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Giving the Marriage Another Try

Are you already divorced and talking to your spouse about getting back together? Are you rediscovering your love for each other and regretting the decision you made to divorce? This page is for you.

The Odds Are Against You

I haven't yet found any hard numbers on this, so this is based strictly on my reasoning based on the numbers we do know.

What we know is that, across the U.S., the divorce rate is between 40 and 45 percent (that 50% figure everybody throws around is bogus, driven by statistical laziness). We also know that subsequent marriages have a significantly higher failure rate than first marriages. I know you want to know how much higher; so do I.

We also know that the union of this man and this woman has already failed for whatever reason. Put those factors together, and we can say with confidence that significantly more than half the remarriages between former spouses end in divorce.

So start with the assumption that there's a better than even chance your remarriage will end in another divorce. That's not to say that your remarriage will fail; it's just a statement about probabilities.

Take Your Time

So now you're rediscovering your love for each other. That's good. You're falling in love all over again and realizing that your original decision to divorce may have been a mistake. That's (probably) good too. Now slow down.

  • This is not the time for you to move back in together.
  • This is not the time for you to tell your friends, your neighbors, your mother, or (heaven forbid) your children that you and your spouse are getting back together.
  • This is absolutely, positively not the time for you to start having sex again.
  • It may be, however, the time for both of you to agree to abstain from sex with anyone else.

This is the time for both of you to think slowly and carefully about what this might mean.

Here are some questions you should be asking of each other:

  • We've already failed in one marriage. Why? What behaviors of each of us led to our decision to divorce?
  • What concrete, verifiable steps are we taking, and what structural changes would we need to make, if this is going to work the second time? What is it that we are going to do differently if we remarry from what we did the first time?
  • If one or more of our family members contributed to the difficulties we experienced in our first marriage, what steps would we need to make in the second marriage to neutralize the influence of those family members?
  • In what ways has our trust for each other been damaged or lessened by the tension and divorce in our first marriage (or by the behaviors that led to our first divorce)? Acknowledging as we must that we won't repair that trust for quite some time, what steps will we take to substitute for trust, particularly in the early stages of our remarriage? Is each of us willing to take those steps?
  • To what extent would one of us be making an economic concession by remarrying? How can we protect the one who would be making concessions so that person wouldn't feel betrayed if the remarriage doesn't work out the way we hope? Do we need a prenuptial agreement?

There's simply no substitute at this stage for spending lots of time in counseling. If you are both sincere in this, and I'm willing to assume that you are, you are both brimming with hope -- hope so strong that it may overwhelm logic, enlightened self-interest, and your normal boundaries. A professional counselor will help both of you reconcile your hopes and emotions with the real-world hurdles you will face if you marry again.

Expect Changes

You've been on your own for awhile, and so has your former spouse. During that time you each have developed habits independent of the other. So if you get back together, some of those habits and approaches you developed separately may complicate your life together. Perhaps one of you has used your time apart to develop a new spirit of independence. Can you honestly confront the changes you both have experienced so you can decide together how to accommodate them? It's the most natural thing in the world for one or both of you to assume (sometimes without even realizing it) that everything between the two of you will be just the way it was before you split. It won't.

And while we're on the subject of changes, if you have children, they will have done some growing up while you were apart. How will you be good parents together? How will you allow for your children's growth and maturity while at the same time continuing both your parenting roles?

When James and Alexia first moved back in together after the teenagers had lived alone with Alexia for awhile, James found himself tiptoeing around his fathering role. "I felt like they had been through so much," he said, "and I didn't want to make it worse by coming on like a drill sergeant." Eventually, though, both James and Alexia realized that James's reluctance to discipline his children was leaving them all tense and uncertain and giving the kids too much power. They worked out a careful plan for Alexia to defer to James more and more. The teenagers didn't warm immediately to Dad's newly rediscovered authority, but "they adjusted to it eventually," says James.

Reorganize Your Friendships

It's the nature of divorce that friends of both spouses tend to get hooked in on one side or the other. And the spouses themselves naturally reach out to their friends and search for people who see things through their eyes. All well and good, and not unhealthy at all. Divorce is one of those times when we really need our friends; aren't we grateful they were there for us when we needed them the most?

The problem is that in the heat of divorce, your friends probably heard (and repeated back to you) a lot of crud about your spouse, crud that you now wish to leave behind but that may still be deeply engrained within your friends. And the same thing happened on your spouse's side as well. Unless you are an unusual divorced couple, you each have friends and/or family who believe your former spouse is bad news, who will be disappointed in your judgment if you remarry, and who will be secretly or not so secretly hoping your remarriage will fail. Depending on the level of intensity in their feelings about it, they may work actively to sabotage your remarriage, even while denying to you (and perhaps to themselves) that they would ever do such a thing.

So what do you do? You explore with each other what friends you need to manage differently if your remarriage is going to have a chance to succeed. Perhaps you agree to talk together to one or more of your friends. Perhaps you agree to limit the contact you have with one or more of these friends, particularly in the early stages of your remarriage. Or it may be as simple as reciting together what this friend thinks so you can laugh it off when it pops up again.

Consider a Prenuptial Agreement

Remarriage may be much better for one of you economically than for the other. The prototypical case of this is the divorce after a long-term marriage, in which one spouse agreed to or was ordered to pay alimony to the other. If they remarry now, that alimony will obviously stop. So far, so good.

But what happens if the spouses realize after only a short time that the remarriage was a mistake? They can divorce again, but now they are divorcing after only a short-term marriage. In most states, this will sharply reduce the likelihood of an alimony award in the second divorce. So now this spouse who formerly had an expectation of financial support, perhaps for life, will be facing life alone and without support.

If one of you is in this position, I believe it is only fair that the other spouse agree in a prenuptial agreement to restore whatever benefits existed after the first divorce. I know this makes it sound like I'm setting your remarriage up to fail, and I apologize for that. However, I say it to take that risk away so you can both concentrate on rebuilding your love.

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