The Biggest Mistake People Make When They Remarry

Research indicates that the divorce rate for second marriages may fall somewhere between the 67-80% (Health Research, 2015). But this does not seem to stop people from returning to the alter. The Pew Research Center (2013) reported that marriage rates in the United States are declining but remarriage rates are increasing: “4 in 10 marriages include at least one partner who had been married before.” Those over age 55 take the plunge a second time more often than younger couples.

Scholars have offered a myriad of reasons as to why second marriages continue to fail at such an alarming rate. Some have contended that one or both partners may have been on the “rebound.” Others have blamed the independence of women. And many attribute failure, to blended family dynamics, to name a few. The purpose of this article is to simplify the matter: in my opinion the primary reason second marriages fail is because most individuals make the same choice time and again. Albeit an unconscious decision, we seem to be continually drawn to the same type of individual or an individual with the same type of problems, in the face of repeated failure? Our new choice may look physically different, but this is hardly differential. Our selection may be more successful, but this alone is no significant indicator of contrast. And the new partner may be more educated and of a higher socioeconomic—no guarantee of a healthier choice.

Clients have explained the selective process with this typical assertion: “He/she wasn’t like this when we met!” But people do not change that much, especially in such a brief time. Unless the prospective partner was a terrific actor, signs were missed. People are on their best behavior when they first meet but once comfortable, they cannot help but show their real selves. It is then up to the buyer to acknowledge any limitations and to determine whether they are tolerable. Not all replication is unhealthy. Some people have the good fortune to repeatedly choose appropriate partners. This article however, is concerned with those replications that cause a pattern of pain.

Why Do We Replicate?

People choose the same partner the second and sometimes third time around for a variety of reasons depending on the chooser’s unconscious needs. And most of these needs emanate from one’s family of origin. Yes, some people choose with their eyes open and for reasons of survival. Unfortunately, many of these relationships fail. But this article addresses one specific reason we choose a mate: to unconsciously continue a problematic pattern. For example, if you were abused by one or both parents, you may have internalized the belief that you deserve to be abused. Choosing an abusive partner may help you to achieve this objective. Or, if you felt sorry for an abused parent you may align with them by allowing yourself to be abused. A second example might be demonstrated by a strong unconscious desire to “right” a real or imagined “wrong” from your past. If your parent was too passive and allowed others to take advantage, you may continually choose a strong, assertive partner—as if you are hiring your own personal attorney. If a parent was particularly dominant you may choose someone of the same ilk and proceed to rebel against their dominance. Or, you may choose more likeable, passive partners. A third example might be to continue to pay a perceived debt owed to your family of origin (Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark, 1973). If a parent was physically ill, you might feel more comfortable caring for needy or sickly partners.  

Some people are attracted to an individual that has a combination of qualities. Again, the selection will depend upon each chooser’s internal needs. The possibilities are indeed endless, and each couple should be analyzed accordingly. There is a certain comfort in replication; it is what we are used to even if it is a painful experience. One client remarked: “I’d rather deal with the devil I know than the devil I don’t know.”

How Do We Replicate?

Again, this tends to be an unconscious process. But rest assured, if you are on the verge of replication the potential partner in question is tapping into—either verbally or behaviorally—something deep inside of you. They may not realize it, but the process is compelling. Words used, or temperament displayed may trigger the replication. If you are attracted to violent individuals, for example, citing even the trace of a temper may draw you nearer. Provocative dress might prove magnetic. In this case you might be replicating the choice of a flirt or someone with diffuse boundaries. If you are attracted to those charismatic but self-absorbed individual’s you may have an interest in narcissists. Or, if you are attracted to addicts you may replicate a different addiction (alcohol) than you previously experienced with your first mate, but an addiction nonetheless (gambling).

How Do We Prevent Dysfunctional Replication?  

Some people try to avoid replication by carefully watching for signs that indicate one is in progress. I do think this may rule out some obvious issues: addiction, overspending or a hypercritical personality come to mind. But again, you are up against an unconscious process and many people can display and sustain a false front. The best way to avoid a negative replication in remarriage is to “know thyself.” If you have enough self-knowledge as to what attracts you and for what reasons, you can prevent a replication. But you must leave your fantasies behind and be painfully honest in your assessment of your potential mate. Check in with friends and family for their opinions. Investigate your prospective partner’s past relationships and the reasons for their demise. Look for certain characteristics that trigger somatic reactions. One female client claimed that she would experience nausea every time she saw someone who reminded her of her abusive, philandering ex-husband. Quite the alarm system.


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