Why Second Marriages Are More Perilous

Those who remarry have unrealistic expectations and don't anticipate the unique challenges to second families

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Many people see remarriage as a fresh new chance at happiness with a partner whom they should have chosen in the first place.  But the statistics reveal that second or later marriages are much more likely to end in divorce. Why is this so?

For one thing, those who remarry often have unrealistic expectations. They are in love, and they don’t really understand that the replacement of a missing partner (due to divorce, desertion or death) doesn’t actually restore the family to its first-marriage status.  On the contrary, remarriage will present them with a number of unanticipated design issues such as children’s loyalty binds, the breakdown of parenting tasks and the uniting of disparate family cultures. These are three of the five major structural challenges of remarriage outlined by psychologist Patricia Papernow in her remarkable architectural model of remarriage. Essentially, the remarried family’s unanticipated and difficult job is to leave behind many of their old assumptions about how a “real family” — i.e., a traditional first-marriage family — is supposed to operate and get to work on self-consciously planning, designing and building an entirely new kind of family structure that will meet their own unique requirements.

A second and equally important problem for the new couple lies in the realm of interpersonal communication. This is especially true regarding matters that lie very close to the mates’ hearts, like the sensitive issue of children’s behavior.  Are the members of the pair respectful and caring of each other’s youngsters, who have undergone difficult losses and transitions?  Or does a stepparent respond to a child’s stark unfriendliness with outrage and attack?

For example, it is much better for a stepmom to say, “I feel hurt when your daughters come to visit and don’t even say hello to me or make eye contact, “ than “Whenever your bratty daughters come over, they walk right past me as if I didn’t even exist! They are so rude, and you just stand there!” The first response is an “I” message and could start a useful discussion about how to handle the problem, while the second “you” response is blaming and likely to provoke an argument.

The knottiest of remarriage issues is often that of discipline, and here a ton of research provides a clear guideline. The stepparent’s role should be similar to that of a nanny, an aunt or a babysitter who is familiar with the rules of the house (e.g., no TV before homework is finished). She or he monitors and reports on the child’s behavior, but only the biological parent should do any kind of punishment (or let rules slide). And yet, far too often, stepparents will think they should be the enforcer if they are to get real respect from their stepchildren.

The problems of remarriage are a national issue. They have been hiding under the radar for far too long. Only by bringing the unique challenges out into the open can we possibly bring the dissolution rate of these marriages down.

24 comments
april0381
april0381

I disagree with the author's stance that a stepparent should merely monitor the children. I am a stepmother to a wonderful 9-year old. We have her half the time, and my husband and I are a team just as we would be if she was my biological daughter. He fully expects her to listen to me, and he backs my decisions and authority just as I back his. That is how it should be.

iamgreenlantern
iamgreenlantern

One thing that the author fails to account for are those who remarry and do not bring children into a new marriage.  If both man and women are childless when they get married, how does that change the statistics?  How long do those without children stay married?  What are these "facts" based on?  What is the sample sizes of the groups evaluated?  How does she take into account that people lie for many reasons.

jondeik
jondeik

Logical Fallacy- Correlation equals causation.

JamesHartLaw
JamesHartLaw

Frankly, I disagree with the author's take in this article.  According to the statistics she cites, "43% of first marriages will end in divorce within 15 years."  However, "15% of remarriages will end in divorce within 3 years, 25% within 5 years, 39% within 10 years"  Call me crazy, but doesn't that statistic suggest that when comparing the rate of divorce of first marriage (43%) to the rate of divorce of remarriages (39%), you are actually LESS likely to get divorced on your second marriage?

Also, there is an overemphasis on the impact of children on the second marriage.  As a divorce lawyer, I have never had a repeat client in 8 years of practicing family law - but have heard lots of happy stories from clients that are now in happy, loving relationships after I completed their divorce.

LeeKallett
LeeKallett

The biggest mistake in second marriages is to allow the previous spouse or children attempt to assert themselves into the  new second marriage and make demands. If the children don't accept or like the new spouse their parent marries, they must be informed at the beginning that they don't get a vote. It's not a democracy and their demands and expectations don't enter into the equation. Strict boundaries must be established. The married couple comes first at all times...not the children. The new spouse should never have to take a back seat to anyone's kids. No exceptions.   

daviddavis5678
daviddavis5678

Facts rather than personal anecdotes present a more accurate picture.  

FACT:    Second marriages have a 75% divorce rate.

FACT:    Child abuse risks increase by over 800%  when a substitute individual fills the role of the biological parent.

FACT:     Over 600,000 reports of child abuse are recorded each year.   

FACT:     There are over 61,000 reports of child SEXUAL abuse per year. The vast majority of perpetrators are  non-biological parents. 

 


minstrelmike
minstrelmike

I see from many of the comments that there is a lack of statistical understanding. Mine or my friend's 2nd marriage lasted forever so therefore, the statistics and the story are wrong.

That's like saying the average lifespan of an American cannot be 77 because my grandma is 95. Anecdote and personal story is not statistics.

I suspect one reason folks who have already divorced tend (tend is the only accurate statistical term) to divorce again is because that's their habit. If you can say with a straight face 'until death do us part' and then actually move out because of irreconcilable differences such as how to load a dishwasher, well imo you aren't willing to make things work. And if you're in the middle of a 3rd divorce, it is definitely you and your choices and not hardly anything to do with whom you have married.

