Your Couples Specialist:

Saving the Second Marriages

The statistics are downright frightening:

  • 67% of second marriages fail
  • 73% of third marriages fail

This is compared with about 50% for first marriages.

Research points to some reasons second and subsequent marriages don't succeed. These include:

  • The second marriage may be too soon after a divorce, at a time when one or both partners may feel vulnerable, hurt and lonely after the first marriage ended.
  • The ease of getting the first divorce makes it seem less scary to proceed down that track again. People recognize the warning signs that the second marriage isn't working, then know that divorce is not that difficult an option. Kids are often older and may be on their way to leaving the nest, so there is less desire to try to save the second marriage.
  • Financial standing is different. Both partners may be more financially stable at this point in their lives, so there is less fear of divorce. In fact, combining finances when each partner has more assets may have caused disagreements, and the arguments related to money have added stress to the marriage.
  • Mixed styles of parenting can surface after the marriage. There was insufficient discussion and planning about parenting prior to combining households, and this may have led to increased conflict over parenting, rules and discipline with each other's children.

The Second Marriage Needs Special Attention

Several factors should be considered by couples considering remarrying. Each of the "threats" above can occur when the couple has not spent sufficient time discussing and agreeing on how they will handle these sensitive topics. Consider that you are unearthing the "land mines" before they can damage your relationship.

First, and this one can be extremely important, is for you to consider what caused your first marriage or marriages to fail? Was it your choice of partner? Was it something in your behavior (jealousy, fear of losing your spouse, anger, difficulty understanding your partner's point of view) that you need to understand about yourself and your expectations of your partner?

Second and subsequent marriages often need special help.

If unaddressed, you are likely to take these same concerns into every subsequent relationship. And, what's tricky here is that we may not be aware of our expectations, our beliefs about how a marriage should be and how we may contribute to distress in our relationships.

It's important to note that we don't intentionally do things that cause problems with our partners. The behaviors are often rooted in some past experiences that we are accidentally carrying forward into our second marriages.

For example, if a previous partner was unfaithful, we may be very afraid of that happening again. So, we are very mindful of our partner's activities. To our new partner, this feels very controlling. And the misunderstandings build and build from there. Similarly, if a previous partner was distant, we may be anxious when our partner seems distracted.

It is not uncommon to seek a partner who is as different from our previous spouse as possible -- but that doesn't mean the relationship will be successful.

Money Matters in Second Marriages

If partners are older and more established in careers, they generally have greater financial assets. At times, one or both partners may be reluctant to combine finances. This adds to the typical issues that couples should understand as they head toward marriage: spending habits, attitudes toward saving and planning for retirement.

The research cited above also indicates couples with more advanced financial standing can be less likely to try to work things out when problems occur in second marriages. Both are financially independent and may not fear the loss of financial stability that comes with two-income households.

And, if finances were a source of arguments in a previous marriage, the emotional "carryover" may cause challenges in the second or subsequent marriages.

Parenting Gets Complicated

During your first marriage, you combined households. In your second or subsequent marriage, you are combining families. And, along with children, you are combining parenting styles: what privileges do kids get at certain ages, what are the rules and what are the consequences when rules are broken. And, you are also dealing with the other biological parent and their involvement with the children.

It could not be more complicated! Yet, so much would go easier if, before marriage, the couple had in-depth conversations and reached understandings about each partner's expectations of the other, each partner's beliefs about raising healthy children and how interactions with the children will be handled by the other partner.

What I often see are problems that occurred because these understandings were not firmly established prior to the marriage and the blending of families. Typically, it can be more difficult to reach agreements when you are upset with each other because problems have emerged.

Realize that you and your partner were both raised in your own unique families -- with different customs, ways of interacting and ways you were parented. When you marry, these follow you (though you may not be aware of how your upbringing affects you in your adult relationships). Then, you establish some customs in your first marriage; some worked well, others did not. Then, you may try to blend these same customs in your next marriage -- but your partner had his or her own customs, too.

How Counseling Can Help Second Marriages

Counseling is a process of discovery. You and your partner may not be aware of the forces coming into play in your relationship. Couples counseling helps you reach a new depth of understanding of yourself and your partner.
As part of this discovery, you'll benefit from a new awareness of:

  • How wounds of the past can be surfacing in this marriage
  • How your different "attachment styles" can be surfacing in this marriage
  • Differing approaches to parenting and how to select the best of both
  • Communication styles that keep you from resolving issues -- and how to get to the heart of concerns so you both feel heard and understood
  • Making your relationship a priority in your busy lives -- and how renewed closeness can reduce conflict.

Linda Schwartz is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works exclusively with couples and individuals on relationship issues. She uses Emotionally Focused Couple therapy, the most effective approach to helping couples recapture their close connection, to learn to resolve issues through deepening their understanding of each other's needs and to heal infidelity and any past hurts in the relationship. Linda offers a free, 15-minute phone consultation to answer your questions about the counseling process. She can be reached at (602) 882-0533 or .

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Counseling is a process of discovery. You and your partner may not be aware of the forces creating difficulties in your relationship."

Linda Schwartz, Couples Counseling