Q: I’m getting remarried, and although I’m happy about it, I’m also concerned—I recently read that the divorce rate for second marriages is higher than for first marriages. Why would this be the case, and should I be concerned? ~Evelyn, Albuquerque NM
A: Thanks for your question, Evelyn and congratulations on your upcoming marriage!
It is true that statistics show that the divorce rate is higher for second marriages. And while statistics report patterns and tendencies that can be helpful, they don’t necessarily answer the “why” question. Unfortunately there is no one-size explanation to account for the higher second marriage divorce rates, but let’s look at one particular factor that can make couples who are remarrying vulnerable to a bumpier marital road.
The biggest gamble for couples remarrying lies in simply assuming that their marriage will magically rise above the 60% of second marriages that don’t survive (riding those assumptions into complacency and putting the relationship on autopilot…in other words, not applying consistent effort when it comes to the relationship). The hard reality is that love wasn’t enough to hold your first marriage together, and love alone won’t be enough to hold your second marriage together.
Does this mean that couples who are remarrying should live in constant worry, obsessing about all the potential second marriage pitfalls they might encounter? Of course not.
The goal is to approach your second marriage from a foundation of knowledge and understanding rather than fear and anxiety.
A common remarriage scenario:
In my work with couples that have remarried, I’ve observed the following relationship pattern as illustrated by this example:
Rhea jumped into her second marriage with renewed life and vigor. Her new husband, Stan, was nothing like the man who caused her so much heartache in her first marriage. And as her second marriage unfolded, the pain and trauma from her divorce became a distant memory.
For the first two years of her second marriage, Rhea couldn’t have been happier. Then something slowly started to shift for her. As the newness and excitement faded into the familiarity of a committed marriage (with its inevitable routines, rhythms and stresses), the comfort that she relished was replaced with an unease that slowly grew.
By the third year, Rhea started feeling cynical about the viability of her marriage, wondering, “Did I make another mistake?”
Let’s look at why this can happen:
As the intimacy of Rhea’s second marriage deepened, old wounds from her previous marriage were reawakened—wounds she thought were long past. This dynamic often occurs for those who enter into post-divorce relationships too soon. When this occurs, a second marriage can act as smokescreen, temporarily quelling the pain caused by the failed first marriage.
As the intimacy in Rhea’s second marriage deepened, so did her emotional vulnerability—a vulnerability that occurs whenever we open ourselves up to the unique gifts that deeper intimacy offers. The irony is that as trust and intimacy deepen, so does the danger—you also open yourself up to greater pain if the relationship goes awry. It may seem counterintuitive, but it was when Rhea began to feel emotionally closer to her second husband that the restless ghosts from her first marriage reappeared, haunting and hollering, reminding her of those old emotional wounds and the potential dangers that accompany deeper vulnerability and intimacy.
The Wounds of Your First Marriage
The goal is to recognize your increasing emotional vulnerability, since relating from unrecognized insecurities (in this case, insecurities that may have occurred because of a failed first marriage) can lead to misinterpretations of your spouse’s intentions and behaviors.
Second marriage truism: Your perceptions of your second spouse can (at times) be influenced by the emotional wounding that occurred in your previous marriage.
For instance, Rhea’s ex-husband became more and more emotionally distant throughout their four-year marriage. He began drinking heavily, giving excuses about why he wouldn’t spend time with her, and spent several hours each evening zoning out in front of the television. Rhea shared, “I just felt so lonely and unwanted. I was abandoned by the man I gave my heart to, and it rocked my world…”
Not surprisingly, these past wounds figured prominently in Rhea’s reaction when her second husband told her that he was thinking of joining a men’s softball league. As she explained, she felt emotionally divided: part of her realized this was a reasonable request and a hobby that Stan really enjoyed, yet she couldn’t help feeling anxious that this was the first step in him creating a life without her—she was anticipating another round of abandonment.
At first, Rhea didn’t realize why she was feeling uneasy, and her reactions toward Stan became increasingly terse and unpredictable. It was only after several sessions of couples counseling that Rhea was able make the connection between the events that unfolded in her first marriage and her confusing reactions to Stan. In the final couples counseling session, Stan turned to his wife and said, “Please let me know when you feel insecure. I am here to help you, and I can’t if I don’t realize what’s going on for you.” Rhea began to cry and hugged her husband.
Remember, it’s usually after you emotionally settle into your second marriage and become more emotionally vulnerable that the wounds your previous marriage caused may reawaken. Like with Rhea, this may take the form of increased insecurities, anxiety, and confusing-defensive reactions toward your current spouse.
Understanding these reactions, rather than pulling away and automatically assuming you ended up with Mr./Ms. Wrong (for the second time), can go a long way in strengthening your second marriage.
Marriage/Relationship Help Resources
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Wishing you and your second marriage all the best!
Dr. Rich Nicastro
(Featured image courtesy of Phanlop88 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)