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Second Marriages and Blended Families
Mixing families means different personalities, values and lifestyles coming together to find common ground.
Why Are Second Marriages and Blended Families More at Risk?
The statistics for second, and subsequent, marriages are discouraging. Nearly 70% of them fail. Statistics vary slightly depending on sources, but one thing remains true: Second marriages face a lot more issues. In fact, they are more likely to fail if they involve step-children (blended families) as well.
Why are the statistics so bleak? It's more difficult. That's the simple answer!
Lack of boundaries, unrealistic expectations, and poor communication are just a few of the culprits contributing to many of the issues.
Expectations: Most people beginning a new marriage and/or family have unrealistic expectations. Getting married a second time is not really a fresh start- if you've ever heard of the term baggage...yes! You've got it if you've been married before. If you or your new spouse believes there are no residual issues, if only psychological, stemming from the first marriage, you are sadly wrong. People want to leave it behind them, but that's not the way it works.
Boundaries: If children are involved, prepare for a lack of boundaries. Step-parenting is difficult, but without pre-determined boundaries it can turn ugly. Sometimes there is not a mutually satisfying co-parenting plan in place, and this can consistently cause issues to arise. Sometimes there are no clear boundaries between a spouse and former spouse or their families, leading to and abundance of negative emotions.
Communication: Communication ties it all together...or not. If a former spouse is still involved due to shared kids then a plan or agreement helps, but if a lack of communication is evident on either side, it can make everything more difficult even for the best laid out plan. Most communication should happen before a second marriage, but too often it doesn't. With various people and individual needs that must be addressed in different ways, the familial landscape and dynamics are constantly changing.
There is also a risk, and more reasons, for increased negative feelings to come between everyone involved. Feelings like anger and guilt. Jealousy for instance, can come between a step-parent and a child from the previous marriage. Also between the children themselves (from various prior marriages), and of course the current spouse with former spouse.
There are no perfect guidelines for blending families well. The best tool is preparation and establishing guidelines prior to the new marriage.
Do you have a blended family?
Are you in a second marriage?
Blended Families: Responsibility To The Kids
Most parents will agree the kids come first. Co-parenting can be difficult, and a former spouse can leverage the kids to manipulate things in their favor.
Step children involve:
- how the child personally adjusted to the divorce of their parents, and how those feelings and adjustments affect the subsequent/second marriage.
- financial issues with child support.
- guilt parents feel if they don't put children first.
- additional family members who are related to the step children (and still part of their lives).
- rivalries between step siblings
- time spent shuttling kids from one parent's house to another, weekends and holidays, etc.
- step-children using their own manipulative tactics between parents.
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.
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 must be made. Eventually lives will collide. Which children do you put first, and when?
Reality is second families often come in second place and a big part of why they are more likely to fail.
Besides basic counseling after divorce and parenting classes, nobody teaches a divorced person how to transition into another marriage and family or how to deal with balancing the two simultaneously.
Men are more likely to remarry much quicker after a first marriage according to statistics. The first family doesn't just go away though. It's as if the problems have just begun.
In my situation of never being married, I was not prepared for the turbulence of past marriage and child issues. My husband and family are first in my world so of course it is natural to expect this gesture in return, but it's not reality in many cases.
It was honestly one of the toughest times in my life to navigate. While his first child is an adult now, I reflect on all the issues that nearly tore us, and our family, apart. Of course, we had extended family involved as well.
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 had 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 and priorities are blurred.
Sometimes the ex wife made everything into a crisis, especially through the teen years with his first child. The boundaries were never clear. And how much of the first family do you have to sacrifice to make the second one 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 for years he paid 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 for cars, college, and young adult living expenses. While this is not obligatory, it is a reality.
Family and Everyone Else
In a blended family situation, there are numerous extra family members; step-parents, step-grandparents, extra aunts and uncles, step-siblings- I'm going to stop there before I get dizzy! A second and/or subsequent marriage and family walk into this mess and as statistics show, walk right out.
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.
Somehow things get stirred up, like an aggravated bees nest, in the first family when one or both of the ex spouses get remarried. It seems that the first family suddenly requires more time and money.
For instance, in my situation, my husband and I had saved up for many years to finally buy our first house. Suddenly when the ex spouse found out, she demanded more money.
People tend to ride through their first marriage with a notion 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 actually takes work, but by then they are learning they have unresolved first family obligations. It's also in the second marriage they figure out they are still tied to the first marriage if kids and co-parenting are involved.
Some things to think about before or while being in a second marriage are:
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.
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