages are briefer, with a median of 14.5 years versus 20.8 years but they begin further along in the life cycle. Experts believe that second marriages end in divorce less often than in the death of a spouse.
Elizabeth Bernstein of the Wall Street Journal of September 20, 2011 wrote an article: “Secrets of a Second Marriage: Beat the Eight Year Itch” in which she looked at factors that contribute to a successful second marriage. She believes that experience is indeed a good thing, that “practice makes perfect” and that people learn from the mistakes of their first failed marriage. They are more mature, know themselves better and what they can or can’t live with in a partner. They understand that marriage is a commitment. She recommends that people spend some time alone, reflecting on what went wrong, what they may have contributed to a marital failure. She suggests that people figure out why they want to be married.
People should get to know each other as friends and not “marry in haste” to “repent at leisure”. Judy Osborne, LMHC, director of Stepfamily Associates in Brookline states: “pressure for an instant family leads to stressful relationships”. She describes the Fantasy stage of falling in love where adults have positive fantasies about the new partnership, perhaps ignoring annoying or off-putting behaviors or traits. Inevitably, the relationship evolves as people are desperate to make second marriages work but face the need for compromise and capitulation to the needs of others. The better people get to know a potential partner, the greater chances for a successful second marriage and the fewer surprises.
Another important variable is “baggage”, the unresolved emotions and complications from a previous divorce that may influence a new relationship. Angry feelings and behavior toward and from an ex-spouse can erode second marriages. In addition, children do not always welcome new partners, step-siblings or schedules.
With the support of a couples therapist, Roger told his girls that one of the obstacles to combining households and marriage was Susan’s reluctance to live in chaos. He asked their help in showing Susan that they could raise their standards of house hygiene and noise. They were eager to help and, as of this writing, seem to be moving closer to blending homes.
What critical questions should couples consider before remarriage? Here are some suggestions:
- How are we going to handle money? Many second marriages have separate finances: his, hers and ours. What are our financial obligations and goals? Are we spenders or savers? How will we make financial decisions?
- What are our expectations of how we will manage and prioritize the needs of our house, kids, ex-spouses, extended family and friends, chores, professional and social obligations? Who will make parenting decisions?
- Have we shared our mental and physical health histories?
- Can we talk about our physical, emotional and spiritual needs?
- How do we manage conflicts? Between ourselves and among kids?
- What values do we share? What values are important to me? What values don’t we share?
- What are our interests and preferred activities? Together and separately? How do we like and want to spend our time?
- What things are we not prepared to give up in the marriage?
- Have you consulted with a therapist or trusted professional who can help you each explore conflicts you have in your relationships?
Judy Osborne, MA, CAGS will be presenting Wisdom for Step-families and Separated Parents on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 12:00pm – 2:00pm in the Human Resources Training Room at 25 Buick Street. To register, go to http://www.bu.edu/hr/training/life-enhancement/. The program is for anyone interested in understanding more about stepfamilies, divorce, and remarriage.
by Bonnie Teitleman, LICSW