I’ve always heard alarming statistics about the chances of success for second marriages (based in the U.S. where these kinds of issues have been investigated). There are arguments about the accuracy of these statistics, but the general public has pretty much come to accept that about 50% of first marriages end in divorce, compared to about 70% of second marriages and over 70% of third marriages.
While I don’t want to discount the statistics about the chances for marital success second (or third, or fourth) time around, I’ve always been a bit suspicious of these stats because I’ve never read any of the original research reports to gain a full understanding of how the stats were generated. Rather, I tend to stumble on these stats in magazines which tend to gloss over such details.
I came across an article which offers a number of theories that might explain these dismal rates, though. I’ve paraphrased them below.
1. People are often on the rebound when they enter into their next marriage; thus, they remarry for the wrong reasons and repeat past mistakes.
2. After surviving one divorce, the idea of a second one just seems more ‘manageable,’ less tragic, and is therefore more likely to occur.
3. Once bitten, twice shy: When you’ve been divorced once, vulnerability tends to be ‘out’ and emotional and financial self-preservation tend to rule. This mind-set can have a negative effect on subsequent marriages.
4. Having children in common (i.e., being biological parents of the same children) can serve as ‘glue’ to hold the marriage together. Second-time marrieds often don’t have this privilege, and so weathering storms ‘for the sake of the children’ isn’t a strong enough rationale. At the same time, the presence of any children at all within second (third, fourth, etc.) marriages can add another layer of complexity, and result in the marriage’s demise as well.
I agree completely with all the points above – not out of experience, but because I can see how any of the issues can play out should one want to try marriage out again after a divorce. I have a theory of my own, as well. I suppose it ties in mostly with Number 2 above.
I had a discussion once with my academic supervisor in school about an intensive, draining project I was working on at the time. When the project was finally over, she said to me, ‘Don’t worry – you’ll never have to be this detailed again.’ She was right, actually. To me, divorce is similar to one of those ‘projects’ that you agonize over and that suck the very life out of you because of the zillion and one decisions that feed into a final divorce decision: Am I going to regret this? How is this going to affect my children? What about what people will say? What if people begin to ostracize me and my children, or treat us differently? What if I lose my friends? What if I run out of money and have nowhere to go for help? What if I end up alone for the rest of my life? What if I lose all respect and credibility? What if my life goes downhill from here? What if I can’t handle being a single parent? Etc., etc., etc.
Getting a divorce in the first place typically requires such an intricate thought process that maybe it (i.e., the thought process) can only possibly happen once. I imagine that one will never have to think things through quite so painstakingly ever again. And so (I’m guessing), while yet another divorce probably isn’t any easier to go through than an initial one, getting to that decision involves a much shorter trip if you’ve been there before. You already know your way around. You know that you can overcome the fears that would ordinarily arise. You already know the answers to the zillion and one questions above because you’ve lived them.
In a way, that’s a scary thing.
At the same time, it’s an intriguing thing. It reminds of me something Ekene Onu once wrote (I’m sure I’ve used the quote on the rmj blog before, but can’t seem to find it now) – something about how knowing that you can leave a marriage can actually position you to be a better spouse. It can free you to be the best spouse you can be, because you’re not in the relationship out of a sense of compulsion. And so you are highly-motivated to give the relationship your best.
Now, that’s really empowering to me, just listening to it. It’s scary, too, though!
It’s scary to know that you can leave, it’s scary to know that you can’t, and it’s scary to try again once you’ve left.