If this is not the first marriage for you or your spouse…
Second Chances – If this is not the first marriage for you or your spouse (or for both of you), the two of you will probably face some special challenges in your relationship. Second marriages carry unique problems, but they also offer opportunities for growth and contentment. In this chapter, we will show you how to learn from your past mistakes so you can make this marriage work. We will give you guidelines for building your relationship with each other and not letting your past get in the way. And we will help you deal with alimony and involve children from a previous marriage in your current relationship.
➤ Making a second marriage successful ➤ Learning from your experience
➤ Building memories together
➤ Accepting the reality of alimony
➤ Dealing with each other’s children
Learning from Your Mistakes
Many people who have been divorced spend a lot of time telling other people just how horrible their first spouse was. For example, they might talk about how tight he or she was with money, or how he or she never showed appreciation. They might even tell other people about issues that are very private.
While it might feel good to put down your ex-spouse all the time, it’s extremely destructive to you and to your relationship with others. You should do every- thing you can to stop yourself. Are you trying to prove that everything that went wrong in the mar- riage was your former spouse’s fault or that he or she was an impossible person that nobody could ever stay married to?
When you frame everything as the fault of the other person, you are also missing the opportunity for self- examination and growth. Two people are involved in a marriage, and two people are involved in a divorce. It’s very important to examine your own behavior. Even if your spouse was really, truly awful to you, it’s still useful to figure out what role you played in the situation. You need to consider these difficult issues if you are going to prevent the same things from happening again.
Searching for Destructive Patterns
Jane left her husband of six years because he was too controlling. Jane had married at a young age, and initially she had appreciated feeling taken care of. But over time, she started resenting the total control her husband demanded. He insisted on making all of the major financial decisions and gave Jane a weekly allowance. As Jane became older, she realized that he was not treating her like an adult.
Jane wanted to start fresh in a new marriage and planned on finding a husband who would treat her as an equal. Six months after her divorce was finalized, she met Max, whom she quickly fell in love with. He treated her well; they went out to dinner, to the theater, and dancing—always paid for by Max. Max seemed to be everything that her first husband wasn’t. He seemed funnier, calmer, and more sure of himself. Jane was thrilled when he proposed to her after they had dated for several months.
Max was very different than Jane’s first husband in many ways. He was kinder and more generous. But ultimately, he was every bit as controlling as her first husband. For example, when Jane became pregnant, Max assumed that she would quit her job to take care of the baby. Jane loved being a mother, but six months after the baby was born, she and Max were fighting constantly because she missed her job. Most of the arguments revolved around issues of control, from small things like what restau- rant to eat at to larger issues like whether Jane should go back to work.
Jane was attracted to controlling men, but she ultimately resented them. This does not mean that her relationship is doomed. It does mean that she needs to recognize this pattern and understand the role that she plays in keeping it going. This was a negative pattern for Jane. If she could recognize this in herself, she would soon be able to be clearer about her needs and tell them to her husband.
It’s very common for someone to get divorced and go on to marry someone a lot like his or her first spouse. People get involved in a relationship that feels familiar to them. At an extreme, a person who was abused as a child often marries someone who is abusive to him or her. Then that person might get divorced and marry another per- son who is abusive to him or her. Even though it’s a horrible, destructive cycle, the role of being abused is familiar and may initially seem normal.
Marriage Q & A’s
Q: Besides a therapist, who can I talk with to work through issues about my ex-spouse?
A: Discuss them with a close friend who knew both you and your spouse. Remember that your goal is not to put down your ex-spouse, but to determine your contribution to the problems. Then, you can prevent these same problems in your current marriage.
Don’t Fall into the Same Trap
It can be very useful to think about negative patterns in your past marriage to pre- vent them from recurring in your current relationship. For instance, if you felt unap- preciated, you could use that information to help you figure out how you might have contributed. Did you tend to undervalue yourself? Did you let your ex-spouse know specifically how to show his or her appreciation? In this case, when you figure out your role in being unappreciated by your ex-spouse, you can take steps to prevent it from happening in your current marriage.
The following questions are designed to help you identify possible destructive pat- terns in your past marriage. These are difficult questions that will require a lot of thought. Be sure to answer them when you have time and can give them your full attention:
- What was your main reason for getting a divorce?
- How did you contribute to this main conflict?
- List five major conflicts that you had with your exspouse.
- Could any of the conflicts have been worked out with better communication?
- Would you describe your role in the relationship with your ex-spouse as passive, controlling, or an equal in a partnership?
- Is your role different in your current marriage? List five major conflicts that you have with your current spouse
- Are any of them the same ones you listed in question #3?
- Do you see any patterns in your relationships?
- Do you feel that with time and effort you would be able to overcome falling into the same pattern?
