My Handy Dandy Mythoclast

Over the course of the last week, I have been involved in many discussions about marriage. Most all of the discussions broached divorce as well. While statistics to the contrary are rampant, the prevailing myth is most marriages fail. Rather than get into a lengthy debate, whip out my BlackBerry and Google the truth, I decided to take an entirely different tack.

Change the Subject

Well, sort of. Instead of focusing on the failure of the first marriage, I focused on the success of the second marriage. Statistically speaking, second marriages are the most successful. On average, they last a little more than eight years longer than first marriages.

While I am not going to berate you with the gory details into the methodology as to why they are more successful, I want us to explore why. I specifically want you to tell me why I should buy your choice as to why the statistics are stacked the way they are.

blue pencil

Practice Makes Perfect

This is the tiredest excuse of all. While the idea doing something a second time brings with it a sense of experience, it fails to address the concept you are engaging in marriage with another person who is as unknown to you as was your first spouse.

If this is your choice, come loaded for bear, as I will not be easily convinced.

Older and Wiser (Young and Dumb and…)


Older, yes. Wiser, how? What fundamental concepts are different in a first marriage and a second marriage? Is this a matter of coping mechanism? Did you learn how to avoid the pitfalls better?

While it can be said learning not to engage in marriage-ending behavior is an asset to a second marriage, I am unlikely to be swayed far from my stance on this one. If you think this is the reason, why?

Not My Fault

The Blame Game

The second most common reason for first marriage failure is Mate. Failures range from infidelity (#1 answer) to job loss (#4 answer). The fact sexual dysfunction was cited as a failure cause for divorce in the top ten answers struck me. I will not tell you how it struck me, but strike me it did.

(Yes, I am scratching my head on this one.) If the reason the first marriage dissolved was not your fault, how does that bear on the longevity and viability of your second marriage?


Turns out Mate #2 was a BFF to Mate #1. How is this marriage more viable than the first? Did you marry the wrong twin switched at birth? Were you better friends with Mate #2 than you were Mate #1? Is the second marriage based on commiseration against Mate #1?


Mate #2 was always your BFF. Mate #2 never did understand why you married Mate #1. Mate #2 stood with you through wedding, marriage and divorce. Why is this the second marriage?


Family glue?

Cited equally as cause for both marriage and divorce, children are a reason given for second marriages staying together longer. Where this excuse fails to meet muster is in this fact: Most second marriages begin with children from previous marriages.

If children are the reason why the second marriage lasts longer, why were they not the reason the first marriage stayed together?

OK, Enough

I have three alternate solutions to the ones presented here. I want to hear what you think.

  • Which solution is the most plausible?
  • What other solution can you give in addition to the most plausible?
  • Convince me you know which solution is the reason second marriages are more successful than first marriages.

Here is your chance to Talk Back. Let’s get Talk Tuesday underway. The floor is yours.

© Red Dwyer 2012
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  1. Great post, Red!

    I think most second marriages work better than the first because the people involved have learned that if they want a successful marriage, there is a level of give and take that must be adhered to. Privacy and trust must be given in equal measure. Both involved have had failed marriages, and don’t want to go through that again, yet, of course, 100% of people who are married 3 times or more had that second marriage as well.

    Maybe age is the answer? People don’t want to spend their golden ages, their retirement years alone. They want a travel companion, someone to talk to and to share things with, and are more accommodating to their second spouse because of this.

    • Very good opinions, Marc. I like that you have brought retirement into the picture. It carries with it both monetary and loneliness issues.

      As to the 3+ marriages, most of them failed about the same time or shorter in the second pass. Those were just weird statistics. Mostly because no one cares by the third marriage…not the newlyweds or the statisticians.


  2. Hi Red and All
    I have been married twice.
    I married at 17 my wife being 16. We have 2 children. We spent a lot of our 8 years apart, I was in the Army. I think it was fair to say we both sought comfort elsewhere at some point. I think we were to young getting married and having children, we grew up, we grew apart, we discovered we had different interests in life.We still speak cordially now although rarely.

    I remarried at 27. We have 3 children. These children knew nothing of their sisters until they were in their mid to late teens. They are very close now. Our marriage is quite fiery and we bicker a lot both jovially and not jovially. At some point during our 28 year marriage we have thought of separating. When I thought of it I chose not to because 1.I didn’t want to lose another set of children 2. I have no family connections close enough, geographically or emotionally, to turn to. 3. We couldn’t afford to. (in this order) The underlying problem, if you see divorce as a positive move, is we both love each other intensely.
    😉 Heart is now bled out 😉

    • You have touched on a very different layer of the underlying issues. Thank you, Nigel, for sharing your insight and interesting twist.


