What can you do to improve your remarriage when you’re going through a rough patch? Fortunately, even if you’re in a marriage that’s heading in a bad direction, there are strategies that can set you and your partner on the right path again. The good news is that there are some fairly simple things that can make a big difference in the quality of your relationship.
While many couples see remarriage as a fresh start and a second chance at happiness, the statistics tell a different story. According to available census data, the divorce rate for second marriages in the United States is over 60 percent compared to 50 percent for first marriages.
The most common reasons why remarried couples develop serious difficulties is because of problems related to blending children from previous relationships, rivalries, forming an identity as a remarried family, financial stress, and not having enough time together as a couple.
A typical example is Claire and Dan, both in their mid-forties, remarried for twelve years, and stuck in a vicious cycle of blaming each other for their marital problems. “I’ve been unhappy for a long time,” says Dan. “I just don’t feel appreciated by Claire. I can’t remember when the last time she said anything nice about me and we rarely have sex anymore. Things need to change.”
Claire responds: “Dan tends to come home and expect everyone to be in a good mood and to get along. It’s just not realistic to expect five children who aren’t all bio sibs to get along. We need to talk more and maybe then I’d feel more romantic and want to have sex. I do love Dan and want us to stay together.”
Unfortunately, the common theme in this couple’s remarks is focusing on each other’s flaws rather than ways they can repair the relationship. Relationship expert Dr. Harriet Lerner explains that the recipe for failure in a marriage is waiting for the other person to change. Rather than giving up on their relationship, couples need to lean toward each other and focus on getting back on track.
Dr. Lerner writes, “It’s the dissatisfied partner who usually is motivated to change. If you don’t take some new action on your own behalf, no one else will do it for you.” She recommends that you take responsibility for warming things up and increase positive reinforcement. This can be done by saying things like “You’re so thoughtful to clean the bathtub” which highlights your partner’s positive qualities and things you appreciate about them.
Additionally, practicing what Dr. John Gottman calls emotional attunement can help you stay connected in spite of your differences. This means “turning toward” one another and showing empathy rather than “turning away.” Dr. Gottman recommends a five-to -one ratio of interactions – meaning for every negative interaction, you need five positive ones.
10 Things to Improve Your Second Marriage:
- Try not to blame your partner. Dr. Gottman reminds us that criticism is damaging to a marriage but it’s okay to express a specific complaint such as, “I was worried when you didn’t come home on time. We agreed that we’d check in when one of us was running late.” Versus a criticism: “You never call me, you’re so selfish.” Using “I Messages” is always more effective that “You Messages.” Author Kyle Benson writes “Happy couples complain without blame by talking about what they feel and what they need, not what they don’t need.”
- Stay in the present and focus on the issues at hand. Ask yourself: what am I trying to accomplish? Avoid name-calling and don’t attack your partner personally. Remember anger is usually a symptom of underlying hurt, fear, and frustration so keep things in perspective by doing healthy things to deal with your anger such as physical exercise and/or meditation.
- Boost up physical affection. According to author Dr. Kory Floyd, physical contact releases feel good hormones. Holding hands, hugging, and touching can release oxytocin (the bonding hormone) that causes a calming sensation. Studies show that it’s released during sexual orgasm and affectionate touch as well. Physical affection also reduces stress hormones – lowering daily levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Even if you’re not a touchy-feely person, increasing physical affection can help you to sustain a deep, meaningful bond.
- Unplug and spend time with your partner. Look at your partner rather than your phone—especially during meals. Try a variety of activities that bring you both pleasure such as a new hobby. Have fun courting your partner and practice flirting with him or her.
- Compliment your partner at least twice a day. Express your positive feelings out loud several times each day and say something nice about your partner often. For instance, if he or she starts dinner when they get home early, say something like, “How nice of you to think about us and start dinner so we have more time to relax later.”
- Be vulnerable and don’t allow wounds to fester. Take a risk and express your concern rather than holding onto hurt feelings. Be open about your thoughts, feelings, and wishes in a respectful way. Resentment can build when couples sweep things under the rug, so don’t bury negative feelings.
- Take responsibility for your part in the conflict or dispute. One person’s ability to do this can change the dynamic of the relationship, according to Dr.’s Julie and John Gottman. To be ready for love you must become the person you are seeking. Real love starts with you.
- Develop a Hurt-Free Zone policy. This term coined by author David Akiva refers to a period when criticism is not allowed. Without it, couples usually feel less defensive and feeling so hurt and rejection dissolve. Akiva writes: “Your prime directive right now is to eliminate the most toxic negative communication and reduce intense negative emotions for 3 to 4 weeks.”
- Implement repair skills when you disagree. Experiencing conflict is inevitable and couples who strive to avoid it are at risk of developing stagnant relationships. However, Dr. John Gottman tells Business Insider that you’ve got to get back on track after a fight if you don’t want issues to fester.
- Practice apologizing and granting forgiveness. Apologize to your partner when appropriate. Offer a sincere apology when you have said or done something to hurt him or her (even if not on purpose). Forgiveness isn’t the same as condoning the hurt done to you but it will allow you to move on. Accept that people do the best they do and try to be more understanding. This doesn’t mean that you accept your partner’s hurtful actions. You simply come to a more realistic view and give them less power over you.
Do your best to remember why you fell in love with your partner in the first place. Instead of focusing on his or her flaws when you have a disagreement, examine your own responses. Your focus needs to be on working on ways to repair hurt feelings and to get back on track. Breaking the cycle of an unhappy relationship dynamic requires a radical shift in mindset.