Abstract Although there are many aspects of consideration prior to any marriage, there are some unique challenges that present themselves in remarriages after divorce. This paper will explore those challenges and their affects on the marriage. The scope of this paper will not go into depth on solutions to these problematic areas, but rather serve as an alarm to bring awareness to issues that may adversely affect the relationship of a newly remarried couple. There is a considerable amount of information available on preparing for marriage.
The question is, does that same material apply to remarriage after a divorce? Conventional thinking on this issue assumes that remarriage is no different than the first marriage. This common belief is referred to as the “nuclear family myth” (Gurman, 2008). Conventional thinking is wrong where remarriage is concerned. “Remarriage is not merely a short-term single event, but a complex set of changing conditions escalating from pre-divorce tensions, through separation and reorganization of households and parent-child relationships, to remarriage and stepfamily integration” (Greef and Du Toit, 2009).
Although many of the topics such as marriage roles and expectations, communication, family of origin, sexual relationship, personality differences, spiritual beliefs and financial management (Nichols, 2010) covered in typical premarital books do apply to any marriage, there are some unique challenges that come with remarriage after divorce. These challenges include blending families, dealing with past marital wounds and the churches view on divorce and remarriage.
With the failure rate of second marriages at sixty percent (Gurman, 2008), addressing these added concerns along with other typical premarital issues can help increase the odds that the marriage will survive. The task of blending families is first on the list of unique challenges. Blending families is nothing new. Stepfamilies have been around since the Old Testament and before. Abraham, Jacob and David had blended families. Although todays families don’t typically exhibit the intricacies of these biblical families, the dynamics are similar (instepministries. om). The complexities of blending families involve the children from the previous marriages, former spouses and former in-laws (Gurman, 2008). There are several concerns in dealing with children and blending families that could be addressed at length, but this paper will only touch on a few common issues that can affect the remarriage relationship. Many remarrying couples presume that their children will be excited about the new marriage and automatically love and be loved by the new stepparent.
The couple falsely believes that everything will just fall into place and everyone will easily adjust to the changes. In many cases the children are still adjusting to the divorce. According to Instep Ministry’s website, children have three common reactions to remarriage. First is grief due to the upset of normal routines. Second is fear of what the future holds, and third is feeling out of control due to big transitions in their lives. It isn’t uncommon as they navigate this adjustment to struggle with loyalties to one or the other parent as well.
If the couple is not aware of these possible reactions it can make for a rough start. Time needs to be taken to help the children make the transition and feel assured that their world is not going to fall apart. Add to the afore mentioned emotional upheaval the complexities of shared parenting responsibilities with previous spouses, involvement of ex in-laws and extended family as grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins as well as step parenting expectations; suddenly this new and hopeful marriage can seem discouraging and daunting. Patience is needed as the new marriage and family requires time to adjust to what might seem ambiguous or complex rules, expectations and emotional commitments. ” (Yarhouse and Sells, 2008, p. 380) “Ghosts at the table” are what Gurman (2008) refers to when remarried couples bring issues from previous marriages into the new marriage. Challenge number two; these past marital wounds that haven’t healed can be overlooked. “People are often unaware of how they bring themselves and their unique emotional experiences and concerns into subsequent relationships” (Yarhouse, 2008, p. 81). In a 2010 study by Claire Cartwright, PhD, eighty-nine percent of participants cited being in love as their reason for repartnering. The same study indicated that sixty percent of participants repartnered within 12 months of the dissolution of the previous relationship. This study not only correlates that a couple’s view of the bigger picture is obscured with overwhelming feelings of love and affection, but it reveals that too many people don’t take the time they need to heal and recover from a divorce.
Yarhouse (2008) suggests that allowing two to three years for a post-divorce grieving process is beneficial; grieving not just the loss of a marriage, but the death of dreams for an ideal family and the “fact that the person who was supposed to treat you the best was the one who hurt you the most” (Brimhall, Wampler and Kimball, 2008, p. 381). Taking the time to process these feelings can make a huge impact on a new marriage. Instepministries. com has listed twelve “Success Factors” to consider when remarrying. Number one on that list is allowing ample time between the end of one relationship and the beginning of another.
The second is grieving, acknowledging and resolving the loss of the marriage. Other factors of concern included on this list are resolving legal and financial issues, addressing emotional issues from prior relationships as well as the children’s emotional concerns about the divorce and possible remarriage, recognizing the new step family is different than the nuclear family, keeping children available to their extended family, resolving custody and visitation issues, being actively involved in a church body, seeking spiritual growth and addressing any personal issues associated with the divorce.
