Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

Keys to a Satisfying

Beat the Odds Together

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/mates/remarriage.htm

Updated 02-08-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This brief YouTube video on choosing a mate previews what you'll read in this article:

      This article is part of a series on satisfying relationships (Lesson 4). It is also part of a series on evolving high-nurturance stepfamilies (Lesson 7).

      In these articles, marriage means a committed primary relationship between two adults. Primary means the relationship is consistently preferred among all others. Committed means remaining dedicated despite major stressors. Divorce means the psychological ending of primary commitment by one or both mates. It may or may not mean the legal dissolution of marital responsibilities.

      Recent U.S. Census data suggests that re/marriages fail legally more often than first unions. (The "/" notes it may be one partner's first union). Most authors quoting this don't distinguish between childless redivorces and those involving prior kids (stepfamilies).

  Learn something about yourself with this anonymous 1-question poll.

       Iíve spent 36 professional years researching why couples divorce psychologically and legally. I believe there are five combined unseen reasons.  I've also studied the profound effects that divorce has on all family members. This non-profit Web site is dedicated in part to preventing family breakups.

      This article proposes...

  • perspective on re/marriage;

  • what's different about average re/marriages compared to first unions?

  • why typical re/marriages are extra challenging - specially when kids are involved (stepfamilies);

  • common types of re/married couples; and...

  • practical suggestions for (a) all re/married couples, and (b) stepfamily mates.

      The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this site and the premises that underlie it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 4 (1 thru 7 for stepfamilies)

  • keys to a satisfying primary relationship;

  • these common stepfamily-courtship dangers; and...

  • this example of a real stepfamily couple.

      Reflect - why are you reading this: what do you need?


      Some people feel that marriage is marriage, whether it's the first time or the third. Well - yes and no. Most partners commit hoping to steadily fill an interactive set of personal and social needs. Divorces occur because one or both partners lose hope that their needs will be filled well enough. Do you agree? This implies that millions of spouses can't...

  • identify and assert their partnership-needs effectively,

  • describe and manage these widespread marital hazards;

  • make three wise courtship choices, and they can't...

  • problem-solve significant relationship conflicts (fill their needs) effectively.

      This suggests that previously-married partners who commit to a new mate must acknowledge and master these four stressors or risk another breakup. It also implies that their new mate needs to be fully aware of these stressors before committing.

      What percentage of average re/marrying women and men do you suppose (a) understand these four factors and their implications, and (b) are motivated and able to master them? Think of any re/married couples you know. Could they clearly explain these factors and how they're dealing with them? 

  What's Different About Re/marriage?

      A web of significant things:

  • partners are usually older than first-marriers (e.g. 30s or older), which means they may...

    • be wiser and more mature,

    • have progressed on reducing any psychological wounds;

    • have significantly different life priorities than in their 20s, and they may...

    • have developed a wider support network than younger mates; and..

    • any addictions will have progressed toward resolution: premature death, or hitting bottom and recovering;

  • unlike first marriers, one or both mates may be widowed or divorced, and a parent;

  • American re/married partners are more apt to differ significantly in age, religion, and ethnic background than typical first-marriers; (I don't know about other countries);

  • they're usually wealthier and more advanced in their careers;

  • they may have one or more minor or adult kids, and possibly grandkids;

  • their parents may be retired, elderly, infirm, or dead;

  • re/marrying partners' social status may be different - especially if they're forming a stepfamily and/or committing for the third or fourth time;

  • most divorcing partners know from experience that "love may NOT be enough (for a happy marriage)," so they may (vs. will) have more realistic expectations;

  • they and any kids and bonded relatives have major death or divorce-related losses (broken bonds) to mourn, and may or may not have progressed on or completed their grieving;

  • re/marrying parents have more child-raising experience than typical first-marriers;

  • divorcing adults now know what the psychological and legal divorce process feels like - so they may or may not be wiser about choosing it again.

  • typical stepfamily environments are way more complex, alien, and stressful than childless re/marriages, which makes courtship commitment choices significantly more complicated and risky; and...

  • typical American re/marriages fail more often than average first unions for the same reasons as first divorces. The risk of failure may be higher for typical re/marrying divorcees than for widow/ers. 

Can you think of other significant differences between first marriage and re/marriage? As you see all these together, what are you thinking and feeling?

      Bottom line - re/marriage is the same as first marriage in...

