8 Tips To Make Your Second Marriage WAY Better Than Your First

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Start your new blended family in a happy and harmonious way.

How can couples avoid the pitfalls that threaten the happiness and success of a second (or third) marriage? Before considering remarriage, it’s important to ponder if it’s what you really want and to ask yourself if you’ve fully recovered from your past relationship.

Let's face it, most couples in second or third marriages face obstacles that those in first ones just don't. It’s no surprise that while the divorce rate for first marriages hovers around 45 percent, the rate for second marriages is approximately 67 percent. You might wonder why this is, since intuitively we should learn important lessons from our first marriage and carry those into subsequent ones.

EVERYONE Has Baggage

However, when people get remarried, they carry baggage from their first marriage that can cause them to sabotage a new relationship if they haven’t healed and worked through the issues that contributed to the demise of that first relationship. Add to that baggage is the realization that there are often a lot more players in a second marriage, such as kids from former spouses, stepkids and sometimes even new kids from this union. Many couples also often rush into tying the knot without truly getting to know each other.

Be Cordial

Another challenge to the success of a second marriage is remaining cordial with your former spouse if you have kids (you’d probably rather avoid him/her). You might also have to deal with your new partner’s ex and extended family members. Simply put, there are a lot of opportunities for rivalries, conflicts and possible breakdowns in communication in blended families that often involve former spouses, kids and stepkids.

The Reason WHY

Kids need time to heal from the emotional turmoil of their parents’ divorce, so it’s important not to introduce them to a new family too soon. There are many reasons why kids have difficulty adjusting to blended family life — discipline from a stepparent, loyalty issues and rivalries. However, if a child or teenager is given time and the message that their parent has enough love to share, they are better able to withstand the stresses and storms inherent in most second marriages and stepfamilies.

Prepare Yourself For Conflict

From my firsthand and clinical experience, it’s important to expect plenty of conflicts in second marriages and a remarried family so that you can avoid feeling blindsided. Stepparents and parents often disagree on parenting strategies, for instance, and kids get caught in the crossfire. Past histories collide and divided loyalties rear their ugly head when kids feel they have to defend their biological parent or carve out space in a new territory — not to mention often living between their parent's disparate worlds.

Money is one of the most common things couples argue about in any marriage and financial problems can tear the newly remarried couples apart. Often newlyweds in remarried families start off with urgent needs, such as a larger home and/or car and a bigger vacation budget. The stress and strain of struggling to pay child support and maintaining multiple residences can worsen financial stress and burdens.

Here are eight keys to success in a second marriage:

1. Create An Open Dialogue

Don't be surprised if some of your discussions get heated, especially around hot-button issues such as money, time with biological parents, vacations, etc.

2. Be Vulnerable

This allows you to build confidence in being more open with him/her. Discussing minor issues (schedules, meals) is a great place to start before tackling bigger matters such as disciplining kids or finances. Honesty and communication are key issues in a second marriage. Be forthcoming about finances, your past, and concerns with your former spouse and kids that are relevant.

3. Practice Forgiveness 

Forgiveness isn’t the same as condoning the hurt done to you, but it will allow you to move on. Try to remember you're on the same team.

4. Do Things WITHOUT The Kids

A “date night” or couples time is very enriching, even if it’s a walk or grabbing a sandwich at a restaurant together.

5. Don’t Let Resentment Build 

Resentment builds when couples sweep things under the rug, so express thoughts, feelings and wishes in a respectful and timely way. Discuss hot button issues privately, but hold regular, informal family meetings to clear the air and address family issues.

6. Embrace Your Role As A Stepparent

The role of the stepparent is one of a friend and supporter rather than a disciplinarian. Learn new strategies and share your ideas with your partner.

7. Avoid Ultimatums

Take the “d” word (divorce) out of your vocabulary. According to renowned researcher E. Mavis Hetherington, seeing divorce as an option and talking about it can increase your risks for breakup.

8. Create Realistic Expectations

Accept that there are inevitable ups and downs. Try to have more understanding toward your partner, your kids and/or stepkids. Make a commitment to practice endurance and patience. In time, many of the kinks inherent in stepfamily life will smooth out.

Vulnerability is a key ingredient of any long-term successful relationship. Opening up to your partner can make you feel weak and exposed, but it’s essential to building trust, especially in a remarriage. 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 is the ultimate risk. Love is uncertain. It’s risky because there are no guarantees, and your partner could leave you without a moment’s notice or betray you or stop loving you. In fact, exposing your true feelings may mean that you're at a greater risk for being hurt or criticized, but it’s essential to build trust with your partner.

For those of us who have divorced, we know all too well how lost love, mistrust and even betrayal really feel. Even if our partner wasn’t unfaithful, we may feel that he or she didn’t have our best interests at heart or threw in the towel too easily — choosing to split rather than work on the marriage.

Consequently, it makes sense that a fear of vulnerability is probably a real dilemma in a second or third marriage. Yet not expressing your innermost feelings, thoughts and wishes can put your relationship at risk because you'll lose out on trust and intimacy. As you become more and more disengaged from your partner, the risks of betrayal or falling out of love become apparent.

In sum, don’t let your feelings of discouragement take over because there are inevitably bumps along the way in a blended or remarried family. Visualizing yourself in an open and honest relationship is the first step. Don’t let fear of rejection, failure, or past hurt stop you from achieving the love and intimacy you deserve.

Follow Terry Gaspard MSW, LICSW on movingpastdivorce.com, Twitter, and Facebook