If you didn’t notice any similarities in your relation- ships, you either have already learned from your mistakes (great!) or you are having trouble being ob- jective. It’s very important to think about the role you play in the relationship with your spouse. Repeating the same mistake over and over will only cause disap- pointment. When you are able to see patterns in your conflicts, you will have taken an important step to- ward resolving them.
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Healing Old Wounds
It’s painful when any meaningful relationship ends, and it’s especially painful when a marriage ends. The anger that many people feel is usually covering up a lot of pain. Covering up your emotional wounds with anger will prevent them from healing properly. You must get past your anger to fully participate in your new marriage.
Eva came to see us in therapy because she had been very unhappy since her divorce, even though she had expected to feel much better after she remarried. We asked her how often she thought about her ex-husband. Eva said she thought about him con- stantly because she was still very angry at him, his attitude, his insensitivity, and even his habits. We pointed out that her ex-husband was consuming a lot of her time and energy.
We asked Eva if she felt anything besides anger toward her ex-husband. At first she wanted to answer “absolutely not,” but when she thought about it, she knew that she felt hurt by him. She felt he had lost interest in her and their marriage over the years. She felt he had neglected her and had lived a separate life. Eva had not talked about or even thought much about these feelings. Her relationship with her first husband made her feel alone, unloved, and even unlikeable at times. Deep down, she felt that her current husband would never be able to love her either.
Eva came to see us regularly for the next six months. She talked about her feelings of insecurity and her fears that her current husband would abandon her too. As she be- came able to admit her concerns, her anger at her ex-husband lessened. Over time, Eva moved her focus from her ex-husband to her own emotions and finally to her re- lationship with her current husband. When Eva covered up her fears with anger, she remained stuck. But when she confronted her insecurity and fear of abandonment, she was able to overcome them and move on.
Marriage Q & A’s
Q: Can’t I just put my first marriage out of my life completely?
A: No. The first step toward getting beyond your hurt is admitting it. Then you can face your insecurities and prevent them from interfering with your current marriage.
Building New Memories Together
Many people come into a second marriage feeling scared. They may feel they are a failure at marriage, and they don’t necessarily believe they can have a successful one. In order to make your new marriage successful, you need to give it a chance. Give yourself permission to start over completely and make this marriage work.
Here are 10 ideas you can use to start fresh with your spouse:
- Start a new photo album and keep it out on your bookshelves.
- Store your old photo albums and other reminders of your previous marriage in your closet or garage.
- Find a new favorite restaurant. Make a point to eat there once a month.
- Discover a charming bed-and-breakfast within several hours of your home.
Spend a romantic weekend there several times a year and make it your place.
- Create special traditions all your own. For example, take Sunday walks around your neighborhood or read the newspaper in bed on the weekends.
- Get matching T-shirts and wear them!
- Choose art for your walls together. Whether you buy posters or original paint- ings, you will be creating the mood for your home together.
- Carefully wrap and store all valuable wedding gifts from your previous marriage. You can decide what you want to do with them later, but for now, they shouldn’t be part of your day-to-day life.
- Over time, replace your daily use kitchen items that you used during your previ- ous marriage. Have a garage sale, or give away pots, pans, silverware, and dishes.
- Try new recipes together and choose a few favorites. These can be part of your signature meals when you entertain.
Marriage Q & A’s
Q: I’m newly remarried and keep comparing my spouse to my ex-spouse. What can I do?
A: You need to fully accept that your past marriage is over so you can completely move on. This will be more difficult if your spouse left you. If even a little part of you is hoping your ex-spouse will come back, you will not be able to fully commit to your current partner.
It’s Just a Check
You have done everything possible to start over with your new marriage. But, if you have an alimony agreement with your previous spouse, you will have an annoying monthly reminder of your past marriage. The key to dealing with alimony is to keep your emotions out of it. Remind yourself that it’s part of your budget, just like any other item.
If you are paying alimony, it’s an expense. It’s an amount that you need to pay every month, just like the rent, the car payment, or the telephone bill. It’s not optional. It’s not going to get lower just because you took a vacation last month. It’s a fixed amount of money that you will need to pay every month to your ex-spouse. Be fair. Your ex-spouse depends on it for his or her expenses every month.
The one way to avoid writing a monthly alimony check is to arrange for the amount to be deposited automatically every month to your ex-spouse’s bank account. You can do your duty without the painful monthly reminder of writing a check.
If you are receiving alimony, it’s part of your income. Your alimony plus income from work or investments is your total income. You must work out your budget within this income. Don’t spend every month being angry that your ex-spouse doesn’t give you more money. You will probably need to change your expenses to work within your new budget. Reorganize your budget ASAP so you can get on with your life. Do it now!
