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Secrets to a Successful Second Marriage

Secrets to a Successful Second Marriage

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In a perfect world, men and women would marry, live long and happy lives together, and leave this world at about the same time. There would be no need for second marriages.

But we live in a world that is far from perfect. People sometimes die young, leaving behind grieving spouses with potentially long lives ahead of them. And too many marriages simply do not last and collapse into divorce.

Having served as a congregational rabbi for the past forty-four years, I have seen it all: second marriages that thrive; second marriages that are doomed from the start; second marriages wrecked by children; Interestingly, the divorce rate among second marriages is higher than that among first marriages second marriages in which the children from both sides fuse together into a happy and cooperative unit; second marriages that collapse under financial strain, and second marriages that endure, but unhappily.

Interestingly, the divorce rate among second marriages is higher than that among first marriages. One would think that an individual who has gone through a divorce would have “learned his lesson” and will, therefore, not repeat the mistakes of the past. Alas, this is often not the case. Those who marry to fulfill certain needs but are not prepared to give in return usually marry with the same intent the next time around. The second marriage becomes nothing more than a walk down a precipice, a courtship leading to fresh disaster (fresh only because it involves a new partner).

Sometimes, another questionable pattern is at work. One who leaves a marriage because of financial instability, may, for example, try to find a new partner who offers the promise of financial security. The same is true of the other significant marital issues—sexual fulfillment, lack of emotional connectedness (communication), problems with in-laws, et cetera. Since the spouse left the marriage because of a particular problem, he or she understandably wants to ensure that he or she will not have to contend with the same problem all over again.

But life often plays funny tricks on people. The second-time newlywed finds out, often after it is too late, that the new spouse is indeed different from the first. And while the new spouse may have what the first spouse lacked, he may also lack what the first spouse had.

Following Divorce

Does it make sense for someone who has failed to marry again? Hardly anyone considers this question seriously, and even though we know the answer in advance, it is wise to give this question some thought.

Though it is generally true that it takes two to tango and only one to “untango,” there is hardly a divorce in which the breakup is exclusively the fault of one of the partners. So, it behooves any divorced person to engage in serious soul-searching before remarrying, to contemplate what will be done differently so that the next marriage will endure.

Anyone who fails to do this before remarrying is irresponsible and not ready for remarriage. One who cannot recognize his mistakes and learn from them is bound to repeat them. This common-sense observation falls into the general ambit of ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha—“Love your fellow Jew as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18), which is Talmudically understood as the obligation to engage in the type of activity that will enhance the viability of an impending marriage.

Read:Life After Divorce

Following Death

A second marriage following the death of one’s spouse poses other challenges. One may wrestle with various emotions when contemplating remarriage. The unease can affect one’s ability to remarry even years after the death.

It is odd that many people are more likely to question a marriage following the death of a spouse than one following a divorce. The key element in this upside-down reaction is the loyalty factor. No loyalty is expected towards a divorced spouse, but loyalty is expected towards the deceased spouse.

While the new spouse may have what the first spouse lacked, he may also lack what the first spouse had

There are those who regard remarrying as an act of betrayal. But if loyalty means maintaining whatever was built in the first marriage, it is entirely likely that the surviving partner can more successfully accomplish this with an understanding new partner.

Another faulty perception is that a remarriage reflects negatively on the former spouse. A good first marriage naturally begets a second marriage. If anything, remarrying testifies to how good the first marriage was, good enough to warrant another marriage.

Loyalty needs to be viewed from a Torah perspective. Clearly, the Torah mandate to marry is not to give marriage a try; it is to be married. If a first marriage is terminated, the imperative to marry remains.1 How can the fulfillment of a Torah mandate be considered disloyal?

Read: Elderly Widow Wishes to Remarry

Children

A second marriage, similar to a first marriage, should not be hurried into. This is especially important because of the many factors present in second marriages that are usually not present in first marriages. The most obvious of these is children.

Children of all ages are vulnerable, albeit in different ways, following either their parents’ divorce or the death of a parent. This vulnerability can be manifested in a child viewing the potential newcomer to the family matrix as an intruder, threatening to take away the time and affection of the parent upon whom the child most relies.

The remarrying parent needs to make a genuine effort to understand and address the child’s concerns. This is best achieved by listening carefully, acknowledging that his worries are not crazy, wild ruminations, and assuring him that he will always be loved and looked after. It helps even more if the newcomer goes out of her way to befriend the child, and does things with him together with the biological parent.

