You may have heard about the gloomy report from the National Center for Health Statistics that says second marriages are more likely to fail than first ones are. So much for learning from experience, right? But wait! Buried in all that data, there’s good news for Boomers.
A close look at the numbers reveals that when older couples take another trip down the aisle, they have a better chance than younger ones of staying the course. One reason may be that both nests are likely to be empty. After all, while “The Brady Bunch” was a lot of fun as a sitcom, making a real life blended family work is no clambake. Also, post-midlifers may have gained a measure of emotional stability that lets them create a solid relationship more easily.
Even so, tying the knot at a certain age has its own share of challenges. Here are expert tips for getting past the roadblocks so you can make a go of it the second time around.
Examine What Went Wrong the First Time
Writing in The New York Times, marriage guru Stephanie Coontz stressed that “you have to admit that your first marriage’s failure wasn’t all your ex-spouse’s fault.” Coontz, the author of Marriage, A History and A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, has interviewed many couples in second marriages that have lasted longer than their first marriages. She found that one reason for their success was their willingness to take some of the blame for what went wrong the first time.
Similarly, Scott (“Dr. Scott”) Haltzman, M.D., founder and editor of DrScott.com and author of The Secrets of Happily Married Men, The Secrets of Happily Married Women, and The Secrets of Happy Families, says that second timers may feel they simply married the wrong person when in fact they didn’t develop good marriage skills. His advice is to “have the attitude that this is the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with, so you must find a way to make it work.”
Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka “Dr. Romance”) a psychotherapist and the author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, agrees and adds that you both have “leftovers from earlier relationships.” “If you understand your own history, and seek to learn about your partner’s, you’ll stop repeating past mistakes,” she says. “Don’t keep secrets. Talking about your past will help you understand each other and resolve guilt, fear, and jealousy about earlier loves. Familiarity with what went wrong will help you recognize problems before you repeat them.”
Confront the Ghosts of Relationships Past
Especially if you have been widowed, you may feel guilty about committing to a new love or you may find yourself comparing your first spouse with your current one. The solution is to give yourself time to grieve before you move on. That can also be true if your first marriage ended in divorce. “Even if your marriage had problems, or you were the one who wanted out, you still will have grief over the dreams and hopes which have died with the relationship,” says Dr. Tessina. “The overwhelming feeling of loss can be confusing and difficult to understand. Let yourself work through all of that so you can begin anew.”
Put Some Effort Into Making Your Partner Happy
Dr. Scott emphasizes that many people abandon their courtship behavior the minute they get married. “That’s a mistake,” he warns. “Continue doing all the nice little things that made you fall for one another – sending flowers and cards, giving massages, cooking favorite dishes. Don’t let the romance die.”
Dr. Tessina, who has been in a happy second marriage for 30 years herself, offers this take on the issue: “Good will counts.” “Remember to say the nice things, the compliments, the thank you’s,” she says. “Every couple has what I call a ‘relationship reservoir.’ If you fill it with good feelings and memories, you can draw on that when times get tough. But if your reservoir has lots of negatives and resentments, your marriage will not have staying power.”
Share Your Dreams and Goals
“If you discuss your hopes and dreams about the wedding, sex, and money in advance, you’ll get a chance to see how well you work things out together,” says Dr. Tessina. For his part, Dr. Scott says that you can’t just assume you know what the other person wants. “Why not come right out and ask?” he suggests. “That way you won’t be in for any surprises.”
Make Your Sex Life a Priority
“Don’t downgrade the importance of sex,” Dr. Tessina says. “Be sure your communication about sexual issues is open.” She also recommends being prepared to learn long-term sexual skills, which are different from pre-marital or newlywed sex. “Sex is a great way to comfort each other, to reassure each other, and to heal emotional rifts,” she contends. “A satisfying sexual life will do more to cement the security of your relationship than anything else.”