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Why Second and Third Marriages Often Fail

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by Jim Duzak

Why Second and Third Marriages Often Fail

Dear Jim: You said in your column that second and third marriages have much higher divorce rates than first marriages. Why is that? Don’t people learn from their mistakes? I’m particularly concerned about this because I’m divorced and the man I’m dating has been divorced twice. We both have kids, although he has his kids only on weekends. Are we asking for trouble if we get married? (“Peggy”)
Dear Peggy: The divorce rate for second marriages (meaning a marriage in which at least one of the spouses has been married once before) is about sixty percent, and the divorce rate for third marriages is seventy-three percent. I’m not aware of any statistics on fourth or fifth marriages, but my guess is the failure rates are even higher.

As I said in the earlier column, divorce is not what could be called a random risk. The two spouses have control of the situation and can “beat the odds” if they’re well-matched and care enough about maintaining a good relationship. But, certainly, the high divorce rate for second and third marriages is sobering, and raises legitimate concerns for anyone contemplating such a marriage.

To answer your question, a lot of people don’t learn from their marital mistakes, or they rush into another marriage before they’re ready. Some of the most common reasons for that are:

They won’t admit they played a role in the breakup of their prior marriage or marriages; the problem was always something the “ex” did or didn’t do;
They’re stuck in their comfort zone, even when that comfort zone is harmful to them (such as a woman who always seems to be attracted to men who abuse her or cheat on her);
They’re incurable optimists when it comes to relationships, always falling in love too fast and always seeing their latest romantic partner as the answer to their prayers;
They dislike living alone, and are prone to getting remarried just to have someone to come home to;
They’re looking for a quick fix to the psychological wounds that divorce inflicts, rather than taking the time to heal;
If they’re women, their divorce may have left them feeling rejected and unattractive, and they may marry the first man who comes along who makes them feel like a woman again;
If they’re men, they often lack basic household skills such as cooking, cleaning, and food shopping, and will get remarried just to avoid having to learn them;
If their ex is already involved with someone else, or was during the marriage, they may get remarried for revenge.
In addition, second and third marriages often involve the challenges of dealing with stepchildren and with difficult ex-wives and ex-husbands. I’m not saying that successful blended families aren’t possible, but they take a lot of patience and a lot of work.

The good thing about your situation, Peggy, is that you want to anticipate the risks and avoid another divorce. If your boyfriend feels the same way, and is capable of taking a hard and honest look at his past marriages, the two of you should be able to make a marriage work. I would wait, though, until both of you are completely comfortable with taking on the role of stepparents, and until the two sets of kids are prepared for the many changes that will affect them after the marriage.

And with regard to the kids, check out It has plenty of real-world advice for couples dealing with blended-family issues, and has a free weekly newsletter you can sign up for. For someone in your situation it’s well worth reading.

Good luck, Peggy, and please let me know how this turns.

Tags: divorce rates marriage relationships romantic partner second marriages

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