What can you do to improve your remarriage when you feel it’s heading for divorce or breakup? While this is a common problem, the solutions are far from ordinary. Breaking the cycle of an unhappy relationship dynamic requires a radical shift in mindset. That said, many couples see a second marriage as a fresh start and a new chance at happiness, the statistics for second marriage success tell a different story with the divorce rate being 60-67% compared to close to 50% for first marriages.
Why is this so? There are many reasons and most of them seem to involve the complications of adding children to the mix – discipline, the stepparent’s role, loyalty issues, and rivalries. Further, remarried couples often have a lot of financial stress and difficulty carving out time to nourish their relationship. However, it strikes me that if a couple has a foundation of trust and intimacy, they will be better able to withstand the stresses and storms inherent in most second marriages and step-families.
The number one thing that seems to be breaking up many remarried couples is difficulty bouncing back from conflict or a disagreement in a healthy way. According to Dr. John Gottman, the number one solution to this problem is to get really good at repair skills. He tells Business Insider that you’ve got to get back on track after a fight if you don’t want issues to fester.
Unfortunately, what couples tend to do is blame the other person and argue over trivial issues – such as household chores. Remarried couples literally report having the same fights over and over again. After a while, they are no longer addressing the issue at hand and it becomes a vicious cycle of negative feelings that never get resolved.
A typical example is Steve and Kyla, both in their mid-forties and remarried for eight years. They are blending four children from their first marriages and they have come to their first counseling session feeling skeptical and frustrated.
“I’ve been feeling discouraged for some time,” complains Kyla. “I feel shut out by Steve. I can’t remember when the last time was when we had time alone and felt close.” Steve responds: “Kyla loves to criticize me and she’s so negative. She keeps threatening to leave and I don’t know how to make her happy. Our kids don’t get along well and I often don’t know my role as a stepparent.”
Unfortunately, the common theme in Steve and Kyla’s remarks is focusing on each other’s flaws rather than ways they can repair their relationship. Relationship expert Dr. Harriet Lerner explains that the recipe for failure in a marriage is waiting for the other person to change. Rather than giving up on their relationship, couples need to lean toward each other. She writes, “It’s the dissatisfied partner who usually is motivated to change. If you don’t take some new action on your own behalf, no one else will do it for you.”
While it’s natural to want to throw in the towel when your partner becomes distant or critical of you, reacting in kind furthers the divide between you. Instead, Dr. Learner recommends that you take responsibility for warming things up and increase positive reinforcement. This can be done by saying things like “You’re so thoughtful to clean the kitchen,” which highlights their positive qualities and things you admire about them.
Further, practicing what Dr. John Gottman calls emotional attunement daily can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. This means “turning toward” one another and showing empathy rather than “turning away.” Dr. Gottman recommends a five-to -one ratio of interactions – meaning for every negative interaction, you need five positive ones.
In remarried families, there are many complications and stressors that can cause couples to lose sight of their love and affection for one another. The next time you have a disagreement, stop second-guessing your partner’s reactions and examine your own responses. Your focus needs to be on working on ways to repair hurt feelings so you can restore love and harmony in your remarriage.