Frank Sinatra once crooned that love is lovelier the second time around but Ol’ Blue Eyes wasn’t telling the whole story: when you remarry, love is also a whole lot more complicated.
The best way to stave off a second (or third) divorce is by addressing challenges as early as possible. Below, relationship experts weigh in with eight pressing conversations you need to have with your S.O. before giving marriage another shot.
1. Talk about what you did wrong in your last relationships.
If you want a strong second or third marriage, you need to look inward and take full ownership of the mistakes you’ve made in the past. You played a part in the downfall of your last marriage, now put that knowledge to use to make this one go the distance, said therapist Heather Gray.
“Ask yourself how you hold yourself accountable for your divorce,” Gray suggested. “Your response can’t be a job interview kind of answer, where you spin a strength inside out to make it sound like a weakness; this is real, honest communication about what you could have done better and why you didn’t do it the first time around. If one or both of you can’t transparently answer, you haven’t done enough work on yourselves to be ready to commit again.”
2. Talk about what your exes did wrong in your last relationship.
Owning up to your own marital mistakes doesn’t mean your ex is entirely off the hook. Talk to your current S.O. about what was missing in your last marriage and discuss any lingering feelings you may have about your ex’s failings as a partner, said Mark Banschick, a psychiatrist and the author of The Intelligent Divorce.
“We bring wounds of the past into the present. In the new marriage, you need to let your spouse know that you get a bit undone when he fails to respond to a text or when she stonewalls you during an argument,” Banschick said. “The advantage of a second or third marriage is that you can dispassionately share these issues with each other because there’s no requirement of perfection — you know that no marriage is perfect.”
3. Make a plan to fight fair.
Chances are you had some downright ugly fights with your ex toward the end of your marriage. While you might be inclined to leave those arguments in the past (who can blame you?), it’s worth using those negative experiences to establish ground rules for how to fight fair, psychiatrist Mark Goulston said. He used a couple he knows to illustrate his point:
“The husband, who I’ll call Frank, is on his third marriage and she’s on her second. Frank once told me: ‘We are living proof that having to win and having to be right at all times can win an argument and destroy a marriage.'”
Nowadays, Goulston said Frank and his current wife have come up with ground rules that they both follow and respect — like not using the words “always” or “never” during arguments and saying, “We’ll figure this out tomorrow, but know that I love you” if they go to bed without resolving the issues.
4. Thoroughly discuss your financial expectations for the marriage.
With a marriage (or two) behind you, you’re probably well-acquainted with how ugly arguments over money can be. (You’re not alone; researchers at Kansas State University recently found that finance-related arguments are the top predictor of divorce.) This time around, sit down and have an honest discussion about your financial expectations, said financial advisor Gabrielle Clemens.
“Before the wedding vows, take the time to discuss your separate assets, your separate liabilities and create a household financial plan to set forth exactly who pays for what in the relationship,” she said. “This is especially necessary if one person has significantly more assets than the other. The bitterness that can develop due to what is perceived to be a lack of commitment or loyalty to a spouse in favor of the kids can affect even the happiest of newlyweds.”
5. Ask yourselves: How will we integrate our two families?
Face it: You’re not just marrying your partner. You’re marrying their entire family, from their kids to their exes-turned-co-parenting partners. Put effort into making one another feel like part of the family while recognizing that it’s not necessarily going to be easy, Gray said.
“Blended families aren’t the Brady Bunch. They sometimes require patience and hard conversations,” she said. “Couples can’t ignore this reality just because they want a life together. And it’s not always realistic to say, ‘You deal with yours and I’ll deal with mine.’ Doing that oftentimes creates a divide before you’ve even become a union. You’re ready to commit to a person; Are you ready to commit to their family? Are they ready to commit to yours?”
6. If you have kids, lay down some parenting rules.
Your S.O. may have high hopes for being a bonus parent but a stepparent-stepkid relationship can’t be forced. If your partner comes off too strong — asking to be called “mom” or “dad” early on, for instance, or disciplining in a heavy-handed way — address the issue right away, said Banschick.
“This is not an easy conversation because hopefully, your soon-to-be spouse is in love with you and loves your kids just as much,” he said. “Your S.O. wants a family, but whether he or she likes it or not, this package deal has its own set of rules. The title of mom or dad generally belongs to your ex-spouse. You don’t want children to have to choose and feel disloyal in the process.”
He added: “Work together so your partner has a say in the house. Make sure he or she is valued. Children benefit from secure, loving and strong adults in their lives.”
7. What are your non-negotiable needs in a relationship?
Compromise and open communication are the cornerstones of any good relationship, but compromise too much and resentment is bound to fester. If you tried to silence your core needs in your previous marriage, speak up this time around, Gray said.
“We tend to negotiate important needs away and tell ourselves we don’t need them, especially when our partners fail to meet them over and over again,” she said. “Being clear with your new love about who you are includes being clear on what you need and asking your new partner if they are willing to meet those needs.”
8. And finally, talk about your hopes for the future and recognize this as your chance to do it right.
When you’re done tackling those weighty conversations, Goulston suggests you both embrace this second chance — and recognize that things could be a lot worse.
“The most comical — and probably the best marital tip I’ve ever heard — comes from a couple who were previously both divorced. After 15 years of marriage and very few arguments, the husband told me with his wry sense of humor, ‘Marry someone where both of your exes were off-the-charts difficult. That way, every time you have a disagreement with your current spouse, you get flashbacks from the awful marriage and you just start giggling together because you realize you escaped that!'”
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