While many couples see remarriage as a second chance at happiness, the statistics tell a different story. According to available Census data, the divorce rate for second marriages in the United States is over 60% compared to around 50% for first marriages.
Why are second marriages more likely to fail?
One explanation is the formation of blended families, which can cause loyalty issues with stepchildren and rivalries between co-parents, but there are many other difficulties and stresses that come with remarrying. A foundation of trust and intimacy is vital to beating the odds.
Everyone Has Baggage
When people get remarried, they often bring unhealthy relationship patterns and trust issues from their first marriage that can sabotage the new relationship. Sometimes this baggage can cause couples to rush into tying the knot without truly getting to know each other.
For instance, if you were betrayed by your former spouse, you may be overly suspicious and lack confidence in your new partner.
Here’s how Kayla put it: “We’ve only been married for a few years,” she paused, “But I’m already questioning Jake when he’s late from work - full of mistrust and accusations.” It became clear that Kayla was having difficulty trusting Jake due to her ex-husband’s affair.
It makes sense that a fear of vulnerability can be a real dilemma in a second marriage, yet not expressing our innermost feelings, thoughts, and wishes can actually put a relationship more at risk because we lose out on the trust and intimacy that vulnerability offers.
Being vulnerable with your partner can make you feel exposed, but it is the most important ingredient of a trusting, intimate relationship. In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” Given this definition, the act of loving someone and allowing them to love you may be the ultimate risk. Dr. John Gottman writes in What Makes Love Last? that “life tends to go better for those who have the courage to trust others.”
Create Realistic Expectations
Accept that there are inevitable ups and downs in remarried life. New love is a wonderful feeling, but it doesn’t make up for the pain of divorce, nor does it automatically restore the family to its former status. According to stepfamily expert Maggie Scarf, “On the contrary, remarriage will present [couples] with a number of unanticipated design issues such as loyalty binds, the breakdown of parenting tasks, and the uniting of disparate family cultures.”
A key issue for remarried couples to address is interpersonal communication. This is especially true when it comes to finances, how to discipline children and stepchildren, personality conflicts in the newly created family, and rivalries between family members.
Below are ten powerful rules I’ve learned from working with remarried couples and in my own second marriage.
1. Build a culture of appreciation, respect, and tolerance
Author Kyle Benson says, “When you can, express what you cherish about your partner. The idea is to catch your partner doing something right and say ‘thanks for doing that. I noticed you unloaded the dishwasher and I really appreciate it.’”
2. Practice being vulnerable in small steps
Build confidence in being more open with your partner. Discussing minor issues like schedules and meals is a great place to start before tackling bigger matters like disciplining kids or managing finances.
3. Create time and a relaxed atmosphere to interact with your partner
Ask for what you need in an assertive, non-aggressive way and be willing to see each other’s side of the story. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman encourages us to respond to our partner’s “bids” for attention, affection, and support. This can be something minor like “please make the salad” or as significant as accompanying our partner on a trip to visit an ill parent.
4. Discuss expectations to avoid misunderstandings
Take a risk and deal with hurt feelings, especially if it’s an important issue, rather than stonewalling and shutting down. In Marriage Rules, Harriet Lerner posits that a good fight can clear the air. She writes that “it’s nice to know we can survive conflict and even learn from it.”
5. Prepare for conflict
Understand that conflict doesn’t mean the end of your marriage. Dr. John Gottman’s research on thousands of couples discovered that conflict is inevitable in all relationships and 69% of problems in a marriage go unresolved. Despite this, conflict can be managed successfully and the marriage can thrive! Stephanie Manes, LCSW advises us to take a short break if we feel overwhelmed or flooded as a way to restore positive communication with our partner.
6. Communicate effectively
Accept responsibility for your role in a disagreement. Listen to your partner’s requests and ask for clarification on issues that are unclear. Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements that tend to come across as blameful, such as “I felt hurt when you purchased the car without discussing it with me.”
7. Embrace your role as a stepparent
The role of the stepparent is one of an adult friend, mentor, and supporter rather than a disciplinarian. Learn new strategies and share your ideas with your partner. There’s no such thing as instant love. When stepparents feel unappreciated or disrespected by their stepchildren, they will have difficulty bonding with them – causing stress for the stepfamily.
8. Attune to your partner
Eye contact and body posture demonstrate your intention to listen and compromise. Practicing what Dr. John Gottman calls emotional attunement while relaxing together can help you stay connected despite your differences. This means “turning toward” one another and showing empathy rather than “turning away.” His 40 years of research showed that happy couples have a 5:1 ratio of interactions during conflict – meaning for every negative interaction, you need five positive ones.
9. Establish an open-ended dialogue
Don’t make threats or issue ultimatums. Avoid saying things you’ll regret later. Money is one of the most common things remarried couples argue about and full disclosure about finances is key to the success of the remarriage so resentment doesn’t build up.
10. Practice forgiveness
Accept that we all have flaws. Forgiveness isn’t the same as condoning the hurt done to you, but it will allow you to move on and remember you are on the same team.
The best way to beat the odds and make your second marriage succeed is to create a culture of appreciation and respect in your home. It’s also crucial to risk being vulnerable with your partner so that you can build trust and intimacy. Determination, respect, acceptance, positive communication, and having a good sense of humor can go a long way in making sure your second marriage lasts a lifetime.
This article was originally published on The Gottman Relationship Blog.
If want to build a deeply meaningful second marriage full of trust and intimacy, then get your free copy of The 7 Signs Your Relationship Will Last here.