Why Second Marriages Are So Much Harder

A Dad's Point of View by Bruce SallanOne might think that second marriages would be easier and succeed more often than first marriages. At least that might be a first instinctual reaction. But, on reflection and upon learning the statistics, it becomes clear why second (and third, fourth, and more) marriages are actually harder.

First, let’s cite the statistics.  I don’t have a source, but I know it’s generally understood and accepted that first marriages end somewhere in the 40-50% range, while second marriages end about 66% of the time, and third and subsequent marriages fail around 75% of the time.  These are not encouraging statistics. Thankfully, when I was divorced I didn’t know those discouraging numbers.

So, we now know that the odds are against us.  Why? My first thought and maybe many other people’s first reaction was that we’d learn from our mistakes and “know better” the second time around.  After all, we know what didn’t work, right?

No, the other adage comes to mind that the older we get, the more set in our ways we become.  And, yet another cliché is true that the older we get the more baggage we carry with us.  I am witnessing the opposite with my teen son and his “first love” girlfriend.  While they certainly bicker, the joy of “young love” is palpable (who remembers the original song by Sonny James and the Tab Hunter cover of “Young Love”?)  Frankly, it’s a joy to behold and a reminder for this old guy to pay attention to the romance in my own (second) marriage.

During the years between marriages, we do get used to being single again and, if we have children, doing things just our way.  There is no doubt that happened to my boys and me.  I was guilty of neglecting certain “mom” things such as anything to do with cleanliness, bathing, and general body and room maintenance.  Yes, I’m exaggerating in my opinion, but my wife would likely say I’m under-stating the case.

She, on the other hand, had been single for about a decade after her first marriage and had created the ideal single life, with the perfect neat, organized, very adult home, which she thoroughly redesigned and remodeled to her exact specs.  Everything in its place; everything just the way it “should” be!  Clairvoyance is not required to predict what happened, but I’ll get to that later.

And, of course, age settles us into habits, longer relationships (with friends and family), and more ups and downs.  All this experience can’t help but inform who we are as we progress on the journey of life.  Also, our emotional guards and walls are stronger having more than likely had more experiences and disappointments than younger, innocent, newlyweds and children.  Yes, the rigors of living harden us sometimes.

My wife and I experienced considerable adjustments when she became a member of our family.  The Oscar and Felix syndrome was evident immediately. Oscar and Felix, for those that don’t remember, were the magnificent characters in Neil Simon’s “The Odd Couple.”  Oscar was a poker-playing, complete slob while Felix was a neatnik, to put it nicely.  I’d say he was overly anal-compulsive.  Do you wonder which one I resemble?

So, my Oscar and my wife’s Felix clashed mightily over order and chaos in the house–struggling much of the time.  My wife, however, had the odds stacked against her, as she was the “odd man out,” so to speak, because the boys and I had become comfortable in our Oscar ways of living.  This became our first big issue as a couple.  I didn’t want to change, nor did my boys.  But, with time, we did because I began to recognize what an important contribution my wife was bringing to us and I was tired of getting berated (just kidding).

She was a blessing for the three boys as I’m counting myself as one of “the boys,” in this respect.  But, if not for her strength and character, even this one thing could have broken us apart.

And, in our case, she was a first-time step-mom at a point in her life where that was the last thing she expected to be happening.  This created an internal struggle for her that added to our challenges in the early months of our union.

So, is it any wonder, just using my own family as an example, that second and subsequent marriages might be difficult?  I don’t think so.  I also think too many men and women jump into another relationship or marriage without really considering the consequences to all involved.  We’re human beings and we don’t like to be alone, for the majority of us.

Based on my own life, my simple advice is to take the time to really understand all the consequences of a new relationship with all its apparent “blessings.”  I don’t want any of us to be adding to those high-risk statistics.

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