Second marriage worries: Dealing with fears of remarriage after divorce

Science and Health

This article is aimed at trying to share some of the collective wisdom from the marital therapy field, wisdom that may improve the chances of success in a second marriage.

In Israel, close to 30% of couples are divorced (Central Bureau of Statistics). In Europe, the percentage is higher, with over 35% of marriages ending in divorce; in the United States, it is over 50%.

The literature presents some of the common reasons that couples get divorced. They include infidelity, financial problems, endless arguments, communication problems, loss of intimacy, domestic abuse, lack of commitment, moral or religious differences, substance and/or alcohol abuse, unfulfilled conscious and/or unconscious expectations or simply growing apart.

Often, children are involved, complicating the decision to divorce. Most studies show that teens and young adults are better able to cope with parents’ divorce than younger children.

Many of my divorced clients seriously consider remarriage at some point. Some eventually remarry. Sadly, 60% of second marriages end in divorce. This high percentage of second marriage divorces strongly suggests that many people who enter a second marriage have not resolved some of the emotional issues that may have contributed to the ending of the first marriage.

File photo: Divorce. (credit: REUTERS)

Below I describe some of the ideas found in the literature that may help to keep a second marriage on track.

How to keep a second marriage on track

  • 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 in preparing oneself to try again.
  • Leave the rebounds for the basketball courts. After divorce, don’t rush into another marriage. Make sure you are 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? Was there a pattern of co-dependency (fulfilling your partner’s needs at the expense of taking care of yourself)? Were there differences in values and expectations regarding religion, money, power sharing and sex? Were parents or others overly involved or intrusive in your relationship? 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 he/she is. Some old problems and other new ones unique to your new partner will arise. Be careful not to give up too easily. There is less that holds a second marriage together. Kids are usually from a first marriage, and many second-time newlyweds often sign prenuptial agreements carefully delineating the assets each person has before stepping under the huppah 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 individuals marry a second time, they not only get a new spouse, but they also have 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 create 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 similar conflicts that a remarried couple may be unprepared for, and these can take a toll on their relationship.
  • Make sure your beliefs and values are reasonably aligned. One 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 him/her. If your new love interest is still searching for his/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.
  • Practice and strengthen your communication compatibility with your new partner. Communication failures are often a significant part of the reason so many first marriages fail. If this did not work well in your first marriage, make it a priority commitment. Place successful communication at the top of your new marriage goals. If necessary, go get help.
  • Expressing vulnerability. It is crucial to share and express one’s vulnerability, fears, problems of trust and innermost feelings with a new spouse. Expressing vulnerability offers an opportunity to build trust and intimacy.

Succeeding in a second marriage is not a guaranteed thing. However, psychological awareness and emotional growth can help maximize the chances for a successful second marriage. 

The writer is a marital, child and adult psychotherapist practicing in Jerusalem and Ra’anana, and provides online videoconferencing psychotherapy. [email protected]