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.
Bounce Back From Fights to Ensure Second Marriage Success
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.
10 Skills to Promote Second Marriage Success
- Don’t Criticize Your Partner: Instead, let your partner know what you need in a positive way. For example, “I’d really like it if you’d plan and activity for us” is more effective than, “You never invite me to do anything with you.” Dr. Gottman reminds us that criticism is damaging to a marriage. Talking about specific issues will reap better results than attacking your partner.
- Learn How to Repair after Conflicts Arise: Don’t put aside resentments that can destroy your relationship. Experiencing conflict is inevitable and couples who strive to avoid it are at risk of developing stagnant relationships. Avoid defensiveness and showing contempt for your partner (rolling your eyes, ridicule, name-calling, sarcasm).
- Avoid Character Assassinations and Attempt to Stay in the Present: Stay focused on the issues at hand. Ask yourself: what am I trying to accomplish? Avoid name-calling and don’t attack your partner personally. Remember anger is usually a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, and frustration so keep things in perspective.
- Boost up Physical Affection: Don’t forget to cuddle on the couch and surprise your partner with a kiss. Even if you’re not a touchy-feely person, increasing physical affection can help you to sustain a deep, meaningful bond.
- Cultivate Shared Interests with Your Partner: Try a variety of activities that bring you both pleasure. For example, some couples take up yoga or take a dance class together. Don’t forget to show interest in your partner’s hobbies even if you don’t share them.
- Nurture Fondness and Admiration: Remind yourself of your partner’s positive qualities – even as you grapple with their flaws – and express your positive feelings out loud several times each day. Search for common ground rather than insisting on getting your way when you have a disagreement.
- Be Vulnerable and Communicate Honestly about Key Issues in Your Relationship: Be sure to be forthcoming about your concerns. Express thoughts, feelings, and needs in a respectful way. Resentment can build when couples sweep things under the rug, so don’t bury negative feelings.
- Be Accountable for Your Part in the Conflict or Dispute: One person’s ability to do this can change the dynamic of the relationship. Dr.’s Julie and John Gottman write: “one person’s response will literally change the brain waves of the other person.” Apologize to your partner when appropriate. This will validate their feelings and promote forgiveness.
- Don’t Allow Wounds to Fester: Challenge your self-defeating thoughts about holding onto hurt feelings. When we listen to our partner’s side of the story and realize we all have flaws, we no longer need to feel resentful.
- Apologize and Practice Forgiveness: Saying you’re sorry even if you don’t hurt your partner’s feelings on purpose with help you move on after a dispute. You are being a good role-model for your children as well. Try to remember you are on the same team. Accept that people do the best they do and try to be more understanding. This doesn’t mean that you accept your other’s hurtful actions. You simply come to a more realistic view and give them less power over you.
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.