Sadly research does tell us that they may have a tough row to hoe. I think it's important to look at the data and try to learn what we can about how to help folks who are attempting to build another significant relationship after perhaps not being so successful the first time. Studies show us that divorce amongst first marriages are 40-50%. Women most often leave and there has been a trend for the past 20 years for less divorce amongst higher socio-economic households compared to lower ones. Divorce amongst second marriages rises to somewhere between 60-67% and in third marriages is a depressing 70-73%.
What can be made of these statistics? The increase in divorce rates as we move from one relationship to another is thought by many researchers to be due in large part to children. In first marriages the children are usually a product of that union. Therefore they can exert a stabilizing influence in the couple as both parents try to "stay together for the kids". Extended family may also exert this influence, giving messages that they want the family to stay together. In second and third unions children and extended families exert completely different effects. Children in these households are often not the product of the marriage. They are instead part of a blended-family, one in which parents may have stronger ties to their own children than to the children they inherit with the marriage. This can lead to skewed alliances in which each partner chooses their own children over their spouse. Additionally there may be less felt pressure to keep this union together for the sake of the children since the children are not of that union. And finally there are now often ex-spouses involved, along with their families of origin, who can be most unwelcoming to the new partner.
So what can be done about these grim statistics? I have a few recommendations based on my years of working with couples.
- Make sure you prioritize your marital relationship over everything else. This means above your children as well as your family of origin, friends, work or whatever else may be a competition for your time, energy or affections. Yes, I said that! The relationship comes BEFORE your children. Your parenting is only as good as your marriage and your marriage is the template for your children's future relationships. So do everyone a favor and prioritize the marriage so it can be healthy and survive.
- Take a serious look at your failed marriage(s) and ask yourself "what could I have done differently?" Do NOT allow yourself to focus on the failings of your ex, focus only on what YOU could have done to be a better partner. If you are having a hard time thinking of what you could have done differently go see a therapist or a trusted friend. Take a deep breath and ask them for some honest feedback on how your own shortcomings may have contributed to problems in the relationship.
- As yourself "what are the things about me that anyone would find hard to put up with?" Work on these issues. Realize that we are all flawed and that you are the only person who can improve your ability to be a better partner.
- Seek couples counseling. Marriage is like tennis. You can try to teach yourself to play by reading books or watching Youtube videos, or you can hire a professional tennis coach. You will go farther faster with a professional coach who knows how to teach the skills.
- Don't air your grievances about your relationship with anyone other than your partner or your therapist. In the least you when you talk to friends or family about your complaints they are helpless to do anything to change the situation so it's wasted breath. Or worse they may hold that against your partner and stop supporting the union. If you need your partner to change something talk to them about it. Yes it can be scary and yes it may not go well the first time but it is the only way to create a happier relationship.
Wishing you health and happiness in your connections to others,