Tips and Tales About Taking Another Chance on Love and Marriage
By Amy Meadows
Frank Sinatra was really onto something when he crooned the beloved 1960 tune "The Second Time Around." With lyrics like "Love is lovelier the second time around" and "Love's more comfortable the second time you fall," he says what so many people feel when they find love again and feel ready to take another chance on a walk down the aisle. Of course, there's so much to consider before making that kind of commitment, and it's important to know what goes into having a successful second marriage. Here, the experts share their advice for turning a new chance at love into something that lasts a lifetime.
"Second marriages are challenging and face complexity," says Lisa Pope Campbell, MSW, LCSW, owner of Northeast Georgia Counseling. "You've learned that marriage isn't easy, and now you must learn that experience alone won't divorce-proof your marriage." That's why it's key to recognize how a second marriage will be different from a first marriage and take all of those elements into consideration as you move forward. There are certain steps that you will need to take to ensure that you are not only prepared to get married again, but also that you are ready to be a fully engaged spouse. Because according to Shatavia A. Thomas, DMFT, LMFT, owner of Buckhead's Dr. Shay Speaks, LLC, "Second marriages are about learning how to be a better you with someone new."
Learn from the Past
Moving on is never easy. And moving on from a marriage—whether it lasted a few months or many years—can be quite challenging. However, you can take comfort in the fact that your experience with your first marriage actually can pave the way to a happy and fulfilling second union.
"Just because your first marriage ended doesn't mean it was a failure," observes Crystal Bradshaw, MA, LPC, NCC, Gottman 7 Principles Educator and couples therapist with Synergy Counseling Innovations, LLC. "A lot of marriages create families. Is that a failure? A lot of marriages create friendships and businesses. Are those failures? No." In fact, Campbell believes that people should look at divorce as a sign of personal strength instead of failure, as it takes courage to walk away from a relationship that is not working. It also takes great fortitude to examine the reasons that first relationship fell apart and what can be learned from that experience.
"Some people learn about themselves, including what's negotiable or non-negotiable and their stance on unexpected variables such as friends, in-laws and the preferred balance of individual and couple time," Thomas says of first marriages. In many cases, the issues that contributed to the end of that first relationship—whether they involved a lack of intimacy or sex, financial disagreements, differing parenting styles or diverging values—can't or won't be recognized until after it has ended. But then there is enlightenment about the role each party played in that situation. "People typically can tell you about the red flags they overlooked in their first marriage, what they are not willing to endure the second time around and what kind of partner they want next time. They are better at identifying what they want from a relationship and what qualities they are looking for in a partner. They can use that information as they embark on their next relationship," Bradshaw says. "Learn from your past so you don't repeat it. Recognize how you may have contributed to the deterioration of the relationship, own your part (no matter how small or big) and vow to be an active participant in your next relationship."
Take a Time Out
Thinking about "getting out there" again can be both exciting and frightening. That's why experts suggest that an individual take some time before taking the plunge again. "Take time to get to know yourself after a breakup," says Julie Trujillo, MA, LPC, of Northeast Georgia Counseling. "Allow yourself to grieve the losses associated with ending a relationship instead of attempting to avoid the pain. Being able to tolerate uncomfortable feelings is a useful skill that can be developed through practicing mindfulness. By rushing into another relationship, dysfunction is likely to resurface." What's more, by taking that time, you will be able to reflect fully on your first marriage and really find those lessons from the past that will benefit you moving forward as you consider a second marriage.
Gordon Shippey, MA, LPC, of Northeast Georgia Counseling, agrees. "Take time to be a healthy individual before starting a new relationship," he says. "Prioritize functioning well by yourself, then build a social network outside of romantic attraction. Make sure you've extracted all the lessons you can from the previous marriage before trying again."
Find Your Second Time Around
When you are ready to find that special someone, you shouldn't necessarily look for romance immediately. "Instead, look for friendship and shared interests and values," Bradshaw remarks. "Connect with someone on this level and then evaluate if it's a good fit. Do you balance each other? See how it naturally evolves." By focusing on your own hobbies and interests, you will find like-minded individuals who could possibly be Mr. or Ms. Right. "If you enjoy cooking, take cooking classes. If you enjoy a particular activity, then seek out classes or meet-up groups. This is a good way to meet others with similar interests," Bradshaw continues. "The more people you meet, the more opportunities you have of meeting someone who's a good fit."
Of course, there's always that well-meaning friend who wants to set you up. And, as Shippey notes, "Dating has moved online. Most relationships are now found online, and the quality of relationships started online is at least as good as those found offline." When approached cautiously and with great thought, any of these options could be ideal avenues for finding love once again.
Prep for the Plunge
A second marriage is a completely different proposition than a first marriage. That's because there are different factors involved when you are entering a second long-term relationship. "Recognize that remarriage means bigger, more complex challenges than first marriages, such as raising stepchildren, combining finances and households, feeling disappointments yet trying to love again and the aggravation of dealing with ex-spouses," Campbell says. However, she adds, you can use your fear of these issues to be more intentional in your effort to build a stronger bond with your new spouse. You also have to learn how to communicate openly about all of the issues you will face as a new couple.
"I recommend people go to premarital counseling with a therapist who is trained in couple dynamics," Bradshaw reveals. "There are so many issues that couples don't realize they need to dialogue about, assuming their partner shares their beliefs, values, expectations and have the same life-shaping experiences." However, a trained couples counselor can help those entering into a second marriage—or even those who have already married—have open and honest discussions about everything from finances and parenting to sex and fidelity. What's more, Bradshaw suggests that couples take their efforts even deeper by reading about how to have a successful marriage. She recommends The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and Why Marriages Succeed or Fail...and How You Can Make Yours Last by Dr. John M. Gottman, as well as books by Dr. Sue Johnson, Esther Perel and Terry Real.
Again, knowing yourself and how your first marriage has affected you will be a significant factor in the success of your second marriage. "Some people may go into the next relationship with a 'deal breaker' attitude. Similarly, some people may be set in their ways and have a 'me' instead of a 'we' disposition," Thomas warns. Therefore, she says, you have to "explore your personal triggers," as well as the impact your personality and communication and conflict styles will have on your relationship. A couple's therapist can help you and your partner navigate these issues and find the right resolutions.
"If you have concerns, talk them out before tying the knot. Problems that exist before marriage will be the same, if not worse, after marriage. Work on them before committing," Shippey says. "A counselor can help you do these things and give you a clearer perspective on your relationship."
And in the end, be sure that you understand what marriage really involves. "A lot of couples don't realize that a marriage has to be intentional, meaning you have to put in the work daily. And sometimes that may mean having a hard conversation, compromising on something, facing your flaws and taking accountability for your needs, wants and mistakes. It also means respecting and appreciating your spouse," Bradshaw says.
You must be fully invested in making a second marriage work—but the rewards will be worth it. As Campbell concludes, "By resolving to work at this marriage differently and learning from your past, remarriages can be stronger than you ever envisioned."
Lisa Pope Campbell, LCSW, Northeast Georgia Counseling, www.northeastgacounseling.com
Shatavia A. Thomas, LMFT, Dr. Shay Speaks, LLC, www.drshayspeaks.com
Crystal Bradshaw, LPC, NCC, Synergy Counseling Innovations, LLC, www.synergycounselinginnovations.com
Julie Trujillo, LPC, Northeast Georgia Counseling, www.northeastgacounseling.com
Gordon Shippey, MA, LPC, Northeast Georgia Counseling, www.northeastgacounseling.com