Actions that reinforce words go a long way. A newcomer must never come into a family with the attitude that he will replace a parent. The proper attitude is that the new spouse is joining the family out of love for the children’s parent, and is, therefore, deeply committed to doing what is best for the stepchildren.

Children are a potential block to remarriage, but they need not be. It helps if the children realize that it is important for the parent to be content. Parenting always works better in contentedness than in melancholy. Children will be the prime beneficiaries of parental happiness. When parents are happy, children can prosper. It is also A newcomer must never come into a family with the attitude that he will replace a parent important for the children to realize that their parent has an ongoing mandate to be married, and that remarriage is therefore a Torah-based endeavor. This realization can help to neutralize potential resistance to remarriage. Younger children are less likely to be able to appreciate this; unfortunately, even older children and adults do not automatically embrace this perspective.

Many children make up their minds in advance, sight unseen, that they will not like their step-parent. Even if they can point to some objectionable character trait of the step-parent, it does not justify behaving disdainfully, nor does it excuse their doing whatever possible to disrupt the new relationship.

First, as is codified in Jewish law, children are obliged to extend deferential respect to the spouse of their parent, as part of the respect that is due to their parents.2 Second, and perhaps more to the point, is the meaning of the famous, previously cited obligation to love one’s fellow Jews as oneself. This is considered a, if not the, fundamental of the Torah. If we are serious about being Torah Jews, we cannot ignore any detail, least of all a foundation.

In his outstanding ethical treatise, Pele Yoetz, Rabbi Eliezer Papo observes that the Torah obligation to love others is not necessary when dealing with close friends. There the love is already present, and a Torah directive is hardly required. The directive is necessary when dealing with someone whom one does not like. It is specifically here that the Torah instruction to love one’s fellow Jew is needed.3 For children who, for whatever reason, do not like the step-parent, the ve’ahavta imperative is crucial, assuming they are mature enough to appreciate this mitzvah.

This is not to suggest that it is a one-way relationship. The step-parent is also apt to dislike the children; she certainly is prone to not like them as much as her own children. But the ve’ahavta directive works both ways, from children to step-parent and from step-parent to children. When ve’ahavta is the operating framework, a second marriage cannot only survive, it can thrive and benefit everyone. When it is not the operating framework, problems abound. And though solutions can be found, they are usually Band-Aids.

Everyone involved should try taking the high road, the accepting approach. Pleasantness and acceptance always work better than nastiness and rejection. With the former, everyone is a winner; with the latter, everyone is a loser.

Read: How Can I Have a Good Relationship with a Stepchild?

Finances

Finances are often a sticky point in second marriages. The newlyweds bring their own financial resources and obligations to the new reality. Ideally, it is best if the couple fuses everything together instead of creating the threefold division of mine, yours and ours.

Sometimes this is not practical, especially if funds are legally designated for the children of one of the spouses. The most prudent arrangement is for each spouse to agree, happily, not to touch those One remarries in entirety, not in parts designated funds. But it is likewise less than prudent to insist on a strict yours-mine formula, wherein the new husband, for example, refuses to have anything to do with the expenses of the new wife’s children. That will likely spill over into a distant, hands-off relationship with the stepchildren, which is also the first step toward marital calamity. One remarries in entirety, not in parts.

Read: My Children + His Children = Our Children

The Former (Divorced) Spouse

The former spouse is often a sore point in the new marriage. This is usually a reflection of the relationship that the newly married individual has with the former spouse. Though it might be farfetched to expect that the relationship with one’s ex be very good, it is not farfetched to expect that it be functional. It is unfair for the innocent newcomer to the family to be dragged into old messes.

In the Jewish way of thinking, the relationship with one’s former spouse is subject to specific requirements, under the heading of “and from your own kin be not oblivious” (Isaiah 58:7).4 Marriage is forever, even after divorce. And the obligation to be a mensch pertains even after divorce.

This is true even if the divorcing couple have no children, and certainly prevails when there are children. The elementary halachic logic in this is as follows: A couple who do not get along (after divorce or when married) invariably put the children into the uncomfortable position of having to choose sides. The children are then forced to violate their obligation to honor and respect both of their parents. The sparring ex-spouses thus transgress the all-encompassing and morally powerful Marriage is forever, even after divorce. And the obligation to be a mensch pertains even after divorce exhortation not to put stumbling blocks in front of the blind (those who are unaware).5 Striving to get along after divorce is not only sensible, it is halachically required.

