a couple separates with plans to divorce, one partner usually leaves
the family home. When there are children by this marriage and the
parents are sharing the parenting, the children will now have a maternal
home and a paternal home.
divorced partners want to get on with their lives. Statistics Canada
reports that despite the high divorce rate,marriage and/or cohabitation
is a desired form of life, and 3/4 of divorced persons remarry within
three to five years after divorce.
the goal is to create a new blended family with children from one or
both partners, the divorced parents must be informed about the
complexities of remarriage. As a marriage counselor, I have worked with
many people who have divorced and remarried. Unfortunately, after their
second marriage, many people have told me they weren’t prepared for
problems such as the ambiguous role of a step-parent. They believed in
the myth that their marriage would create not only their partnership but
also an “instant family” with “instant love”. It just doesn’t work that
way. Each new partner comes with a different history and a different
attitude to child rearing. The lack of common ground frequently leads to
disappointment and disenchantment.
high divorce rate is common knowledge. According to StatsCan, second
marriages have an even higher rate of divorce than first marriages do. I
believe we have a strong responsibility to advocate pre-remarriage
education. Premarital courses are recognized by many churches and
agencies; when there are children involved, pre-remarriage counseling
should be; compulsory prior to the marriage.
a first marriage, a couple often has children who they parent from
birth through the various stages of growth and development. This is
regarded as a “normal” family: a nuclear family with clearly defined
parent-child roles, with physical and emotional protection, with parents
in the protective authority role in charge of their children. The
family has its own identity, with boundaries that distinguish it as a
separate system. The marriage contract can be broken, but the
parent-child and sibling relationships remain. This is true for the
biological grandparents, aunts, and uncles, as well; the divorce is only
between the couple.
marriage is different in all these areas. The newly married pair form
and instant family — not just a couple. They move into each others’
lives at different stages of their own, and of their childrens’ lives.
They each bring a different history, and part of their previous family
conveys that the largest number of remarriages are between two divorced
persons. The second largest is between a divorced person and a single
person. The third is between a divorced person and a widowed person.
Each combination has its own structure and dynamics, and each
participant must be prepared for the reality of its own unique
we consider two divorced persons remarrying, one or both partners may
have children from their previous marriage. Sometimes, both sets of
children end up living together in the new blended family home. The
children may be different sexes and different ages: since men tend to
marry younger women, the women’s children may be young and the man’s
teenage. It can be difficult to create harmony and a family routine with
children at different life stages.
the woman is the sole custodial parent and her new husband a
non-custodial parent, it can create instability in the family function
with his children visiting every-other weekend. Frequently, when the man
spends the week with his new wife and her children, he may tend to
overcompensate when his children are with him by focusing his time and
attention solely on his children.
a previously single man marries a divorced woman, he can find her kids
intrusive, and he may have difficulty knowing what role to develop as
step-father. When a divorced man with children marries a previously
married woman he may be anxious for her to open her heart to his
children, and love them “like her own”. She wants her own children,
while he’s already “been there, done that” and may not want any more.
She wants him, but she also wants children of her own, and hopes that
once married, she’ll help him change his mind.
remarriage family tree may include two biological parents, two
step-parents, four biological grandparents, four step-grandparents, a
biological extended family, a step- extended family, siblings,
step-siblings, and possibly half-siblings. I could go on with the
estimated nine different structures post-divorce marriages can bring
together. The main point is that divorced people have a right to get on
with their lives, to fall in love, and to want a committed relationship.
They can build a successful blended family, but this requires
preparation — not just for the couple, but for and with their children.
Pre-remarriage counseling is crucial to prepare each member for some of
the unique issues and challenges they’ll face as they create new family
add that since remarriages are linked to the first marriage, the
boundary of the remarriage must be open to the links between the
children and the nonresident parent. This requires that the educational
process also involves the ex-spouses. As I noted in my book Remarriage: A Family Affair,
“it may be useful to conceptualize the remarriage family as consisting
of persons who have dual membership in two families. The successful
remarriage family would be one that acknowledges the prior allegiance
and affection that exists between parents and children, neither family
demanding exclusive loyalty from its members. The children may enjoy the
benefits of both family memberships.”
learn to develop a satisfying family life built on this complex
structure of parts of two families requires preparation and cooperation
as well as love. Couples whose marriage will create a blended family owe
it to themselves — and their children — to seek pre-remarriage
counseling to help them cope with the unique issues they’ll confront.
Lillian Messinger is a Toronto-based therapist specializing in remarriage and step-family issues. She is also author of “Remarriage: A Family Affair“.