It's weird because I read where 50% (that means Half) of marriages fail yet whenever I survey any group of people I know (parents at my kids schools or co-workers or people I play music with), I rarely run into a divorced person and if I do, chances are that person has been divorced more than once.  They call it serial monogamy but that implies there is no cheating which I don't believe.

cdgoodsonpt
cdgoodsonpt

My marriage is a second marriage and we have been married 17 years. Depends on the people and circumstances

jamesf161
jamesf161

I think a far more important reason is that many people who get married a second time have divorced, so the group is more likely to divorce.

AnitaSingh
AnitaSingh

Based on this very high level assumptions, if two people get divorced from their first marriage, regardless if either of them getting counseling or not having a mental illness, then the second marriage is doomed? Really? Just maybe the reason why the second marriage rate is higher than the first marriage is because the one of the original people in the first marriage is the one that screwed up the first time and will do so again? Couldn't that be the reason why the divorce rate is higher? Children are going to be an issue regardless of whether the child is from a boyfriend before the first marriage or if it is from a marriage. You don't talk of that either. With all the people having children before marriage does it even matter first or second when it comes to children?

GrandmaD
GrandmaD

I think one reason second marriages are perilous is because one or both partners have been through the trauma of divorce or death and survived! It takes some of the fear of being alone away.

carianne.r.hixson
carianne.r.hixson

I feel this title is inaccurate. This should be Why Second Marriages Are More Perilous For Children From Previous Marriage. I think second marriage without chidren involved can be very successful.

jondeik
jondeik

@JamesHartLaw Why would someone get divorced using the same lawyer, even if he/she was their personal lawyer? I feel, as a guy with an ego myself, I'd be embarrassed to use the same divorce lawyer again. And I've been divorced once so I'm not pulling this out of my ass. As far as the numbers-- 43% of first marriages is not the same statistic as a percentage of a remarriage, because not all divorced people get remarried, and not all first marriages end in divorce. It's an entirely different statistic, so while there may be some hidden correlation, the numbers don't directly correlate to one another, at all. Am I right?

olo101
olo101

The children do get a vote. You are the one who ruined their family. Remarriage after divorce needs to be banned. The second spouse is secondary as this new union is not, nor will ever be a family. No exceptions.

kimswhimsy
kimswhimsy

@LeeKallett A child (not adult child) should NEVER have to take the back seat to a second spouse. Period. As the mother or father of a child, your first and most important responsibility is to that child- not your own love life. You chose to have the child; you must put your own desires, and yes- even love life, on the back burner while you raise that child. Once that child is grown, THEN you can pursue your own love life.

If that displeases you as a divorced parent, suck it up. Imagine how that child feels knowing that his own mother or father would choose some other adult to love more than him or her.

mgm531
mgm531

@daviddavis5678


"FACT:    Child abuse risks increase by over 800%  when a substitute individual fills the role of the biological parent."  You mean like a priest?  Also, what relevance does this have with the high percentage of second marriage divorce rates?

"FACT:     Over 600,000 reports of child abuse are recorded each year."  Again, what relevance does this have with the subject at hand?  Answer:  none whatsoever.  

"FACT:     There are over 61,000 reports of child SEXUAL abuse per year. The vast majority of perpetrators are  non-biological parents."  See my response from above.  Also, what constitutes a 'vast majority'?  Out of the 61000 reported child sexual abuses year how many, exactly, does the 'vast majority' represent?

The fatal flaw you have made in your argument is that you've put together a random collection of 'Facts' and correlated a relation between them.  In reality none of them have anything do with each other.  Logic FAIL.

Britnell76
Britnell76

@cdgoodsonpt so why did you end up looking at this article so late on.  If everything is great then google something else.! lol.

Raggedhand
Raggedhand

@jamesf161 Exactly right. If you're willing to do it once, you're willing to do it again.

From my experience, I can also argue that second marriages can be stronger than first marriages if the people involved had learnt lessons from the first marriage and use those lessons to make the second marriage stronger. I was married at age 19 and divorced at 25, then remarried at age 28 and have been married to the same man ever since and I'm 56 now. What I learnt in my early twenties about sharing, responsibility and maturity in both me and my spouse made my second marriage much stronger. For one thing, I learnt that a marrying a "fun" guy wasn't as important as marrying a responsible one. That was a biggie.

franniemae
franniemae

@jondeik @JamesHartLaw amen Jon. the fools aren't going to return to same lawyer. And overemphasis on the impact of children in second marriages??? are you kidding me???


ljubovic
ljubovic

@olo101 Myself and my younger siblings are the product of a second marriage, with two older siblings from our mother's first marriage. My dad has never once in 24 years acted as though my older siblings were in any way less entitled to his love and discipline just because he is not their biological father. We never saw ourselves as half-siblings or in any other way different than one another. We received the same praises and punishments, rules and responsibilities. I'm proud to say that we all grew up to be responsible, self-sufficient, take-no-BS adults, each with a strong sense of compassion and morality. 

While I agree that children do get input on who joins the family, the assertion that a blended family is not a family at all is just absurd. And the implication that all divorces are the fault of either/both parent? Good lord, do some research and realize that some marriages are better off broken. Do you not take into consideration those biological parents who abandon or emotionally abuse their children? I divorced my child's father after he flat out told me that he did not want to raise our child. To this day, she has never seen him in person and only hears from him twice a year, if that. It doesn't take a genius to see that some individuals don't have the emotional fortitude or commitment required to take on a parental role toward any child, including their own.

Please, refrain from making sweeping generalizations and put yourself in someone else's shoes before placing all the blame in the world on their shoulders.

franniemae
franniemae

@mgm531 @daviddavis5678 What about the fact: 75% divorce rate??? you forgot that one. But wonder what the stats are on child abuse with kids from broken homes...