  • the needs that each mate seeks to fill;

  • the legal contract, rights, and obligations of marriage; and...

  • the social and religious rites to sanctify it.

At the same time, typical re/marriages differ from childless first unions in at least 13 ways - personally, relationally, and socially. Did you realize this? Do your mate and other key people?

 Types of Couples

      Re/married couples may differ from each other like this:

  • both divorced one or more times

  • one divorced or widowed, and the other never married before

  • both widowed, recently or not

  • independent, interdependent, or codependent

  • one or both mates are significantly wounded (psychologically)

  • with or without (a) existing kids and (b) friendly or hostile ex-mates

  • formally married or just cohabiting

  • heterosexual or same-gender

      Each type of couple...

  • seeks to fill the same primary relationship needs;

  • has significant losses (broken bonds) to mourn,

  • needs to think and communicate effectively to fill their needs,

  • has living and dead genetic and legal relatives with whom they are significantly bonded or not; and they each...

  • face these five relationship hazards.  

Re/divorce Odds

      My experience suggests that the couples least likely to re/divorce are minimally wounded, both widowed, childless, well-grieved, well educated, financially comfortable, and formally remarried. The couples at most risk of re/divorce are...

significantly wounded and unaware of the topics in this course; with no higher education, and they have significant financial, legal, parenting, ex mate, and/or health stresses;

one or both mates has had, or now has, one or more addictions - including food, activity, mood, and codependence; and...

both have not finished grieving major life losses, including those in childhood; and...

one partner has never married or parented, and the other is a divorced parent with one or more teens whose other bioparent is active and wounded;  and...

one or both mates and key relatives deny or minimize their stepfamily identity and what it means, 

have courted only for a few months;

and they are... 

cohabiting rather than formally marrying.

In my professional experience, the more of these traits a couple has, the higher the odds they will re/divorce psychologically or legally. Legal separation and divorce often do not end the relationship.

   Re/marital Stressors

      Premise - most primary-partnership problems (unmet needs) are symptoms of five core hazards. Such symptoms are the same as in first marriages, except when prior kids and ex mates are involved (more concurrent stressors). Though there are infinite variations of these surface problems, most of them involve identifying and solving these three interactive stressors and these relationship barriers.  

   Re/marital Protections

      Childless couples should work together at these options starting in courtship, with emphasis on healing psychological wounds and improving communication, grieving, and relationship knowledge and skills (Lessons 1 thru 4). Pay special attention to grieving the complex abstract losses from divorce and/or mate-death!

      Couples with one or more kids from prior unions need special protections because of the complexity of typical stepfamily relationships and merger tasks.

      This nonprofit Web site offers scores of experience-based, practical articles and resources to help you do these Lessons together. Most of these are integrated in my unique guidebook Stepfamily Courtship (Xlibris.com, 2002). Many courtship tasks continue after re/committing.

      1)  After exchanging vows, continue applying Lesson 7 as patient marital and co-parenting teammates. Give steady priority to nurturing your marriage amidst complex stepfamily stressors.

      2)  As you merge, use this level-concept about stepfamily problems to identify what your members need. Then use these ideas about analyzing and resolving your problems as team-mates, not opponents.   

      3)  Refer often to these Q&A resources, and use this menu of solutions to specific stepfamily problems - as teammates; And...

      4)  Find and use stepfamily-informed lay and professional help with the roughest spots along the way. Do this as a demonstration of strength and commitment, not "weakness"!

      Pause and notice where your thoughts and feelings take you now. If you feel overwhelmed, stay aware - you don't have to do these things all at once, and you have (hopefully) a willing partner to join you in progressing on them a day at a time. The key to succeeding at these challenging personal and relationship tasks is to free your true Self to guide your personality most of the time.

      Bottom line - "the second or third time around is both the same as a first partnership and different in a number of ways. Five hazards menace every committing couple. The odds for success seem to be smaller for most who try re/marriage, unless they commit to applying some version of these vital lessons. .


      This Lesson-4 and Lesson-7 article offers perspective on marriage and remarriage; and proposes common needs that average partners seek to fill by committing to each other, and five root causes of most legal and psychological divorces.

      Based on these, the article proposes practical options for all committed couples, and additional ones for typical stepfamily couples to achieve and maintain a mutually-satisfying primary relationship and a high-nurturance family together.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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