“If 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 it’s downhill slide.”
– Judith Wallerstein, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study
The issues with ghosts is that you don’t always see them. You may think that you’ve healed and moved on from past situations, pains or disappointments but a new event can suddenly trigger old emotions. Recent studies have shown that the divorce rate for second remarriages is between 60-70% and the rate for third marriages is even higher at 70-75%. One would think that with time and knowledge that the divorce rates would actually go down instead of up. So why do remarriages fail at such an alarming rate and is there anything you can do to avoid becoming part of that statistic?
“No one in their right mind would ever remarry if they believed the statistics about the failure rate of second marriages.”
– Terry Gaspard
Perhaps part of the issue is that people don’t believe the extra work that comes with a remarriage. They don’t believe that they could ever be one of the 60-70% of couples because they’ve learned their lessons or they’ve finally found ‘the right one‘. They may believe that since they’ve already been married before that they know what they are getting themselves into. The truth is they don’t, or really, they can’t. A remarriage is not the same as an initial marriage. A stepfamily is not the same as a nuclear family. Trying to lean on old models and habits that worked during your last marriage will likely fail in future ones because the situation is vastly different.
Addressing the ghosts in your past can be a lifelong process for many. Understanding that your past events impact who you are, without using them as an excuse for behaviors, can be a balancing act. Adding all of the new players and characteristics that come with a remarriage to lingering past baggage can cause stress and tension in your home.
Here are a few tips to help smooth the road:
- Take time to full acknowledge your past memories, habits and lingering feelings. Brushing them aside will only cause additional problems down the road. Be honest with your new spouse about lingering concerns or battles you’ve endured. Having an understanding of sensitive areas is important for each spouse, and being open about your past can help you and your spouse to recognize triggers and understand reactions. You can’t deal with issues that you don’t see and it’s your spouse’s right to fully understand the situation they are entering.
- Carve out time to just be a couple. This includes date nights out of the house and weekends away. You will need time to nurture your developing marriage and to build a strong foundation for your family. Your marriage needs to be strong and healthy for your family to succeed. With remarriages, especially with kids, you don’t usually get the initial time of only being a couple to grow and strengthen your base. You have other priorities to balance and situations to deal with. Make sure that spending time alone is a priority to ensure you have the ability and strength as a couple to work through issues that may arise.
- Pay attention to red flags. This is especially important while dating and should also be addressed after marriage. Ignoring red flags do not make them go away. If there is an issue surfacing, take the time to address it and seek counseling if necessary. Marriages can break down from the weight of issues that have been pushed aside and ignored. Little things can build up over time.
- Communicate often. Make sure that communication is something that is always being worked on and improved. Do not shy away from difficult discussions, but instead find healthy ways to work through them. Having a strong method to communicate with your spouse will help you through every situation you encounter.
- Set realistic expectations. You will have rough patches and there will be difficult times when forming your stepfamily. Mentally prepare for them and gain the mindset that this process is a journey instead of a destination.