Oct. 28, 2013 at 4:33 PM ET
For some reason your first marriage didn't work out. Before you consider a second or third time around at "happily ever after," psychotherapist M. Gary Neuman and Tracy McMillan share their five important questions and elements to ponder before you walk down the aisle again:
1. You're Still You. You are the common denominator in all of your relationships. You can pick a new partner, but whatever issues you had that played a part in the downfall of your first marriage are likely to be a problem in your second (or third) marriage, too -- unless you resolve them. Make sure you really uncover why you made the choices you made in your first marriage, and be fearless in taking responsibility for the things you might have done differently. The good news is that by gently holding yourself accountable for your mistakes, you'll find you get access to the power to change.
2. Think Practice, Not Perfect. The good news about second and third marriages is that you actually do have the opportunity to get it right -- or at least 'righter' -- this time. You've learned a lot in your first marriage about your strengths, your weaknesses, and what does -- or does not -- work for you. Second (and third) marriages allow you to take everything you learned, and use it to choose a partner who is a better match. But no marriage -- and no person -- is going to be perfect. So look at marriage as a practice -- think of love as something you do, not something you feel. And your relationship is the gym where you get to go every day to "work out". Yes, I know it can be painful and sometimes even boring -- but you can only get out of something what you put into it. So why not do the work?
3. Kids Are a Very Big Deal. Nothing torpedoes a second or third marriage like conflicts over the kids. His, hers, and yours together. Be realistic! Don't expect everyone to get along all the time, or even much of the time. Understand that your new spouse's children most likely prefer their old family system to this new one -- after all, they didn't just fall in love with someone new! -- and that's not a reflection on you. Even if they think it is! So don't take it personally. (Easier said than done, I know.) You can also take a spiritual approach by helping children understand that nothing in life is ever permanent -- that's a lesson we all learn sooner or later. Let them know you understand that divorce meant learning that difficult lesson earlier in life than they wanted to. Be compassionate with their struggle and things will go as smoothly as they can -- even if they're not all that smooth!
4. Remember, a Second Marriage Is a Merger. If first marriages are like starting a business from scratch -- second marriages are like merging two companies that already have assets, liabilities, and human resource policies. You can't expect your prospective spouse -- and his or her kids, if there are any -- to just seamlessly adopt your way of doing things. For this reason, a second or third marriage is far more challenging! No one -- and by no one, I mean you -- is going to be getting their way all, or even most, of the time. You have to think of marriage as a sort of service project -- where if everyone gives 100%, there will be more than enough to go around. And if you are marrying someone who doesn't view a relationship this way, think loooong and hard before marrying them.
5. Take Your Time. Obviously, the best way to prevent a divorce is by not getting into a weak marriage in the first place. This is so obvious no one does it! Slow down.I know from experience that wanting to hurry down the aisle is sometimes the best predictor of a relationship that is in trouble. In fact, if something seems urgent, I say don't do it. No one should ever get married under pressure, or because time is running out. A great relationship will be great whether the two people involved get married, or not. So take your time to talk over all the details. Really dive into the areas where conflict is likely to occur: like sex, money, the kids. Try to prevent problems before they start, or deal with them before they get too big. Because there's no problem so big that it can't get worse after you're married!
Here are Gary's 5 Things To Consider The Second Time Around:
1. What will I do differently this time around: It's crucial to learn what you did or didn't do in your last marriage that might have been part of the reason for it ending. Consider things like, how did I communicate? What could I have done differently in my last marriage? How much energy did I put into nurturing our love? Was I more of a giver or taker? What makes me happy in a relationship? These internal questions will begin to help you identify what YOU can do to insure that the next marriage works.
2. Discuss the tough questions: Chances are there are children in the mix as well as exes and ex in-laws! Often, couples avoid talking about how they will create a wonderful marriage amidst the challenges of instant families and exes. Ask each other questions like, "Will we or how will we discipline each other's children? What will be the rules for both of our children in our new home? What kind of relationship will each of us have with our exes? Is your spouse going to be spending time alone with his/her ex to discuss the children and how do you feel about that?
3. What has my potential spouse learned from his/her previous marriage? Hopefully, you've done the work of learning how to create a better relationship than your last one. Has the person you want to marry done the same? What does he/she say is the reason for the divorce and does he/she take any responsibility for it? What does your potential spouse wish to change this time around?
4. Call upon your parents: It really makes sense that our parents modeled marriage for us and if it wasn't a great model, you will be especially challenged at creating a great marriage. Yes, you say you want to have a great marriage but we don't always do what we say even when we know its good for us (have you been eating healthy every day of your life? I didn't think so). If your parents' marriage wasn't a good example for you, know that you need to pay special attention to learn how good marriages work. Read books, visit the web, get therapy, or do all of these to learn more about how you will get it right this time around.
5. Create a relationship where both of you have TIME for each other: Successful marriages have one simple secret, they are actively being in love. They don't assume love will sustain itself just because they fell in love. They prioritize their marriage on a daily basis. My research showed that happy couples reported spending a daily average of 30 minutes of uninterrupted time talking with their spouse as compared to unhappy couples who spent much less. Discuss with your potential mate before marriage how you will prioritize your love and make sure it's already happening at the stage before you decide to make a lifelong commitment Just like everything else in life that you want to have success in (parenting, career), marriage takes focus and energy to create the special bond you deserve. The second marriage starts off with so many people and things pulling at it. You need a plan to secure alone time for the two of you.
The good news is that your next marriage gives you the opportunity to get it right and have what you've wanted in a loving relationship. But like anything else that is wonderful in your life, it doesn't just happen. You make it happen. All of the questions above don't have a right or wrong answer. Rather, it's the process of discussing them and finding resolution that will avoid great conflict and make your marriage work. When you're in love, your energy affect each other constantly. Learn what puts a smile on your lover's face and remember to do that. Love builds on itself when you are focused and nurturing.
M. Gary Neuman is a marriage counselor, rabbi and New York Times best selling author. Oprah referred to Gary as, "One of the best psychotherapists in the world." A frequent guest on the Oprah show and TODAY show, Gary and has work has been featured on "Steve Harvey," "Dateline" as well as in TIME, People, Cosmo and Parents. He is the creator of Neuman Method Relationship DVDs. He lives with his wife of 26 years, Melisa, and his five children in Miami Beach.Go to NeumanMethod.com for a free immediate download on how to Create Your Best Marriage.