Five Key Ways to Keep Second Marriages on Track

Keep your second marriage happy and healthy

Okay, so the stats aren’t great. The more times you marry, the higher the chance of divorce.

According to Psychology Today, about half of first marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, while 67 per cent of second marriages and 73 per cent of third marriages fail. Not a pretty picture, but surely there are ways to avoid becoming a statistic.

There are — and here, the top five things to keep in mind if you want to keep your second marriage happy and healthy.

1) Put the word ‘second’ in perspective

The first thing, says London, Ontario-based psychologist and relationship expert Guy Grenier, is to realize that good relationship skills are essential no matter what marriage you’re in.

“There is a tremendous overlap in first and second marriages in terms of what you need to make it successful. There are some subtle differences, but you still have to have patience, courage, communication skills and problem-solving strategies. You need these for any relationship.”

2) Be aware of the ‘been there, done that’ factor

People who’ve gone through a divorce have already experienced the awful stuff – the stigma that comes with it, the sense of personal failure, the sorrow, the anger. But they’ve been “managed” for the most part.

“They weren’t good, they weren’t fun, but it happened and they’re still here – they survived,” says Dr. Grenier.

People also tend to be less tolerant of bad relationships the second time around.

“People think, ‘I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, darn it – I like myself, so I don’t have to tolerate a bad relationship, disrespect or inequity’.” Dr. Grenier cautions that this confidence and familiarity with the divorce process can lead people to jump the gun and too quickly give up on second marriages.

“Knowing what your risks are, regardless of what number marriage you’re on, means you can take positive steps to avoid common problems.” (He talks in length about those steps in his book The Ten Conversations You Must Have Before You Get Married.)

3) Watch out for the ‘fire and forget’ trap

Dr. Grenier uses this military saying to refer to the habit many people have of taking a relationship for granted.

“Once you’ve courted somebody and you’re attracted and you’ve identified things you have in common, and you get married – then you’re done in terms of looking after the relationship. Well that’s a big gamble and an ill-informed approach. Relationships need constant monitoring and ongoing maintenance.”

4) Accept the fact you’ll both have baggage

Chances are second marriages for Baby Boomers come with lots of baggage. There are often children (even if they’re adults they’re still your children), property, debts and assets – and let’s not forget any ex-spouses. Sometimes the issues, like kids or financial challenges, can actually turn out to be things second spouses can bond over. The key to successfully managing baggage is practising good, solid communication skills.

5) Use what you’ve learned about yourself

Regardless of the quality of your first marriage, chances are you learned a few things about yourself– some positive, some negative. Use that knowledge to strengthen your second marriage, advises Dr. Grenier.

“Instead of focusing on what was wrong with the other person, take a good look at yourself. Maybe you’re really great at financial management, for example, but not so good at expressing your feelings or negotiating.”

He advises you get using those strengths as soon as possible – and find ways to improve the weak areas so you don’t make the same mistakes twice.