If your new spouse needs to pay alimony, be reasonable about it. When you got mar- ried you knew that your partner had been married before. You need to accept the fact that alimony payments often go along with that.
Your spouse is probably not thrilled about writing the check every month. Don’t make him or her feel even worse.
Yours, Mine, and Ours
One of the biggest challenges facing second mar- riages is blending your families. Many people who remarry have children from a previous marriage. Whether the children live with the two of you, with their other parent, or on their own, they will affect your new marriage.
Give It Time
Developing a relationship with stepchildren takes time. Even if you have the best in- tentions, they might feel animosity toward you in the beginning. Sometimes, no mat- ter what you do, your stepchildren are unfriendly. They don’t accept your invitations, they don’t want to talk to you, and they basically want nothing to do with you. In short, they don’t want to acknowledge your marriage to their parent.
Keep in mind the following when developing a relationship with your stepchildren:
- ➤ Listen to your stepchildren.
- ➤ Invite your stepchildren over to your house on a regular basis if they don’t live with you.
- ➤ Include your stepchildren in family activities.
- ➤ Make your stepchildren feel welcome.
- ➤ Don’t forget to celebrate your stepchildren’s birthdays.
- ➤ Respect your stepchildren’s privacy.
- ➤ Be sensitive to your stepchildren’s feelings.
Keep at it. Continue inviting your stepchildren to be part of the new family. Continue being nice to them. Continue showing an interest in them. The more you follow these steps for including and respecting them, the sooner they will include you and show you respect. If you keep making it clear that you want to have a relationship with them, they will accept it when they are ready.
Don’t Take Sides
Whether they realize it or not, your new spouse and your children will be fighting for your love and attention. They will try to prove to themselves that you love them the most. When they get into an argument, they might turn to you and ask who is right. They are setting you up. Don’t take sides! You will only end up making one person happy and disappointing the other one. The relationship between the stepparent and the stepchild needs to develop without interference. If you are asked to take sides, step out of the room saying, “I’m sure you can work it out by yourselves!”
Sue, her new husband, Keith, and her daughter from her first marriage, Maggie, came to see us because of all the arguing in their house. Maggie and her stepfather con- stantly got into arguments. Whenever her mother was around, Maggie would call her in to help settle the argument. Most of the time, Sue would step in and decide who was right. They would stop fighting, but either Keith or Maggie would end up being angry at Sue.
We focused on Keith and Maggie’s relationship in therapy. Maggie was angry that her mother had remar- ried. She felt that it took time away from their rela- tionship and that her mother “just wasn’t the same anymore.” Keith liked Maggie but felt that she was too dependent on her mother. Plus, he admitted that he would like to have more time alone with Sue.
Each of the relationships needed time to be nurtured. We suggested that each of the “couples”—Keith and Maggie, Sue and Maggie, and Keith and Sue—needed separate time alone for their relationships to flourish. Keith and Maggie were not enthusiastic about spend- ing time together, but each liked the idea of having time alone with Sue. Over time, as Keith and Maggie felt more secure with their relationship with Sue, they began to develop their own relationship with each other. It took many fights and a year of hard work, but they were finally able to function like a family.
If you find yourself feeling distant from your stepchildren, or your spouse feels dis- tant from your children, give those individual relationships a chance to flourish. Plan time alone with your stepchildren on a regular basis, or encourage your children to spend time alone with your spouse. It will take time, but if you are sincere about wanting the relationship to work, it will.
The Other Parent
If you have children from a previous marriage, it’s likely that you will have regular interactions with your former spouse, the parent of your children. It’s definitely a challenge both for you and for your new marriage
to continue the relationship with your exspouse.
And it’s important to your children to keep your differences with your ex-spouse between the two of you.
The children from your previous marriage have two parents—you and your ex-spouse. Their rela- tionship with each of you is very important to them. Do your best to facilitate your children’s relationship with their other parent. If you have a lot of anger and resentment toward him or her, this will certainly be difficult. But everything you can do to help your children through this confus- ing time is worthwhile and will add to their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Older and Wiser
When you get married for the second time, you bring along the past from your previ- ous marriage. To make your marriage work, you need to give it the best chance pos- sible. Take the time to learn from your past marriage. Don’t just start where your last marriage left off! Instead, create a strong foundation with your partner that you can build on for years to come. You are older than you were when you married last time. Don’t miss the opportunity to be wiser, too!
The Least You Need to Know
- ➤ It’s important to take your share of responsibility for the problems in your past marriage. Only then will you be able to learn from your mistakes and grow.
- ➤ Every relationship needs a strong foundation to be successful. This is true of a second marriage, too.
- ➤ Alimony is a fact of divorced life. You will be showing strength of character if you give or receive it gracefully.
- ➤ Absorbing each other’s children into your marriage can be difficult. Keep an open mind and give the new relationships time to work.