Starting over

How to avoid becoming an unhappy statistic in your second marriage.

wedding 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
wedding 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Yoni, 53, and Sarah, 50, married for 30 years, decided to divorce. The couple’s three children were grown up and out of the house. The couple had a rocky marriage and thought that one day they would probably separate. In fact, they waited for the children to reach a more mature age before doing so. They had tried individual and marital counseling to see if there was any hope of keeping the marriage together. Their conclusion, after years of therapy, was “no.”
A year after their divorce, Yoni was already deeply in love with a new woman, and decided to get married. Sarah was still very much feeling the effects of her divorce and trying to figure out her next steps. She was filled with fears about her future and getting involved with someone new. And while not completely over her feelings for Yoni, she knew she did not want to remain alone.
Yoni set a wedding date for his second marriage, and while telling his closest friends and family members how happy he was, he started to suffer from crippling panic attacks one month before the wedding. It was at this point that Yoni returned to treatment and sought my help and guidance.
How typical are Yoni and Sarah’s reactions toward getting married again after a divorce? Consider the following: The divorce rate in the United States is about 50 percent, similar to that of France and England. In Israel, it is about 30%, but experts believe that this figure is underestimated. This is because there is a large number of women wanting out of a marriage but they are “chained” by husbands who refuse to grant them a get, or Jewish divorce. Like Yoni and Sarah, most divorced individuals – 75% – do opt to remarry, but a whopping 60% of these marriages end in divorce. So, the important question to be asked by any divorced person contemplating marrying again is: How can I avoid becoming an unhappy statistic in my next marriage? Looking at the scientific literature on this topic, I have tried to outline some of the major factors to be considered and some preventive measures that can be taken by divorced individuals who remarry.
• Decision to remarry and its anxiety: It is very clear that much anxiety is embedded in the decision to remarry. Most divorced individuals feel they have “failed” at marriage once and are usually terrified at the thought that they might fail again. Identifying fears about remarriage is a crucial first step at preparing oneself to try again.
• Leave the rebounds for the basketball courts: After divorce, don’t rush into another marriage. Make sure you are really over your first spouse and give yourself time to heal. No matter how bad a marriage may have been, it takes time to get over the ending of the relationship. If you want to remarry, do it for the right reasons: because you’ve found somebody you want to be with forever – someone who is truly compatible with you and brings out the best in you. Don’t do it because you’re ashamed of being single, or can’t stand being alone.
• Figure out what went wrong the first time around: What attracted you to marry this person? Were you in love at the beginning? What changed and where did things begin to break down? How much of it was the other person’s fault, and perhaps most importantly, how many of the problems were a result of your own personal limitations and responsibility? Were there differences in values and expectations regarding religion, money, power-sharing and sex? Learn from your mistakes.
• Remember, there is less glue holding a second marriage together. Once the honeymoon of your second marriage is over, you will begin to see your second spouse for who they really are, and some old problems and new ones unique to your new partner will arise. Be careful not to give up too easily.
There are less common factors cementing a second marriage.
Children are usually from a first marriage, and many secondtime newlyweds often sign prenuptial agreements carefully delineating the assets each person has before stepping under the huppa again.
Many individuals, at the sight of the first difficulties with a new spouse, act defensively as if to say, “Why bother, I am getting out of this now.” That is a recipe for a second divorce.
Make a commitment to work on this new relationship and address problems openly as they arise.
• Remarried families: The problem is bigger than the couple.
When an individual marries a second time, they not only get a new spouse, but they also experience a complete change in the family system. There are new people to get to know, such as stepchildren, new in-laws, brothers- and sisters-in-law, and other extended family members. The families go through a transformation, a process of blending, and it takes time for both the couple and the families to adjust.
Hidden loyalty issues can be potential conflicts in remarried families. For example, a parent in a second marriage may favor his or her own biological child over the spouse’s children, creating some jealousy between the children from the two families, which can trigger arguments between the couple.
There are many such conflicts that a remarried couple may not be prepared for and these can take a toll on their relationship.
• Make sure your beliefs and values are reasonably aligned: One potential advantage when going into a second marriage is that each partner has more life experience, and should have a better idea of what is really important to them. If your new love interest is still searching for his or her identity, best you head for the door! Furthermore, the role of religion in your lives, the way you deal with money, the desire for more children, the role of extended family, the role of outside interests and friendships, views on gender roles, sexual needs and preferences, and communication styles are all important issues that should be discussed in depth. The more aligned you are in these areas, the easier it should be to spend the rest of your lives together.
Since most couples won’t have the same perspective on all these issues, the question that is most important to answer is whether you can support the differences and work through possible conflicts. At the end of the day, it is all about communication.
The writer is a marital, child and adult psychotherapist practicing in Jerusalem and Ra’anana. He provides online videoconferencing psychotherapy; drmikegropper@