Dating in your 30s, 40s, and beyond means, the love of your life may have been married previously. Luckily for you both, you embraced that part of their past as a pro versus a red flag. So now, you’re slated to commit to them in the new year. But if you’re like us, you’ve likely heard that 50% of marriages end in divorce. And unfortunately, data finds the divorce rate for second marriages in the United States is over 60%.
Before you hit the group text to discuss your anxieties about these daunting numbers, put your phone down. We reached out to Stacian Watts, M.Sc., RP registered psychotherapist and founder of Toronto-based Watts Psychotherapy, to find out why divorce rises with second marriages and how to implement tools in your relationship to keep your foundation rock solid.
OK. Let’s start with what Watts says might be a part of the reason for the rise in the second-marriage divorce rate. “The stat is so high [because] what a lot of people end up doing is they jump right into another marriage,” she tells ESSENCE. “[The divorcee] hasn’t taken the time to think about how they contributed to the breakdown of [their previous] marriage.” So, now that we’ve gotten that tiny but critical piece of information let’s talk about how to nurture a successful relationship, even if this is your partner’s second (or third marriage).
Know the Stats, But Don’t Let Them Be Your Metric For Success
“Those numbers aren’t everything,” Watts tells ESSENCE. “There’s a story behind many of those [and] specifics that we don’t know.” So how do we let the numbers inform us without catastrophizing? Watts says nuance is vital. “There are many second marriages that thrive and go on to be successful not just in the number of years but the quality of the relationship.” Phew!
However, there’s a caveat. There must be lessons learned from your previous relationships—even if you’ve never been married—that inform how you navigate this one. “Relationships can be a perfect mirror for the stuff that we need to deal with personally that comes to the surface when you’re living with another person and managing a life together.”
Make Sure You’ve Both Done Some Self-Reflection
Before entering the marriage, both parties need to turn inward. However, Watts shares that the partner who has been married has an extra step to take. “Each person going into this relationship has some work to do,” she emphasizes. “[But] the person who’s been married before needs to ensure they have taken the time to reflect on their contribution to the breakdown of [their previous] marriage. It takes two,” she tells ESSENCE. “There is always something you can take accountability for, and they must reflect on that to clearly understand how their behavior, attitude, [and] approach to that relationship led to its downfall so that they’re not repeating those same patterns and behaviors going forward.”
Be Aware of Your Emotional Wounding
Watts hesitates to call our previous hurts emotional baggage because of the negative connotation. So instead, she offers a different phrase: emotional wounding. “Couples need to have conversations about their history and not just their relationship history, but their family and personal history.” Why do you ask?
Watts explains this helps you understand your partner’s inner world—all the stuff happening inside us that no one can see. “Most people carry some degree of emotional wounding,” she explains. “It’s not so much the existence of those wounds, but do you know about them and the situations that activate them?”
Watts says that getting to know these things about yourself and your partner is a life-long journey that you should be prepared to buckle up and coast down with curiosity. “This is something you’re going to navigate over time, and you should embrace it as a beautiful experience [and think]: I have the rest of my life to get to know you,” she tells us.
Manage Your Expectations and Name Them
Many of us have dreamed of our wedding day and envision a wonderful life with our life partners. While there will be beautiful moments, it’s best to avoid getting caught up in the fantasy. “Each of us carries a fantasy of what marriage should look like, and how your relationship stacks up,” she says.
Now it’s time to challenge what could be unrealistic expectations. Watts says this involves getting curious about what’s influencing your relationship archetype. What does this mean? Well, again, it’s all about introspection. “Is it your parent’s relationship?” Watts says it is an important question. “Are you trying to recreate that for yourself? Is it the exact opposite of that?” Figuring out what influences your dream of what a marriage should look like can provide a lot of insight.
Invest in Couples Therapy
Couples therapy is often viewed as only an option for couples in trouble. But Watts says the opposite can be true. “You are going to get the most from couples therapy when you are not in crisis,” Watts tells us. “A lot of couples wait until they’re considering ending the relationship before they go to therapy, and at that point, the work is much deeper than when you still like each other.”
Ease into Step-Parenting
Kids can be a new part of your life when getting married. Watts explains this transition is about patience and reflecting on your expectations as you take on this responsibility. Additionally, she says couples need to have conversations about the role they want their partner to play. “Ideally, a step-parent’s focus should be on establishing a safe, secure, and trusting relationship with the child, and they should leave the disciplining to the birth parent,” she advises. “It’s almost like you’re a friend or mentor.”
One more thing to expect on this journey is resistance. “Expect resistance from children, and try not to personalize it,” Watts urges. Instead, she says to adopt an empathetic and understanding approach, considering how children’s lives are affected during this life change. “It’s not that they’re rejecting you. They’re responding to the changes in their life,” she notes.
Additionally, she says to care for yourself too. “Make sure you have your support, self-care, and therapy to support you.” She also says it’s vital to have someone you can talk to that isn’t your partner to ensure you have an outlet, so you’re not reactive during moments of challenge. “Let the natural process unfold and know it won’t be like that forever. The longer you’re in this child’s life and developing a deeper relationship with them. The safer they’ll feel.”