Read: Not Taking Revenge After Divorce

The Former (Deceased) Spouse

Obviously, the new partner should respect the memory of the deceased spouse. On the other hand, the remarrying spouse must recognize that his primary responsibility is now to the new marital partner. No one wants to be in “second place.” The remarrying partner needs to be sensitive to this.

Neither the husband nor the wife should overtly engage in mournful activity that conveys that the first partner is still actively present in the heart of the surviving spouse. Which activities are thereby precluded is a matter of halachic dispute.6 The complications here are best expressed in the observation by Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, to the effect that at the same time that we need to take into account the feelings of the second spouse, we also need to appreciate the feelings of the children, who will be pained if they see that their surviving parent has completely forgotten their deceased parent.

As stated earlier, regarding all the unique challenges of a second marriage (or any marriage), choosing darchei noam, the ways of pleasantness, is the best option. This approach brings out the best in the couple. The joy and fulfillment in the marital relationship will then spill over to the entire family.

Being sensitive, even self-transcending—especially in trying circumstances—rather than being selfish and self-centered, is the most vital ingredient in assuring marital success.

Footnotes
1.
See further Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha’ezer 1:8, and Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Ishut 15:16 and Hilchot Issurei Biah 21:26. On the binding nature of the le’erev obligation (not to desist from procreation in later years), Rabbi Zerahyah HaLevi (Hamaor Hagadol) in Alfasi to Yevamot 62b sees le’erev as a rabbinic obligation, with Ramban seeing it as a recommended way of living, but not as a rabbinic obligation. This becomes a matter of contention only after the procreative obligation has been fulfilled. See further my Jewish Marriage, 133–135; 230–231.
2.
Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 240:21.
3.
Pele Yoetz, under the category “Sin’ah.”
4.
See further Yerushalmi, Ketubot 11:3, which states that this verse applies to one’s divorced partner; divorced spouses are therefore not total strangers after the marriage collapses.
5.
Leviticus 19:14; Torat Kohanim ad loc.; Talmud, Moed Katan 17a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 334:47.
6.
See further Rabbi Yekutiel Greenwald, Kol Bo Al Avelut (New York, 1965), 404, and Rabbi Yehiel Yaakov Weinberg, Seridei Eish 2, no. 136, regarding maintaining the yahrtzeit for one’s first wife or husband.
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Action Magazine
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abbyz nigeria October 20, 2014

failed marriage i had a failed married. i discovered he was a wrong man for me after 2years. which lead me packing wt a month hold baby. my baby is a 1 and half now. now i found a new man who has been separated wt his wife in uk and has resided in nigeria to start up a new life. so i decide to give him 1 year before going into a 2nd marriage with him. i am scared of going into a 2nd married because my ex deceived me for 2year. pls anyone with this experience? Reply

Homey Clifton, NJ via jewishhunterdon.com September 18, 2013

Dear Financial Responsibilities According to the Torah, you have ZERO responsibilities to pay the bills, that is the responsibility of the husband to provide for the wife. He must give to you first, and then to himself. Reply

Jeremy September 16, 2013

Dear mel Please for the sake of your children put the effort in get rid off all of the other things that are taking away. They will truly be happy and so will you if you can stick through it and work on the effort. You are tired kids can drain you they are well adjusted because you stuck together. My parents divorced after my brother graduated high school there are so many things I wanted to do and my family, bringing home my own grandkids and sunday dinners and things and traditions that we don't have because my mother was tired of being with my dad. She put effort into things that didn't matter and now i don't have a family anymore. I am 31, and I want my parents to be my parents I still need them at times and I need to know that they can get through it I need them to figure it out so when I get tired and need a break I can get through it. Take some time alone and pray re-energize but do not divorce unless he has been unfaithful. It's made things harder for us. Reply

Deeae November 2, 2017
in response to Jeremy:

This is heartbreaking and true. I weep for you and pray for you and your family. So much suffering!

If I may share in hopes it provides some comfort, even in a small measure: the father of our children was unfaithful for the entire marriage and even before (which he kept secret so no one knew). The church annulled it. We obtained a divorce. On paper, he claimed he was in poverty; in reality, he was living in the wealthiest neighborhood in our city, supported under the table by his parents - it was a coordinated effort to ensure I did not receive any financial compensation or support. It is by the grace of HaShem I have survived at all. I see our how our children have suffered, and now our grandchildren and I weep.

