Newly Married

Why are second marriages so difficult and why do they often fail?

When people approach marriage for the second time around, they come because they really value marriage. We know that. But one of the things we’ve discovered is that a lot of people who sincerely desire a great marriage the second time around fall prey to a myth that adjustment to married life will occur more quickly for them in remarriage than it did in their initial marriage. We hold to this myth for so many different reasons: we’re more mature now, we feel like we’ve learned from our experiences before and the failures that we’ve experienced, maybe we’re even more settled financially and rid of the stressors that we attribute some of our difficulty earlier in life to, and the fact is we deeply believe in marriage, and so we’re bringing all the assets, as it were, to our marriage. We’ve discovered that it’s really easy to let those trick you into believing a second marriage will fall more quickly into place, but the fact is, and research bears this out, it’s almost a non-negotiable — it will not happen that way. It’s a much tougher start for a second-marriage couple.

What is the number one solution you propose to help a second marriage last?

When it comes to entering a second marriage, probably the most powerful tool that you can bring is the desire and the work involved in creating a “clean slate.” Whether it’s just one person in that couple who’s been married before, whether it was a divorce or a marriage that ended in death, whatever the case, creating a clean slate, bringing that in, having dealt with that word we often hear: that “baggage” we accumulate from a relationship. Sometimes we think, “Oh, I was married to a difficult person, and now I’m relieved of that and I can start over.” But the truth is that anytime you have loved someone deeply you have given them a part of yourself, and you have to really do some work to produce a clean slate to come into this new marriage. That means reflecting on what you may still have some guilt about, some anger you may not have processed, or even maybe just really taking a chance to reflect and understand “what did my first marriage teach me about myself?” When you have done that, that’s the single most important tool you can bring to a second marriage.

What about couples with kids?

For couples that enter into a second marriage with children on one or both sides and who really want to combine a family, blend a family, what we’ve discovered is that they often believe they’ll enter into that marriage, and though there will be some adjustment difficulties, they’ll have a normal new family. Let us just say, knowing from research, just be patient. We know it takes a minimum of three years for a blended family to begin to function like what we would call a “normal” family. Give yourself time, give yourself space, and be patient with that. And of course Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts is loaded with tools that help couples blend families.

Les Parrott's Making Happy
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Give us an update about your marriage initiative project in Oklahoma. What have been the successes-and the surprises?

It has been such a privelege for us to work with Governor Frank Keating here in the state of Oklahoma on what we think is the boldest ever step for our country, really, to save marriages. We’ve got this marriage initiative that has been in play now for about [a year] — this is a 10-year initiative, so let me just say that this the launching phase — that really has a grand dream to reduce the divorce rate by a third in the state of Oklahoma in the next decade. We just think it’s amazing. One of the most exciting things for us is that the governor has planned the very first Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts Day in the state of Oklahoma that will incorporate every county and every city in a live via-satellite event so that all of the couples: newly married, dating, can participate in a training event that will prepare them for marriage. We’re just delighted about his support in that .

Another major movement in this state are the steps that have been taken to blanket this state with marriage mentor couples, couples seasoned in married life, who are coming alongside couples, especially fragile families: families struggling in a low income bracket, families that are broken in one way or another. Couples are reaching out and taking them under their wing and mentoring them in not just establishing their marriage, but also in the ongoing rigors of married life and family life. We are thrilled to see this begin to happen.

The clergy have really taken the lead here and in other areas of the country in signing a marriage covenant that really commits them across denominational lines that no couple can be married without marriage preparation, without marriage mentoring, and we are thrilled to see that kind of fervor in the grassroots of this state. People are taking ownership of transforming the culture here, and it’s really been a fun project.

Copyright © 2005 by Zondervan Church Source, used with permission.

Dr. Leslie Parrott is codirector with her husband, Dr. Les Parrott III, of the Center for Relationship Development and a marriage and family therapist at Seattle Pacific University. The Parrotts are authors of the Gold Medallion Award-winning Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts and the recently released Saving Your Second Marriage Before It Starts.