Blended Families — 25 November 2007
How to make your second marriage better

All marriages have their challenges. Second marriages have additional difficulties stemming from the fact that they are the new attempt at relationship bliss.

One might expect that having done it before affords second timers the experience and wisdom to avoid previous errors and gain greater success. Certainly, many individuals do use their newfound insights to alter their conduct in their new marriages. Yet, past experience does not seem to universally assure greater success at the second try as documented by the higher rate of divorce in second marriages. According to The US Census Bureau Statistics 50% of first marriages end in divorce and 60% of second marriages fail.

Second marriages after divorce are actually even more difficult than the first ones. They have some of the same challenges common to all relationships and are further compounded by confusion, emotional wounds, guilt, shame, grief and self-doubt created by the first failed attempt at creating a happy life-long union.

The shattered first commitments sour some people’s trust in long term vows. Partners often become less tolerant of conflict and less motivated to work it out the second time around.

Some people report that after their infatuation with the second partner fades, their level of discontent with the new union, though different, is similar to their feelings in the first marriage. Doubts about one’s role in creating the disharmony and even temporary regrets about having gone through all the pain to find it anew, are very disconcerting.

Cultural romantic notions foster the idea of finding the special match – the ‘right and only one’. Perhaps, psychologically, the greatest difficulty for many second time couples is the loss to their special status.

The need to be the unique, chosen and irreplaceable to the partner is compromised from the start by being the second choice. Many couples grieve about not having met each other first. Some people find this status so disheartening that they sizzle at any mention of the partner’s former spouse or their previous experiences. Any contact with the ex mate reminds the new spouse of his /her secondary place. Some partners request that their spouse abstain from talking about his/her former life. This way, the illusion of being ‘the first’ can be perpetuated.

This request is unreasonable because it unnaturally restricts one’s openness about his/her history, associations and memories. A true connection requires two authentic beings – not restricted ones.

Having children from previous marriages makes it even harder to pretend that the new connection is fresh. Regrettably and unknowingly, many spouses see the children as a barrier to their primacy in each other’s lives. The blending of ‘your’ and ‘my’ children into a new, harmonious, extended family is often fraught with jealousy, competition, and conflict. ‘Our children’ is a concept that is slow to evolve. It requires loving the children for whom they are, rather than by who sired them. It calls for warm-hearted approach, inclusion and learning to love youngsters in crisis, yearning for wholeness and older ones as a blessed addition to your life.

. Accept that you did not meet the current spouse first by coincidence – not by anyone’s design. Profess your current happiness and abandon the thoughts about “if only”.
• View your spouse’s sharing of previous experiences and memories not as a yearning for the former mate –but as a way to more fully include you in his/her life and provide you with data about what matters to him/her.
• Your spouse’s love and caring for his/her children is expected to initially be more intense than the devotion to yours. Abstain from finding evidence of uneven treatment.
• Appreciate your mate for his/her ability to love and nurture his/her children. Model for your spouse how love is not based on genetics or guilt – it is the foundation of all relationships and can be freely given to all the children equally.
• Avoid comparisons, competition and criticism about how each of you treats the children. It will not change your spouse’s behavior – it will only distance you from each other.
• Regard your new extended family as a complex web of connections, some of which are deeply ingrained in history. Create new experiences to add the happy chapters to each other’s book of life.

• Above all, concentrate on helping your partner feel cherished. Attempt to accommodate each other’s needs and wishes and make the present count. A happy present creates a fulfilling past and a hopeful future.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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