Infidelity, divorce is an unimaginable and unbearable torture. Thank you for writing this, Mr Bulka. I am not Jewish (that I am aware of), but am nonetheless a sentient being made in the image and likeness of our Creator G-d. May He have mercy on us all. Reply

Menachem Posner Montreal September 16, 2013

Yartzeit After remarrying, it is not proper to observe the yartziet of the first spouse. Reply

June Powell New York September 15, 2013

Lighting a yahrzeit candle for one's decease spouse. When remarrying, does one still light a yahrzeit candle for the deceased spouse? Reply

Anonymous July 31, 2013

Financial responsibilities I was widowed and have been remarried for 6 years. My husband and I get along we'll, however I remain somewhat uncomfortable with financing. I am retired and receive social security. My husband continues to work receiving a six figure income and also much more well-off when we married. We live in my home where I continued to pay utilities for sometime until he sold his home. I buy my own gas, clothes, essentials, a lot of the groceries and help with vacations. He is more than financial secure and could pay all of this. I think I am worrying about deleting my small nest egg. I am just not sure of my financial obligations in this marriage and wonder how others feel. We have talked about money and he talks generously but he never offers to pay for what's previously mentioned. Reply

Anastasia May 5, 2013

response to Diana Cut the ties already! Or divorce your husband and let him find a wife who will prioritize HIM. Reply

Homey Clifton, NJ via jewishhunterdon.com May 7, 2012

Dear Ann of Difficult husband He sounds like such a jerk! You ARE a mother, it's called a STEP-mother, still falls under that category. A secondary mother, he owes you that Kavod (honor). Gently explain that you are offended. I buy my step mom cards all the time, and always give her honor, whether she has been nice to me or not. Reply

Ann La, Ca May 7, 2012

Difficult husband How do you feel if your second husband says that. You are not mother of my children, you are not my mother. Therefore. I don't have to give card to you for Mother's day Reply

Rabbi Zalman Nelson Safed, Israel February 14, 2012

Month of second marriage There is no issue with your second marriage being in the same month as your first, especially since it's convenient all around and you have an affinity for it. Being that this is truly your soulmate now, perhaps this is a sign that you've learned the lessons, grown, changed and done what you needed to do after the first marraige and are now ready that this second marriage be everlasting.

Mazel tov, all the best! Reply

Anonymous Haverhill, MA February 9, 2012

2nd Marriage same month as first. I am planning a second marriage in the same month as my first. Albeit my first was back in 1989. My divorce was final in 2001. I love the month of June and it is the only one that works for us vacation wise. Is this silly? If we go by that, then we can pick out months of "can't have that one" and there are only 12 to choose from.

Thank you Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Israel February 5, 2012

Be aware and do your very best to make it work I married a good man for whom this was his second marriage, and my first. Although unable to have children of my own, I have inherited some wonderful grown stepchildren. Their mother remarried some years before their father, and I think the relationships are as good as they can be between all concerned.
The stepchildren were genuinely happy for their father to have remarried and we have made a good home for them, for as long and as much as they want it.

I have been very fortunate to have acquired such lovely stepchildren, but there have still been problems and difficulties in adjustment. I went softly softly with the stepchildren which I think was the right thing to do.

Anyone considering either remarriage or marriage with a spouse where children are involved should work on emotional issues from the past, and discuss finances etc beforehand. Most importantly, you are not marrying just a spouse but a whole family, and if that is something you can't truly take on, then don't! Reply

Mel Brisbane, Qld January 18, 2012

Happy Homes My husband and I have been together 12 years,He has 2 children from his 1st marriage that we all raised equally together for the first 8 years. We had so many good times and created so many good memories for his 2 boys. 7 years into our relationship we decided to have more children 2 more boys.I felt so lucky to have this big family even though its been tough at times.Now at 12 years,neither one of us wants to put the effort in to save our marriage, our 2 boys see us angry and resentful toward each other all the time they hardly see any affection or caring between us.This is not what I want for my children,I want what the older boys had, Both their parents in happy relationships,even though we now have the toddlers and they have the teenagers, the reality is both households are well and truly past their honeymoon period. The older boys have turned into confident well adjusted young men, I feel I need to get divorced to give my kids the same chance of having a happy childhood . HOW SAD! Reply

Rabbi Zalman Nelson Tsfat, Israel January 15, 2012

to Adult Children and Finances Before we get married, we need to be critical and research a prospective mate. However, after we've decided to marry and then marry, it needs to first and foremost be viewed as meant to be, and for a reason and purpose and under G-d's watchful eyes at all times.

