A Promise that Lasts-The Courage to Make Your Second Marriage Work
By Kelly Lockwood, LMSW
A second marriage takes courage. The first marriage ended and with it the hopes and dreams of that marriage, which are really powerful, and trying again for everlasting love can be frightening. Many fantasize that the second marriage will be a “second chance,” and will meet the expectation of sharing life with a truly connected and committed partner. However, second marriages come with unique challenges and this article will provide tips on managing and transcending these common struggles.
The common issues of all marriages such as sex, money, child rearing and chores are much more intense in a remarried family life. Right from the beginning, during the courtship/honeymoon period there are additional strains on the relationship, such as ex’s and children. As if this weren’t enough, there is also the anxiety and grief over the former failed marriage and family life. Therefore, despite the joy of finding another partner these struggles can overshadow the hope and lead you to doubt your remarriage. The guidelines I am providing were developed through counseling countless couples and thriving almost a decade personally in a remarriage myself.
Tips for the Couple Relationship:
Learn to practice acceptance. We must live in a reality that includes the previous relationship and the children of that union who are still in need of care. Embracing these facts often brings on strong feelings of jealousy, anger and grief. However, as a married couple you can support each other with appropriate expression of these emotions. Ultimately, this will lead to healing and deepened intimacy. To help navigate these powerful emotions, I recommend a mentor couple or a marriage and family therapist.
Second, the couple relationship must be boundaried, a difficult task with the many needs of stepfamily living. To ensure your bond, spend time playing. Playing involves exploring mutual interest, laughing, traveling, and sex. If you feel guilty about taking time from the children, remember that the success of this marriage is important for their well-being.
Finally,learn tools for healthy communication. Relationship success is built more on skill than chance. Research indicates that how you communicate with your partner, including”how” you fight, is the number one predictor of marital success. Find a local skills-building seminar like PREP (link here) or start a group in your community or church aimed at supporting marital health. If you experienced distress in your first marriage, it is likely that you have not learned productive relationship skills in early life and this may have contributed to the demise of the previous marriage.
Tips for Effective Stepfamily Parenting:
This can be one of the most difficult tasks of remarriage. The children who have survived a divorce and remarriage often have emotional wounds too and are in need of more care and attention, and this can strain even the strongest bond. Primary in successful step parenting is allowing stepparent and the children to accept and respect with or without love. Even though you love your partner very much, your partner and children may not feel the same way about each other.With time I have witnessed the miracle of a stepfamily becoming a “family” where individuals grow to love each other. However, this can take years…. and I mean years. So be patient!.
Secondly, for the sake of the children a co parenting relationship between biological parents is imperative. This of course is difficult because it means contact with an ex that can inflame anger, resentment and jealousy. As a remarried couple, your relationship needs to provide a safe place to express these (and other) difficult feelings.
Thirdly, develop stepfamily rituals and traditions. Keep in mind,the goal is not to emulate the first family but develop a new family structure. This includes the daily events of life such as dinnertime to the bigger holiday traditions. To be truly successful, embrace that there are multiple styles of family living. Flexibility is key.
Finally, expect and allow the children to grieve. It is probable that they will in some form or another always grieve their first family. This may sound sad, but if they are given the chance to express their sad and angry feelings it will give them more space to feel happy about the stepfamily. As a stepparent, if you find yourself taking their negative feelings personally, get support.
And keep this with you…
Remarriage can be a gift of Grace, and a spiritual experience. With the right tools a second marriage can be all that you expect. Remember that when truth is shared, voices are heard, then hearts can be healed.
Parrott, Les & Leslie. (2001). Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts. Zondervan.
The National Stepfamily Resource Center’s primary objective is to serve as a clearinghouse of information, resources, and support for stepfamily members and the professionals who work with them.http://www.stepfamilies.info/