Studio 5 Clinical Psychologist helps us contemplate the pros and cons of riding down the aisle once more.
It’s understandable that the loss of love either through death or divorce would make one feel a bit squeamish about getting back in the game. Timing is certainly a crucial element. Exiting a first marriage can be a bit like getting off a roller coaster and feeling motion-sick or even emotion-sick ~ it’s common to feel dizzy with confusion, leaving you unable to find your balance. Especially if you haven’t yet made the effort to recover from a divorce and rebuild yourself, another marriage may not be the best idea at this time. After all, it’s hard to be a healthy “we” if you aren’t a well-rounded, stable “me.” And while the amount of time needed before remarrying differs for each individual, it is certainly more likely to be years rather than months. Recognize and be true to what you want and don’t want in a relationship. If the ride made you sick the first time, don’t jump back on a similar one just for the sake of companionship.
I had a chance to interview former senator Jake Garn and his wife Kathleen about their second marriage of 31 years. He had lost his wife in a horrific car accident leaving behind 4 children, and Kathleen was divorced with one child when they married. Now here is an exception to the rule of timing. However, in their candid interview waiting a bit longer may have eased the burden for some of the children and perhaps even for Kathleen. She admits that it took several months even after marrying Jake to really trust that she wasn’t going to be hurt again because she had suffered a very painful divorce. But the senate recess schedule expedited that a bit. She had previously taken care of Jake and Hazel’s children when they left town for his various political assignments so she knew the children better than she knew Jake and Hazel until a few years later.
Be Conservatively Cautious
I advise single parents with children to be conservative and cautious in their dating.
Or, don’t date at all until you’ve raised your children! I know this statement makes me extremely unpopular, but in some situations, it is best for everyone involved. Be honest with yourself and make the best decision possible for you and your family. If you are going to date as a single parent, then do so with great care and caution. Meet at a different location other than your home. No sleepovers! (with or with the premarital sex) Imagine how confusing and difficult it will be for your little ones to see dating partners come and go? They have already suffered some sort of loss; let’s not add to that burden. Children become very attached! Wait to introduce a potential partner until you are most certain that this relationship is highly likely to turn into a commitment of marriage. Your children will mimic what they see in your behaviors. If you are dating someone with children, your obligation, in part, is to your partner’s children. Together, as a team, do what is best for the children. As Kathleen Garn said, “You’re the adult! Get a life and put children first!”
Be Patient & Respectful
Not all of us get along even when we are related so it’s important to keep your expectations low when combining families together. Not all of us jell even as one adult to another! And yes, it’s even hard to get along with your own biological children. We are born with a set of genetic personality traits. You and your partner will be making vows to love, honor, and cherish each other but your children are not making those same vows. They may have no intention of honoring you or even letting you into their world. A child may not like you no matter how spectacular you are because you are not “Mom” or “Dad”! Children are fiercely loyal regardless of their parent’s behavior. Let blood deal with blood. Manage, discipline, and instruct your own children; do not put your partner in the position of mean step-parent. You step up instead! However, just because we might consider someone as “difficult” is never an excuse to be disrespectful or unkind. Never stop extending yourself in opportunities to have that person belong and be a part of the blended group.
Embrace & Create the New
Be open to creating fun traditions that are light-hearted yet consistent. After awhile we start to trust that we belong and that we are important, but sometimes that takes many years to accomplish. Jake Garn says he only has one complaint about Kathleen: One day he asked his little granddaughter: “Do you love Grandpa? Yes, I do…but not as much as Grandma!” And Kathleen piped in saying, “That’s because I’m fun!” They have annual family vacations, traditions, parties, and celebrations, from the Super Bowl to the Fourth of July, they honor their bonds of family and togetherness. Dinner was the first nightly and consistent tradition Kathleen started with this big new family….she had to learn how to cook for a large family. Macaroni and cheese and cream of wheat would no longer cut it in the new household. She would always come up with new and fun ideas for them to do together as a family.
Honor & Acknowledge the Past
In the Garn family, Kathleen moved into the original family home, a symbol that she honored the former union. That’s a perfect example of why these blended families are not for sissies or immature adults! It is never going to be a cake walk. It was not easy for Kathleen to move into Jake’s former wife’s home. But that was Jake’s children’s family home and they did not need one more traumatic change. Every Christmas they decorated the tree with the original Christmas ornaments for the first ten years! You’d have to a strong sense of self to join another tribe, if you will. Can I still be completely me and join a well-formed family without losing myself but enjoying their traditions? Can I leave my resistance and ego at the alter of these new covenants I’ve made?
Be Realistic, Real, & Responsible
The second time around things have really changed; even our discussions about legal and financial matters are somewhat different. Individuals entering second marriages are often further along in life, more stable in their career and have more assets and debt to consider. It is imperative that you and your potential marriage partner have detailed discussions about what your union will mean financially and legally, as well as about how you will merge your respective lives. We see an increasing trend of prenuptial agreements for second marriages. A prenup can be an important tool for helping to first define your relationship, then to legally protect that union. Second-timers know that “sometimes it doesn’t work out.” It is critical that you acknowledge this and outline the legalities of your relationship in the case of death or divorce.
Bottom Line: Remember, when approaching the concept of marrying again, make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons. Then, be responsible in creating a scenario that will fare better than your first time on the marriage ride. If managed properly, any marriage — even a second one — can strengthen you as an individual and create companionship and family to enrich your life.
Dr. Liz Hale is a licensed clinical psychologist and a regular Studio 5 Contributor. Your comments and questions are welcomed! Please visit www.drlizhale.com to add your thoughts to today’s discussion or learn more about her private practice.