Have you ever wondered why second marriages fail? Statistics show that as many as 25% of second marriages end within the first five years, as compared to 20% of first marriages in the same time-frame. The average length of a second marriage is 10.8 years for men and 7 years for women, but the duration of a third marriage is much shorter: 4.9 years for women and 5.1 years for men. It is thought that people who have divorced more than once see divorce as an acceptable way to end an unpleasant situation, making it easier to file for divorce as soon as things begin to go badly.(1) According to the book Divorce: Causes and Consequences, the risk of divorce falls drastically after five years. After that time, divorce rates tend to level off and remain fairly consistent.(2)
Steven M Cohn, PhD
The Portland Couples Counseling Center
1940 NE Broadway
Portland, Oregon 97232
One reason why second marriages fail is because many people remarry with the idea they have found a situation better than the one they had with their first spouse. However if the underlying issues that resulted in divorce the first time have not been resolved, there is a great likelihood that the second marriage will also fail. For example, if communication was poor in the first marriage, it is likely to also be poor in the second marriage as well. In one recent study, researchers found two basic motivations for divorce. First, poor relationship quality (which can include a wide variety of issues) and second, a weak commitment to marriage.(3)
This weak commitment to marriage is a key reason why second marriages fail, given that those individuals who do not feel that staying married is important are much more likely to divorce. In fact, a Dutch study points to the “normalization of divorce” as one of the key reasons why second marriages fail. An additional reason was the inequitable distribution of household labor.(4)
As many as 40% of second marriages involve children. A study from the National Center for Health Statistics (a part of the CDC) showed that women who had children before their second marriages were more likely to divorce within ten years, particularly if they felt that their children were unwanted by their second husband.(5)
Another important element in why second marriages fail also involves children: children who have experienced the divorce of their parents are as much as 40% more likely to divorce their own spouses.(6) Again, this points to whether or not the members of a couple perceive divorce as an acceptable way to escape an unpleasant situation. Those who have lived through one divorce, albeit vicariously, may be more likely to end their own marriages.
If you have further questions about why second marriages fail,
are contemplating a second marriage, or if you are in a second marriage
that is in trouble, you may find help by consulting a Relationship
(1)National Center for Health Statistics, B. F. Wilson. 19B9. Remarriages and Subsequent Divorces: United States. Vita/ and Hea/th Statistics. Series 21, No. 45. DHHS Pub. No. (PHS) 89-1923. Public Health Service. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.
(2)Clarke-Stewart, Alison and Brentano, Cornelia. Divorce: Causes and Consequences. Yale University Press, 2006.
(3)Amato, Paul R. and Hohmann-Marriott, Bryndl. A Comparison of High- and Low-Distress Marriages That End in Divorce. Journal of Marriage and Family 69(3): 621-638. 2007.
(4)De Graaf, Paul M. and Kalmijn, Matthijs. Divorce Motives in a Period of Rising Divorce. Journal of Family Issues 27(4): 483-505 (2006)
(5)National Center for Health Statistics, B. F. Wilson. 19B9. Remarriages and Subsequent Divorces: United States. Vita/ and Hea/th Statistics. Series 21, No. 45. DHHS Pub. No. (PHS) 89-1923. Public Health Service. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office.
(6)Gähler, Michael; Hong, Ying; and Bernhardt, Eva. Parental Divorce and Union Disruption among Young Adults in Sweden. Journal of Family Issues 30(5): 688-713 (2009).
Steven M. Cohn, PhD is honored to have been featured on CNBC.com.
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