Here’s a story of one man’s short lived second marriage and it’s impact on his life.
On the surface, Steve and Melissa seemed like any other couple. They seemed happy with each other and got along well when they were together. Steve had children from a prior marriage in which he had a 50/50 parenting plan. This meant that Steve spent a lot of time with his children. Melissa hadn’t had children yet and thus wasn’t a mother until she got thrown into it after she said I do. She knew she didn’t really understand what she was getting into, but she loved Steve and was willing to try. Statistically, marriages involving stepchildren have a 65% divorce rate. The more children you add to the equation, the higher the divorce rate goes. The Brady Bunch Divorce rate is 70%. The Brady Bunch Divorce rate is the divorce rate for a second marriage with stepchildren on both sides (i.e. both parents are becoming “step-parents”) climbs to 70%.
Divorces are hard. They are hard because of the tremendous emotions that are involved. Adding children from a prior relationship to the m doesn’t help. When Steve and Melissa first started dating, they quickly fell in love. Steve had just gotten his first divorce. Like most second time marriages for men, he met someone quickly and, like many fathers, remarried within a year within divorcing his first wife Jennifer. His children were very resentful about the process. They wanted their parents back together again. The children didn’t like Melissa and was quick to tell their mom, Jennifer, how awful she was to them. Jennifer began to wonder if it was safe for the children to go over dad’s at all.
Meanwhile, the children told Steve how much they just wanted to live with him. What Steve didn’t realize was that the children told Jennifer the same thing. The children, although unaware consciously, soon began getting rewarded by their parents by saying how much they wanted to live with just them. They also began telling their parents how awful the other parent was which only caused the Steve or Jennifer to think that they needed to revisit their 50/50 parenting plan.
When children are with one divorced parent, they naturally miss the other parent. Children instinctively want to please their parents and soon figure out that telling their parents that they only wanted to live with them gives them a reward from that parent. This behavior isn’t consciously done. Of course, Melissa was the children’s bogeyman. If she was going to develop a relationship with them, it wasn’t going to be easy.
The bridge between Melissa and the children just never occurred. Meanwhile, he stuck them with her while he began to engage in unacceptable behavior that was similar to the same reasons his first marriage didn’t work. However, with all the work that Melissa had to do with the children, she began to think it wasn’t worth it. And after one final straw, Melissa left Steve. He then found himself getting a divorce for a second time. Within 14 days, Steve received divorce papers from his second wife Melissa.
In grief, Steve asked Jennifer to watch the kids a while. Jennifer agreed. During his divorce process he began to regularly turn to Jennifer for help further marginalizing his relationship with his children. After Steve got over the grief, he soon realized he had rushed into a relationship in error. He was too busy thinking about himself in the moment and not realizing the implications of what he was doing to others, including his children. To the children, first their parents where together, then they aren’t. Then Steve is with another woman, and then he’s not. They are confused by it all. The children became scarred not just from the first marriage, but Steve’s second marriage too.
This bore to be too much for Jennifer. She went back to court to get full custody of the children. Within 30 days of getting divorced from his second wife, Steve received a petition for modification of a parenting plan from Jennifer.
Reading the petition, he realized he had done everyone a disservice. In the petition, Steve read a detailed log of every missed visit and the emotional trauma that the children were going through. He wanted to right the situation, but it was too late. He decided that Jennifer was right and negotiated a parenting plan that gave him liberal visitation. He knew he had damaged everyone enough. Although he didn’t know it at the time, he later realized he was in a rebound relationship which became a short lived rebound marriage and a repeat visit to see his divorce lawyer.
I like to help my clients avoid Steve’s situation. It may seem odd for a divorce attorney to offer advice that would lead to less business (by avoiding Steve’s situation). However, I’d rather have a happy client once than a miserable client three times when following a little simple advice could have saved him a lot of heartache: rushing into remarriage is fraught with disaster.
Don’t get remarried quickly. In Steve’s case, Steve could have saved himself from failure if he had followed a few simple rules. One, he shouldn’t have rushed into a relationship with Melissa. He needed time to evaluate his own behavior and self-reflect before diving into another relationship. By failing to do this, he ended up repeating the same behaviors of Gottman’s four horsemen by engaging in defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling, and emotional withdrawal.
As for Steve, he will be more careful about his third. Like many looking for love, Steve still hopes for that third marriage which will be the charm. He knows now that the problem was Jennifer or Melissa, it was himself. I wonder if I should tell him that the divorce rate for the third-time-is-the-charm marriages is only 73%.