The strong statement “if most of these factors have not been adequately addressed, the chances of remarriage survival are extremely low”, accompany this list of “Success Factors”. These factors are a lot to consider, but taking time to discuss and deal with them could mean the difference between failure and success in a remarriage. The previous two challenges are somewhat intertwined within the relationship and family, however, the third challenge stands alone.
For those couples who are not Christian or do attend a church, this may never be an issue, but for Christian couples the churches’ view on divorce and remarriage can impact the relationship and whether or even if the couple remains in the church. The traditional church view has been that divorce was only acceptable when adultery was involved or if one was abandoned by a non-believer; however, remarriage unless the previous spouse was dead also was considered adultery (Instone-Brewer, 2001). This view is based on the scriptures in the Bible.
Much of the literature recommended by pastors for premarital couples to read is based on this traditional church view as well and can be very discouraging to divorced couples who want to remarry in the church. There is a lack of support from the church for these couples and stepfamilies and it is evidenced in the exiting numbers of divorced and remarried couples. The reasoning behind this lack of support may be that the church feels it is sending a conflicting message by saying it is against divorce and at the same time providing help and support to divorcees (Deal, 2007).
However, helping and providing support to people does not require the church to agree with the situation, it merely means the church is being the hands and feet of Christ in a broken world. David Instone-Brewer (2001) challenges the churches perspective on divorce and remarriage. He offers that the interpretation of scripture is determined within the context of the time period. One cannot accomplish this without key information. He argues that “our knowledge of first-century A. D. anguage and culture was lost, and critical facts about Jewish divorce had gone missing by the second century” (Instone-Brewer, 2001, p. 19). In simple language, the church today may be misinterpreting scripture by taking it out of context. This, of course, does not mean that one can just divorce for any reason; however, it does provide the possibility of some redemption to those who are divorced. It naturally follows that those who would seek remarriage might also be given some hope.
Although divorce is detestable to God, and it should be avoided whenever possible, like all other sin it is forgivable. The church has much work to do in ministering to remarried couples and stepfamilies. “Remarriage ministry simply responds to broken lives, as Jesus did to the woman at the well (John 4), with grace and compassion. It also calls couples to honor their remarital covenant and to live holy lives starting from today. It also equips them to do so, thereby preventing further divorces, building stronger families, and stopping the generational cycle of divorce” (Deal, 2007, p. 3). The implications of this paper convey that remarriage after divorce is not to be taken lightly. The unique challenges that confront remarrying couples add extra concern over that of first time marriages. Remarriage is not something to rush into, but to prayerfully consider and patiently work toward. Healing from previous relationships needs to take place before moving forward. Children need to be given time to adjust and heal after a divorce and not rushed into a new family.
It is imperative the couple understands that the health of their relationship is intertwined with that of the stepfamily. One affects the other in every way (Deal, 2010). Resources Brimhall, A. , Wampler, K. and Kimball, T. (2008). Learning From The Past, Altering The Future: A Tentative Theory Of The Effect Of Past Relationships On Couples Who Remarry. Family Process 47 (3): 373-387. Cartwright, C. (2010). Preparing to repartner and live in a stepfamily: An exploratory investigation. Journal of Family Studies 16: 237-250 Children of Divorce and Remarriage. n. d. ) retrieved 08012012, from instepministries. com Web Site: http://www. instepministries. com/childrenofdivorce. php Deal, R. (2007) Redeeming the Remarried: There’s A Lot At Stake If We Neglect Ministering To Stepfamilies. Christianity Today 51(10), 30-33. Deal, R. , Olson, D. (2010). The remarriage checkup: Tools to help your marriage last a lifetime Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Greeff, A. , Du Toit, C. (2009) Resilience In Remarried Families. American Journal Of Family Therapy 37(2), 114-126. Gurman, A. (Ed. ) (2008).
Clinical handbook of couple therapy. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Instone-Brewer, D. (2001). Divorce and remarriage in the church: Biblical solutions for pastoral realities. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. Nichols, M. (2010). Family Therapy Concepts and Methods. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc. Remarriage. (n. d) retrieved 08012012, from instepministries. com Web Site: http://www. instepministries. com/remarriage. php Yarhouse, M. , Sells, J. (2008). Family therapies: A comprehensive Christian appraisal. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.