Second (Place) Marriages/ Step Families
"Happy families are all alike--and every stepfamily is complex in its own way."
Responsibility to the kids
For second marriages, the statistics are a bit more gloomy. Nearly 70% of those marriages fail. Statistics waver depending on sources, but one thing remains true: second and subsequent marriages face a lot more issues. In fact, they are more likely to fail if they involve step-children. There has to be something to these statistics and not just because step mothers are evil- get your head out of the fairy tales.
Step children bring into a marriage:
- Children's personal adjustment to divorce and subsequent/second marriage
- financial issues with child support
- jealousy (and other negative emotions) of parents' priorities among children and the marriage itself
- guilt parents feel if they don't put children first
- additional family members related to the step children (and still part of their lives)
- whether or not children are the glue that holds the marriage together at least somewhat
- rivalries between step siblings
- time taken to shuttle kids around from house to house, weekends and holidays, etc.
- step children using manipulative tactics to set up stepparent and biological parent against each other.
I wouldn't be writing about this if I didn't have experience too. I'm in a second marriage, but not my second marriage- it is my husband's second. According to statistics, we're still likely to fail. I have recently given a lot of thought about why a second marriage is nearly doomed. One answer is there are more things and interferences to disagree and argue about. Priorities in life are hard enough to figure out if you're single or in a first family situation, let alone in a second marriage.
Responsibility to a first marriage (spouse and children) continues even after the marriage is dissolved. What is frustrating in the second marriage is the question about how the priority of responsibilities should be assigned. Does it lie with the first family or the second? Are there rules to this? These are real choices that have to made sometimes- dad can't be everywhere all the time. Eventually things will collide. Which children do you put first if you have to? Reality is second families often come in second and a big part of why they are more likely to fail.
Besides basic counseling after divorce, nobody teaches a divorced person how to transition into another marriage and family or how to deal with balancing the two. Men are more likely to remarry much quicker after a first marriage. The first family doesn't just go away. At the risk of sounding selfish, I honestly wish it would sometimes because the priorities never coexist, they always collide somehow.
I'm brutally honest about the toughest things in life so don't hate me for it. In my situation of never being married, I was not prepared for taking second. My husband and family are first in my world so of course it is natural to expect this notion in return, but it's not reality.
I've never had to compete for a man before, but I often feel like I'm competing for importance between the ex wife and their child together. He seems to be their representative and voice in all our arguments, whereas I am the rep for myself and our daughter. It seems he is almost more responsible for them than his current family. Reason is for fear of being labeled deadbeat dad or irresponsible dad.
Many women leave a marriage with majority of responsibility for the kids so this leaves dad in limbo- not knowing where his responsibility lies. Usually it's whenever and wherever the ex spouse wants him to be, leaving an unhealthy balance between current family and first family priorities. Sometimes my husband has to drop everything, including us (his current family) to tend to a crisis situation with his first family. Is this responsible and the right thing to do? Yes and no. Sometimes it's during a crisis within our current family. Sometimes the ex wife makes everything into a crisis. As in most life's situation's, the boundaries are not clear. And how much of the first family do you have to sacrifice to make the second marriage work?
Many first marriages suffer because of financial arguments, but in second marriages there are usually additional financial obligations to the first family, such as child support, alimony, etc that take away from the second family's income. My husband and I have two young children together, but he also has a child from his first marriage and he pays child support, additional money towards custody amendments, and flying his daughter halfway across the country to visit. This is only one example, but several other examples include giving grown children from the first marriage money or the ex spouse to keep up their way of life.
What ever happened to the old fashioned nuclear family? It's common place to have one family from your twenties, one from your thirties, and well into your 40's. Now there are numerous extra family members; step parents, step grandparents, various aunts and uncles, step siblings- I'm going to stop there before I get dizzy! A second and/or subsequent marriages and family walk into this mess and as statistics show, walk right out. Who can blame them? More family members can equal more trouble- bottom line.
There are dynamics in place as well as loyalty and history among relatives from the first families that haven't been established yet in the second family. There are "your" children and "our" children, and various feelings coming from everyone. Grandparents of the first families still have loyalty to first family grandchildren as well. I witness this personally.
Time and efforts taken to deal with the loose ends from the first marriage take away from the family life and establishment of the second family. Those second families with new/young children need a lot of time and attention while the first family kids are older, but also need time and attention that may go unforeseen because younger children's, and baby's, needs are more demanding and immediate. In my situation there are two under 6 in our new family together but a teen from my husband's first family so these are two high need groups of kids.
All families are incredibly busy just with the daily grind so add in additional time taken away from them and it can spell trouble, especially for the marriage.That leaves less time for second family overall. Make no mistake that somehow things get stirred up in the first family when one or both ex spouses gets remarried. It seems that the first family suddenly requires more attention, money, etc from the remarried spouse. F
or instance, in my situation, my husband and I saved up for many years to finally buy our first house at almost 40 yrs old. Now that the ex knows we bought a house, suddenly she thinks we're rich and is demanding more. Again, where are the boundaries?
As the number of relationships increase in one's life, complications arise. People tend to ride through their first marriage with a feeling of 'if it works, it works and if it doesn't, it doesn't'. It's not until the second marriage comes around that they discover it takes work, but by then they are learning they have to work on first family obligations. It's also in the second marriage they figure out they are still tied to their first marriage because those relationships need to be maintained, if only for co-parenting.
Some things to think about before or while being in a second marriage are:
The statistics. Why are they stacked against second marriages? Lessons not learned, etc. There is a common factor that majority of our population is having troubles with in a second marriage and yet they are more prevalent than ever.
Boundaries. Are there some in place already? What needs to be changed when one remarries? Can you communicate about boundaries? I know a woman who can't hold a steady boyfriend because they get frustrated that her ex (father of her two children) stops by to see their kids unannounced. That is an example of very poor boundaries.
Special needs. I was once told by a marriage counselor that a second or subsequent marriage is to be treated as a special needs relationship; extra communication, nurturing, etc. Also, step children will fall into the special/high needs category too. Dealing with divorce and feeling replaced by a new family brings up a lot more issues.
- Make-up Sex and Other Relationship Myths
What do we believe about relationships and how much of it is true? There are a myriad of myths that cloud our judgment based on how we view relationships. Let's explore reality versus myth.
Secret to second family wedded bliss?
Some ingredients for a successful second marriage are:
- No idealistic, Brady Bunch notions. Be realistic! Work out the details now!
- Discuss the important stuff like finances and parenting plans/discipline decisions ahead of time.
- Make sure communication of major issues is between adults, not involving the children
- Decide on priorities. If you're just getting into a step family arrangement, decide whether you are a priority. Many situations involve one person's first marriage and another's second. Don't hope that having a baby in the second marriage will prioritize it.
- seek a counselor with experience in these dynamics.
- Reflect on what happened in the first marriage. Unresolved pain or anger can wreak havoc in a new marriage.
- Marriage Contracts, Ultimatums, and Divorce
How would you feel about a contract arranged after you were married? It doesn't seem to make much sense. You dated the person, got to know them, talked about the important stuff, agreed or compromised (right?), then got married. So why is a post