No matter where you are in your stage of divorce, whether you just broached the topic with your spouse or are well on your way to entering the next phase of your life, navigating life post-divorce can be tricky. For many, this period of time is often a “second adolescence” so to speak, which Risa Ganel, L.C.M.F.T. couples therapist from Maryland. “You might try new hobbies, travel, seek to learn something new, pick up interests you let go of during their first marriage, etc.,” she says. But, after a length of time that varies by individual, most of us crave being in another relationship. In fact, an estimated two-thirds of U.S. adults who were previously married had remarried, according to 2013 data from the Pew Research Center, which is up from 55 percent in 1960.
While a new marriage can be a fresh start for many, most of the time, an individual brings the story of their first marriage with them, notes Ganel. “That story often has a level of trauma woven into it (we tend to call it baggage) that affects the new couple, even when they are madly in love and it feels like the new relationship is the one where we ‘get it right this time around,’” she explains. “We often respond in the present from our experiences of our past relationships, however, learning to distinguish the difference between the two is very important to the health of a second marriage.”
The reality is that remarriages are tricky. As such, second-time divorce rates are higher than first-time divorce rates. “Statistics show that 20 percent of first marriages end in divorce within the first 5 years, and 25% of second marriages end in divorce in that same time frame,” says Ganel. There are several reasons for this, however, one thing that rings true for most individuals who wind up remarrying is that they go into the remarriage with more trepidation than they had in their first. “Any time we go through what is often a challenging experience like divorce, we can become a little superstitious, if not paranoid, that we could ‘make another mistake’ with remarriage,” says Lauren Cook, Psy.D., M.M.F.T., marriage and family therapist. “Especially if you felt like there were no signs of trouble in your previous marriage, it's common to be worried that a similar thing could happen with the next relationship.”
The good news is that a remarriage, although never a total fresh start, can absolutely be an opportunity to connect romantically in a healthy and more rewarding way. Here, experts share their best tips for navigating remarriage after a divorcing.
Release guilt and shame.
Avoid letting your past relationship experiences weigh you down in your future experiences. “Work to truly believe that you deserve love and have a new chapter to write with your new partner,” says Shemiah Derrick, Licensed Professional Counselor based in Chicago. “Try to understand why things happened and how you want them to be different in the future without blaming yourself or getting stuck on what you ‘should’ have done.”
Consider your "why".
What is the reason for you getting into a new marriage? Derrick suggests honestly considering whether or not you might be pursuing a new marriage as a "redo" from the old one. If so, ask yourself why? “Create a genuine list of reasons that can serve as reminders during tough times for why you chose this partner and to remarry,” she says.
Take it slow.
You might have felt a great deal of pressure to get married with your ex-spouse. Maybe all of your friends were doing it, or people started asking you when it was going to happen. This second time around, it’s important to give yourself time to find someone that you truly connect with, notes Dr. Cook. “Rather than hop from one relationship to the next, think about what could have been done differently and then take that data with you as you enter into another relationship.”
Create a financially responsible partnership.
“A marriage or live-in relationship is actually a business as well as a romantic arrangement: Couples are supposed to have income and expenses, and wind up with a profit, which we call savings and equity,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners. “Two grown-up partners, who can manage their money well, will be able to create the life they want, support their children, prepare for the future, and have some left over for fun.”
Don’t keep secrets.
You probably already know that secrets in a marriage can lead to big trouble later on. For this reason, Dr. Tessina recommends being open and honest with your new spouse about everything from childhood traumas to past relationship issues. “Seek to learn something new, about yourself and about each other.” Doing so, she explains, will only work to strengthen your bond.
Talk through your arguments.
Fighting is a part of every relationship—even the healthy ones. But how you fight and how well you communicate when you fight is the telling sign for most married couples. Adam Blum, licensed psychotherapist and the founder and director of the Gay Therapy Center in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, recommends making a commitment with your partner to talk about the feelings underneath the content of each fight. “The content of the fight is not that important; what is important are the vulnerable feelings that sparked the fight about the milk or the traffic,” he says. “We need to be regularly reassured about these underlying vulnerable feelings beneath a fight such as ‘do you really love me?’ or ‘will you leave me?’, which are always there even if intellectually we don’t believe them.”
Don’t try to change your partner.
You may have already learned from your first marriage with your former spouse that you can’t change someone else. You might be able to curb some bad habits, or request that they fold laundry differently, but you can’t change the fundamentals of who they are. Dr. Tessina warns not to fall into the trap of thinking you can help them change. “Problems this severe require more than you can provide, and your ‘help’ may only postpone the real treatment this person needs,” she says.
Trust in love again.
“It can be really easy to feel jaded after a marriage ends to the point where we fall into the belief that no marriage will ever be successful,” says Dr. Cook. “Note where you stand on your perspective on marriage and if you're feeling doubtful and resentful, use this as an opportunity to pause and reflect on the times when you have seen successful marriages.”