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Love Is Lovelier the Second Time Around ... Oh, Yeah?

September 18, 2008 By:
Rita Charleston, JE Feature
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When a first marriage ends and a new love is on the horizon, it may be the perfect time to begin a new, even a better second marriage, right?

Not always. Just because you're divorced and about to marry again, don't think you might be able to avoid the same problems that drove you to divorce the first time around.

In fact, statistics show that the rate of divorce in second marriages is 5 percent to 10 percent higher than in first marriages -- already at an alarming 50 percent or more. The reason so many "re-marriages" fail is because people often jump into them without doing some hard work first.

According to Eileen Bazelon, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the department of psychiatry at Drexel University College of Medicine, many people look at their next marriage through rose-colored glasses, believing they learned a lot from previous mistakes -- and so are determined to avoid such mistakes the next time around.

"That's an understandable goal, but not necessarily one that can be achieved without people doing a lot of work on themselves. If they don't, they're simply going to repeat the same mistakes and suffer the same consequences," says Bazelon.

"Often, loneliness sets in. The divorced person may feel shattered and may jump into marriage the second time without really considering everything. It's interesting, and not uncommon, that, if someone starts to date, they pick exactly the same kind of person they just left -- a scenario that's bound to end in disaster again."

Says Joel Schwartz, M.D., chairman of the department of psychiatry at Abington Memorial Hospital, "Another consideration is that first marriages often happen before people have been able to achieve their own identities. They don't know who they are, so how can they realistically form a good and lasting relationship with someone else?"

In order for the next marriage to work, he points out, people must look inside themselves, and determine their wants, desires, needs, issues, problems and so on, to discover why they picked the kind of person they did the first time around.

"You must also look carefully at your past relationship, and discover how and why things went wrong. Was it that you wanted too much or not enough? Did you pick somebody who stifled you or did you make the other person feel stifled?

"Not until all the important issues are covered -- either by yourself or with the help of a therapist -- can a couple prevent a second disaster from happening."

Bea Hollander-Goldfein, Ph.D., director of the postgraduate certificate program in marriage and family therapy at the Council for Relationships, agrees, and adds that often our choices of mates stem from our family of origin.

"We tend to repeat the past," she says. "What may happen for some of us is that we are unaware of ourselves, unaware of our childhood experience and our family dynamics. On a conscious level, while we seem to choose relationships that are different and better, our unconscious is driven by motivations that are part of our childhood.

"If certain problems have never been addressed, we tend to repeat patterns from our childhood in our marriage, or find a partner where together we can repeat those old patterns."

When Blends Don't Mix

Another problem confronting people entering or planning to enter a second marriage is the problem of a blended family. Hollander-Goldfein says it's important to make sure everyone's on board: "Especially with children, it's important to get them to assimilate, accept and participate in the marriage in a constructive way, something that can be very difficult to achieve but, with help, can be worked out."

Additionally, the experts agree, ex-mates can also cause problems. For example, until the intended spouse has cut off ties with his or her ex and is indifferent to him or her, problems in a second marriage will surely occur. Each person, they insist, must confront the true ending of a prior marriage without holding on to any unfinished business.

Additionally, says Schwartz, "In our society, often too much emphasis is placed on a shallow requirement list, which includes appearance, status, chemistry and so on. Obviously, there has to be an attraction.

"But I once read [a list of] the five most important things men and women desire in a future mate. For women, No. 1 was a sense of humor. Humor was No. 2 for men. I really believe that a marriage where both partners display a sense of humor is less likely to end in divorce.

"Humor measures intellect, creativity and the ability to change perspective -- all things that are very important in preserving a marriage."

There is an opportunity to get it right this time, Bazelon concludes.

"You can have a great marriage if you are truly willing to do all the hard work that is required."

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