Second marriage success: How to strengthen your second marriage

Pam voiced her frustration about problems in her second marriage:

“I couldn’t believe it was happening all over again. Slowly but surely, my second husband started to do all the things my first husband did, and I reacted the same way. I panicked. I thought it would be different this time. I certainly didn’t want to go through another divorce. I felt trapped.”

An opportunity in disguise

While second marriages are more likely than first marriages to end in divorce, if you have remarried (or are thinking about remarrying), you’re in the unique position of knowing first-hand about the challenges of wedded life. Too often people assume that because their first marriage ended in divorce, they need to turn their backs on everything that happened that first time around, and that there’s nothing that can be learned from the experience. Think again!

In order to make your second marriage flourish, you’ll need to cultivate an attitude of curiosity about the type of spouse you were in your first marriage--examining how you reacted to certain events. At this point you might be thinking, “I know exactly why my first marriage ended. My ex is wickedness personified, end of story.” If your belief feels open-and-shut in this way, you will be asked to expand your view about your first marriage (unless of course, your first spouse was physically and/or emotionally abusive) in order to learn from the experience. Reflecting on the type of spouse you were throughout your first marriage will give you important information that can be used to build a stronger and lasting second union.

Relationship Habits

You bring the same personality traits and relationship habits to all your relationships, including your marriages. Let’s call these habits your relationship tendencies. Under certain conditions relationship patterns that are particular to you will emerge. Some of these tendencies will enhance your marriage, others will detract from it. Understanding your relationship tendencies will give you control over building the second marriage of your dreams.

Your goal is to increase your positive relationship tendencies and to eliminate as many of your adverse relationship tendencies as possible. It takes hard work to become aware of and take responsibility for your potentially destructive interpersonal habits. But it is well worth it.

Adverse relationship tendency in action

Example 1:

Jonas’s old girlfriends and his first wife often complained that Jonas would seldom communicate his relationship needs. Unable to voice his needs (which consequently meant his needs weren’t getting met), he would become resentful. Over time, that resentment caused him to be emotionally distant. His first wife perceived Jonas’s withdrawal as an indication that he no longer loved her. Even though he had been hearing the message about how frustrating and destructive his silence was for years, he never took it seriously and certainly never internalized it. That is, until his second marriage was in trouble. His adverse-relationship tendency was to remain passive and then become dissatisfied and resentful toward his partner.

At the time when he found his second marriage in trouble, he was mature enough and committed enough to his wife to take a giant step toward self-discovery in the hopes of saving this union. Because the feedback his wife gave him described something so ingrained in him, it was difficult for Jonas to understand her points. Therefore, they worked with a couples counselor, and Jonas struggled to recognize and overcome his adverse relationship tendency. He began working on asserting his needs in a clear and direct manner, and his marriage is stronger for it.

Positive relationship tendency in action

Example 2:

Regina, comfortable as a nurturer, found herself happiest in relationships where she could take care of others. Through her top priority of supporting her partner, she felt supported herself. If she felt her partner was upset or struggling, Regina would take steps to understand the problem.

Her first husband felt stifled and smothered by her nurturing tendencies. Rather than interpreting her behavior as a desire to care for and about him, he felt she was too needy and that she was intruding upon his natural wish for independence and autonomy. Regina avoided dating for a long while after her divorce, convinced that something was wrong with her.

But then she met and married a man with very different needs and a different emotional landscape from her first husband. Regina’s habit of intuiting and verbalizing unspoken tension when she sensed her partner was unhappy worked well since her second husband typically wouldn’t initiate such discussions. Regina’s pro-relationship tendency was to ask questions when there was tension in the relationship in order to understand her partner better. This relationship tendency helped to feed intimacy that worked for both parties.

Reflecting on the above examples, it is clear that qualifying relationship tendencies does not occur in a vacuum. In other words, what might feel like a negative relationship tendency in one instance (Regina’s first marriage), might be a welcome, enriching behavior in another (her second marriage). This speaks to the importance of recognizing your own tendencies and seeking a mate whose needs will compliment them—in other words, a good fit.

Time for Reflection: Take your relationship history

Think back to your first marriage (or any serious, committed relationship) and ask yourself about your positive and adverse relationship tendencies. What consistent feedback have you received from past partners about the way you communicate, express affection, and deal with conflict? If you’ve received the same feedback more than once, consider this a relationship tendency.

Once you’re aware of your tendencies, take steps to understand when they are most pronounced and develop a plan to replace them with pro-relationship tendencies. This may involve forcing yourself to change one behavior that is associated with the adverse tendency. Sometimes changing one behavior can lead to significant relationship changes.

Is your relationship worth protecting? Are you ready to make your marriage everything it can be?

Find out how to create the relationship of your dreams: Sign up for Dr. Nicastro’s free Relationship Toolbox Newsletter at and immediately receive two FREE reports that will help you achieve your relationship potential.

Author's Bio: 

Richard Nicastro, Ph.D. is a psychologist and relationship coach who is passionate about helping couples protect the sanctuary of their relationship. Rich and his wife Lucia founded LifeTalk Coaching, an internet-based coaching business that helps couples strengthen their relationships.