Thus, embrace this initially in terms of what you're to learn from it, as well as realize that you've accomplished something with your girls and that your husband needs to do with his kids and that puts you in a position to be helpful to him. At the same time he completes you and can be helpful to you with those things you struggle with and he excels at.

However, I don't hear from your writing how his inaction with his girls bothers you other than perhaps you see it as weakness specifically in the area where you are strong. And if that's the case, it's his problem. If he's open to it, you can offer to share some feedback with him about his relationship with them. You also have to be careful since the girls will see you as an enemy since you seek to take away the free ride they have.

You'd be right, and it sounds as though they really need some boundaries and a wake up call that things in life aren't delivered on a silver platter. But it has to be done with care as step parents and kids can have shaky relationships. Reply

Talia Columbus, OH January 3, 2012

Adult Children and ... I am very disturbed by all these stories... My heart breaks for all children of divorce...young and adult. Unfortunately the second wife/husbands have no idea what really went on in their homes, behind closed doors. These children had to deal with their family, their home, being destroyed right before their eyes... I'm sure my children are the 'evil ones' in the eyes of their father's new wife ~ she doesn't have a clue the abuse, mental, emotional and verbal, that went on ... and continues. They are now strong intelligent adults and chose not to allow this into their life. So sad it was at the hands of their own biological father. So easy to blame those who did not even have a choice.
I am sorry, I do not believe we should stop being parents because our children are 18, there have been many many times in my life I needed my father and mother... the two who loved me like no other... and I am 50. Reply

Anonymous mansfield, tx December 30, 2011

Adult Children and Finances My husband has 5 children; 2 boys from his first marriage and 3 girls from a second. Problem is he caters to the girls and of course they know how to work him. They are adult but have no problem letting "Daddy" take care of things.

I also have three daughters from my first marriage but raised them to be strong, independent and self sufficient young women. Before marrying him 12 years ago I never considered that he had different expectations from his children than I did. Wow, what a mistake that was. Now I'm 59 years old and feel trapped. What to do??? Reply

Diana aurora, Colorado September 26, 2011

ex inlaws my new husband wants me to cut all ties to my ex inlaws. I am so offended by that. Please help, I want to do the right thing. Reply

Heather Vandaling, PA September 8, 2011

I have also been I was married 10 years , 4 children and I divorced, a month later fell in love with a man I am still with today all most 5 years later. Still questions arise? I am 31 and he is 46. I am not able to work at this time for medical reasons, I was a cna and lifting i cant do no more. I feel stuck? Reply

Anonymous Calgary, AB September 8, 2011

So much harder the second time around! After being married for nearly two years to my second husband (his second marriage too), I can honestly say that it is the hardest thing I have ever done. If I had known where I would be today, I would have NEVER, EVER remarried until my kids were grown and gone from home. The step-parenting thing is so incredibly difficult. My husband's children are adults and grown, but my kids are young (elementary school). My husband constantly criticizes them and me for not doing it the way he thinks it should be done ... the way he and his ex-wife did it. I am sick to death of it. I am not sure our marriage will survive. We are heading to counseling next week. We need help! Reply

Haddassa Monterey, VA September 6, 2011

NPD-Narcisstic Personality Disorder I married an older gentleman, who is a physician, and seemed very caring. He pursued me relentlessly. I finally gave in and married him, convincing myself I loved him....his verbal and emotional abuse immediately began on our honeymoon night....I was terrifed and it took 3 1/2 years of abuse, finally getting help outside of the synagogue...the Rabbi did not believe me, I think because we were so involved with our congregation. So it was a double hurt...not only was my husband abusive and narcissistic, but I ended up leaving my congregation. I had been single 20 years prior to this, and felt happy, happy enough to share it. But I married an emotional vampire....After I took a stand against the abuse, his ego was hurt and he divorced me. Now he calls all the time, and still tries having a relationship with my grown daughters. I gave all I had, and it was not enough, I will definitely date for at least 5 years before marriage next time!!! Reply