  3. Talk Tuesday has come and gone, but due to insomnia, I’ll share a few thoughts. There’s some wonderful discussion here.

    I personally think first marriages often fail for two distinct reasons:
    1. People gravitate toward a personality type they are comfortable with, which usually turns out to be one that is similar to the parent with whom they have the most powerful (and difficult) relationship.
    2. People go into their first marriage expecting it to be their everything. They want that person to be their perfect soul mate and to “get” who they are better than anyone else in the world. When you awaken to the fact that Mate is actually self-centered, pathologically annoying and uncannily like your mother, you realize there is no way out but out.

    This supports the “practice makes perfect” argument for a better second marriage in multiple ways. You’ve not only practiced how to be in a relationship, but you’ve practiced setting your own expectations somewhere within the stratosphere, and you’ve also practiced choosing for the right reasons… not just because you have a powerful yet eerie attraction.

    • I like your take on the break up and your explanation of the second at bat. You have brought in a couple aspects which make the top ten. Thank you, Jayna!

  4. I can only theorize on this topic as I’ve been married 31 years now, coming up on a 32nd anniversary this May. The only thing I can latch onto about the success of second marriages may have to do with age and maturity. I would imagine second marriages being a bit more stable if the first marriage happened at an early age – say late teens. People change at all ages, but the changes from teens to mid-to-late twenties is perhaps more dramatic. It’s just a theory though with no hard data to support it.

    Interesting topic. And with regard to blaming the other, it is a rare occasion indeed to meet someone divorced who will fess up that maybe it was their own fault. Almost universally, it was the “other” spouse who was a complete jerk and the reason for the divorce. How incredibly lucky of me to know only the “good” people, not the jerks… 😉

    • True. Most people would rather believe themselves free of blame, in turn giving themselves a clean slate in the next relationship. When it does not go according to plan, they can again be free of fault. It is a horrid cycle of immaturity.

      I like your assessment of the 20s.

  5. I’m curious – is a 2nd marriage that lasts 8 years longer than a first but still ends in divorce still successful?
    And if so, how exactly is success defined?

    • Typically, yes. Based on your age (you would need to be at least 36), for this marriage to be considered a success (even if it ends in divorce) it has to outlive its predecessor. The overall longevity of the relationship is the deeper issue. So, if you lived with Mate #2 for the intervening period between first and second, your overall relationship falls well beyond the typical 10 duration of second marriage which dissolve.

      While I would love to delve into the upper level statistics of this one, I am in the minority, as the few who are researching the matter are not at a juncture to share. So many numbers, so little time.

  6. Red, I’m yet to get married. So, I do not know if my two cents thoughts are worth here. Does it mean I should be prepared for a second marriage?

    • No, but it is good advice to listen for the things which break up marriage. It will give you a good idea of the things you will need to know and decide before you do marry to ensure it lasts.

      Thank you for stopping by to comment, Job!

  7. Belated response or not:
    It seems that second marriages often fail because a clone of the ‘first’ spousal model is erroneously chosen as a (new/ replacement/ second) partner. Perhaps not in looks, but in ideals, thought process, and unfortunately, faults as well including tendency to a controlling or abusive nature, alcoholism, or whatever.
    The ‘physical’ entity of the second spouse, if poorly chosen, may be different, but the same undercurrent problems eventually surface, since none of those will be hidden forever.
    Perhaps one of the best examples is a woman with low self-esteem, after a first-marriage divorce from a control freak,– will inevitably select another control freak to marry –ultimately with the same problematic outcomes .
    Great discussion Red!

    • It is the curse of failing to learn from history. You may well be surprised about the truth in the dissolution of the second, though. Most have traded their original problems for a horse of another color.

  8. I’m so behind on your posts, that I am just going to jump ahead and see what the feedback wasy. I will say this: I waited longer to get married to my second guy, I waited longer to move in with him and we waited to have our own child together. Patience in so many ways.

    • The waiting for the child is an especially big piece of the puzzle. Rushing never produces the results one expects. Strangely enough, relationships which can work in slow mode often do not in fast forward.

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