One of the biggest mistakes that remarried couples make is that they expect that things will run on automatic and love with conquer all problems that arise. For instance, my second husband, Craig, swept me off my feet and I was blindsided when we started having arguments about money, parenting, and relationships with our ex-partners after the first year of our marriage.
Expect plenty of storms in remarried life. The complications of a newly created stepfamily or blended family can be daunting and it can take years for the family “norms” to take hold. Conflict and rivalries between family members – especially stepparents and stepchildren – can make day to day life stressful and chaotic at times. Adopting realistic expectations will help you navigate these challenges.
Most experts agree that it can take a remarried family up to four years to reach a state of equilibrium. For instance, Harry and Karina were not prepared for conflict between themselves and their children. Karina had three daughters (under the age of 12) when they wed and Harry had two teenage sons. Since Harry is a teacher, he thought he knew all about helping kids handle disputes but found out soon enough that it’s hard to be objective and counsel your own children and stepchildren.
Harry reflects, “I just wanted my sons to get along with Karina’s three girls on weekends and didn’t anticipate all the drama and complaints. Sometimes, I literally had to leave the house and would go to a library just to get some work done after school.”
Karina responds, “It’s so true! We have to remember that their feelings are normal and that there will be conflict. We’ve instituted a weekly family meeting time so the kids can air their complaints. It seems to be working so far and they’re all engaged in the process.” Further, Harry and Karina are working on leading by example and managing their conflicts in a respectful, calm way so their children will have good role models.
Conflict is Normal and It Can’t All Be Resolved
Additionally, relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, advises us that happy couples don’t necessarily have less conflict than miserable ones. He informs us that 69% of problems in a marriage don’t get resolved but can be managed successfully. Gottman writes “Successful couples know how to exit an argument.” Discussing issues in a timely and respectful way will help you become better at repair skills, allow you to bounce back from disagreements faster, and build a successful long-lasting relationship.
After all, when people get remarried, they carry baggage from their first marriage that can cause them to sabotage a new relationship if they haven’t healed and worked through the issues that contributed to the demise of that relationship. Add to that baggage is the realization that there are often a lot more players in a second marriage – such as children from former spouses, step-children, and sometimes even new children from this marriage. Couples also often rush into tying the knot without truly getting to know each other or marry on the rebound.
6 Ways to Thrive in a Remarriage:
- Make your marriage a priority. Make a commitment as a couple to do things you enjoy with and without your children. A “date night” or couples time can be very enriching – even if it’s going for a walk or grabbing a sandwich and having a picnic.
- Establish an open-ended dialog regarding concerns of ALL family members. Don’t be surprised if some of your discussions are heated – especially around hot-button issues such as money, custody plans, chores, vacations, etc. Remarried couples bring emotional baggage with them from their first marriage so be sure to set ground rules for respectful conduct such as “No name-calling or yelling is allowed.”
- Discuss hot button issues and personality conflicts privately – but hold regular, informal family meetings (where everyone feels heard) to clear the air and address family issues. Avoid trying to prove a point and examine your part in a disagreement.
- Learn to apologize and practice forgiveness. Apologize even if you didn’t mean to hurt your partner, child, or stepchild’s feelings. Be sure to be specific about what you want to make amends for and say something like “I hope you will forgive me for calling you a name because I really care about your feelings.” Granting a partner forgiveness isn’t the same as condoning the hurt done to you but it will allow you to move on. Try to remember you are on the same team.
- Adopt a “we’re in this together” approach. Don’t let differences in child rearing come between you. The role of the stepparent is one of a friend and supporter rather than a disciplinarian. Learn new strategies and share your ideas with your partner.
- Don’t issue ultimatums such as “I’m leaving if things don’t improve.” Take the “D” word (divorce) out of your vocabulary. Make a commitment to stay together (unless there is abuse) and accept that there will be ups and downs. Discuss expectations to avoid misunderstandings.
If you embrace the notion that conflict is an inevitable part of a marriage, and that not all problems have to be resolved, you’ll bounce back from disagreements faster and build love, trust, and intimacy with your partner. Over time, many of the kinks in your marriage will smooth out and you’ll adjust and thrive in your second marriage.
You can find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020. Her books can also be ordered here.
I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry