Sex & Relationships

How to Set a Second Marriage Up for Success—A Relationship Expert Weighs In


The Everymom’s product selections are curated by the editorial team. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no cost to you. We only recommend products we genuinely love.

Source: Josh Withers | Pexels
Source: Josh Withers | Pexels

Perhaps the only thing more challenging than navigating a divorce is entering a second marriage. Few things are as heart-shattering as seeing a marriage fail. So, it becomes that much more important to set yourself up for a successful second marriage before entering into a new union. Not only that, but odds are that the stakes have never been higher. Second marriages often involve more than just two hopeful souls. Many bring in kids from a first marriage, and often, ex-spouses learning to co-parent.

To get some guidance on having a successful second marriage, we looked to an expert with impressive credentials: Dr. Stan Tatkin, Doctor of Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapist, developer of the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy® (PACT), and bestselling author of Wired for Love (second edition available June 2024). With straightforward and honest insight, Dr. Tatkin guides couples with practical skills to achieve secure-functioning relationships—AKA, the blueprint to a successful second marriage.

If you’re considering entering into a new marriage, read on for techniques for setting a second marriage up for success, how to make the adjustment more manageable for kids, and co-parenting tips.

Meet the expert
Dr. Stan Tatkin
Doctor of Psychology, Marriage and Family Therapist
Dr. Stan Tatkin is the developer of the Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy® (PACT), and best-selling author of "Wired for Love."

How to Have a Successful Second Marriage

Why Do Marriages Fail?

Maybe the first step to cultivating a lasting marriage is knowing the common downfalls. Insightfully, Dr. Tatkin pointed out that marriages that fail often do so because the two people entering the union didn’t align on what they wanted for the future. In other words, why they are coming together and where they want the relationship to go. He shared, “No other union or alliance that is free and fair between adults would ever expect to join a huge project such as marriage without first determining their purpose and vision.”

When things like whether or not you want kids, career goals, and personal desires do not align, it’s all too easy for conflict to arise. He also explained that while it may be easy to enter a marriage because of an emotion (i.e., this person makes me happy), failing to have a shared purpose and goals sets us up for failure. The fact is, emotions waver. It’s much easier to have a lasting marriage when there’s a solid foundation of aligned values and aspirations.

“No other union or alliance that is free and fair between adults would ever expect to join a huge project such as marriage without first determining their purpose and vision.”

Tatkin pointed out that another reason marriages may fail is due to couples not working together. When problems arise, it’s all too easy for one person to try to handle them on their own. When collaboration is lacking, it becomes easy for misunderstandings to arise. We may quickly feel like we’re doing things alone and have no help. This sort of isolation can create pain and resentment and may lead to us trying to change our partners rather than solve problems together.

What’s different about second marriages?

When it comes to second marriages, we may quickly assume that those involved learned from their past mistakes. The fact is, though, we’re creatures of habit, and it’s easier to fall back into the same patterns from a first marriage when going into a second. When we don’t take the time to grow, it can actually be harder to have a successful second marriage, as there are usually more factors involved.

Dr. Tatkin pointed out the idea of “mismanagement of thirds.” Outside of the two people, there are several other factors that may impact their relationship; AKA, a “third.” Kids, an ex-spouse, alcohol, work—you name it. According to Dr. Tatkin, when second marriages fail, it’s often because the relationship is not being prioritized enough. When a “third” is put before a partner, it sets the stage for jealousy. We can remedy this, again, through collaboration.

For example, a blended family may include a parent, the parent’s partner (or step-parent), and a child. In Dr. Tatkin’s approach, as a couple, the parent and step-parent may make decisions about the family together, even if only one of them is front-facing in executing the decision—generally, the parent. In this case, we’re showing our partner that we respect their opinions and that we’re open to collaboration while still maintaining a sense of normalcy for a child involved.

successful second marriage couple on date
Source: Canva

How to Pick the Correct Partner

It’s not surprising that a relationship is more likely to last if we pick the right partner. But what’s the best way to do that, and what is the “right” partner, anyway? Well, Dr. Tatkin said it actually starts by looking inward. We can start looking for the right partner by knowing what the right partner for us looks like. He goes so far as to say we should write down ten principles we want our ideal partner to embody. These should be purpose-centered statements, not emotional, and can begin with “We.”

A couple of examples he shared are:

  • We are fully transparent with each other at all times.
  • We have each other’s backs at all times.
  • We protect each other in private and public.
  • We make decisions together by first getting each other fully on board.

See People For Who They Are, Not How They Make You Feel

When we find someone who embodies the characteristics we’ve listed out for our ideal partner, we’ll be better able to determine that they’re the right one when they come around. We should choose a partner based on their character, values, and personality as opposed to how they make us feel. This means that even as the “honeymoon phase” and butterflies fade, we’ll still want to be with that person because of who they are.

Find Someone You Enjoy Spending Time With

As obvious as it may sound, many people fail to choose a life partner that they actually like. Think, “All romantic feelings aside, do I enjoy spending time with this person?” We’ve heard it before, and we’ll hear it again—we should marry our best friend. There’s a sense of respect, value, and general enjoyment that comes from spending time with close friends. When it comes to the person we plan to spend the rest of our lives with, shouldn’t there be a strong sense of friendship in the mix?

How to Have a Successful Second Marriage

Perhaps the most sage piece of advice Dr. Tatkin gave is this: “Our union comes first above and beyond everyone and everything because everyone and everything depends upon us to be in good condition and happy.” It may be difficult—maybe even triggering—to think about putting a marriage before certain things. It’s easy to think, “Surely a job is just as important.” Or, “My kids always come first.” But Dr. Tatkin challenged this notion by expressing that when we enter a marriage with the right person and have shared purpose-centered goals and principles, the marriage will actually benefit everything else in life.

So, how do we reap the benefits of a fruitful marriage? Consider these techniques:

Get Organized

It’s not surprising to know that communication is at the heart of a successful second marriage. Talk about and split up the tasks that need to be done. It may not be glamorous or exciting, but knowing who’s going to pay the bills each month and how dinner is going to appear on the table sets us up for a harmonious union. Especially in the case of a step-parent/child household, discuss what the step-parent’s role will look like.

Outside of daily tasks, we can be honest about our relationship expectations. Maybe we expect to have a date night once a month and a couple’s trip once a year. Whatever the expectations may be, lay them out for one another and come to a consensus.

Keep Learning About Each Other

Even if you’ve been with someone for years, keep the courtship going, as Dr. Tatkin said. Keep getting to know one another, be interested in them, and be curious about them. Keep dating, talking, and sharing with one another regularly. It may even be beneficial to schedule regular check-ins with one another. This can take the form of date nights, pillow talk before bed, or morning chats over coffee.

Cultivate Affection

If our actions are solely based on our emotions, it can be easy to let affection fly out the window when we’re not feeling especially lovey. But, with Dr. Tatkin’s purpose-driving principles in mind, we’re reminded that sometimes we have to go beyond what we’re feeling to prioritize our partner. This may look like an intentional kiss goodbye, cleaning the house without being asked, or picking up a gift for our partner on the way home. When we are intentional with affection, romance, and adoration, it can be energizing to our partner and ourselves.

Source: Canva

Do What You Say You’re Going to Do

A pivotal part of success is sticking to our word. All of the things we agreed to when getting organized we now have to deliver. We should be intentional with our actions and do what we say we’re going to do, even on the days we don’t feel like it. If a monthly date night was agreed upon, that standing commitment should be prioritized.

As Dr. Tatkin put it, “If I agree to the purpose-centered principle of providing love and affection throughout each day, I must do it even when I’m angry with you.” Being able to put aside our pride and humble ourselves to stick to our commitments to our spouse, even when it’s not easy to do so, will set the stage for feelings of security and joy.

Stay Connected

Dr. Tatkin offered the idea of being tethered to a partner—think of the invisible string Taylor Swift affectionately sings about. It’s the idea that even when physically apart, partners are constantly connected. For many of us, it’s unrealistic—and perhaps even unwanted—to constantly be in communication with someone. Instead of an ongoing chain of text messages, we can think of it as giving our partner access to a part of ourselves that not everyone has. We always have their back, will help them through roadblocks, and be their biggest fan and advocate. In this case, we’re not always directly talking to them when we’re apart. Instead, we’re constantly providing a sense of security that, ideally, we only get and give from our spouse.

This can take the form of sending a supportive text message when we know our partner has a big day. Maybe we pick up their favorite treat on the way home from work just because. Or maybe we help them talk through a difficult decision. Simple things like this show that through the highs and lows, they always have someone in their corner, and the things that are important to them also mean a lot to us.

How to Ease the Adjustment for Kids

As exciting as getting into a new relationship can be, the transition can be hard on kids. Fortunately, there are ways of easing the adjustment for kids when we enter into a second marriage.

According to research, here are some things parents can do to make the adjustment easier for kids:

Respect Their Feelings

Lots of feelings may arise when kids see their parents re-marry. There may be some sadness for the loss of their original family unit or resentment for having to split their time between parents. Part of them may feel excited to see their parents in a happy new place. Most likely, they’ll have a mix of emotions. No matter what their individual feelings look like, we can respect them and be patient as they adjust to a new normal.

Try Not to Drop Bombshells

The best way to ensure a smooth adjustment is to provide the time to do so. This means, whenever possible, we can try not to make hasty decisions or make abrupt changes. When we do decide to introduce a new partner into the mix, we can do so slowly as opposed to moving everyone in together right away. Giving kids this time to process all of the changes taking place is something they will likely thank us for later.

Talk to Them

Being patient doesn’t just mean leaving kids alone, though. In fact, research shows that we should give our kids a safe space to voice how they’re feeling. As opposed to constantly trying to persuade them to get on board with a second marriage, we should be active listeners. When we’re attentive to the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that they have, it’s reassuring to them that their opinions are still valued.

When it is our time to talk, we can reassure them. This reassurance can be that even though things will be different, our love for them will never waver. We can ask for their input on what the new family unit should look like and even ask what would make things easier for them.

Understand They May Not Accept a Step-Parent Right Away

When we’re full steam ahead on a new romantic partner, it can be difficult if those closest to us are not fully on board. When it comes to kids accepting a new partner, however, it’s important to understand that their acceptance (or lack thereof) may have nothing to do with the new partner at all. Watching their parents go through a divorce and then start a new relationship is a type of change no kid asks for. Understand that it will take time for them to adjust to the new way of life and maybe even longer to accept a new parental figure.

Rein in Any Guilt

This may be the most difficult step of all, as it’s easy to feel guilty about putting a child through a divorce. But, Dr. Tatkin shared that when we let our guilt of not protecting our kids from loss and grief become too strong, it can lead to a load of other problems. When the guilt is too strong, it can be easy to give in to anything kids want. This can lead to things like entitlement and hostility towards the step-parent. When a partner is routinely thrown under the bus or not prioritized, it can be difficult to have a successful relationship.

Tips for Step-Parent/Child Bonding

In a perfect world, our kids and partners would become best friends the moment they meet. Of course, this is nearly never the case and it will take time for that bonding to occur. There is certainly something we can keep in mind to foster that connection, though. Consider the following tactics.

successful second marriage
Source: Canva

Understand that the Step-Parent is an Outsider (At First)

It all goes back to understanding that this can be an emotional time for kids. According to Dr. Tatkin, new step-parents are often seen as outsiders in the eyes of kids and, in some cases, a threat that puts a wedge in their family. Knowing that there may be a lot of internal emotions kids are working through will hopefully urge the step-parent to have a lot of patience when trying to bond.

Avoid Discipline

Knowing that children tend to see step-parents as outsiders means any discipline should take place by their parent—at least at first. Otherwise, a wedge could be further driven between the child and step-parent. This doesn’t mean, however, that the parent can’t consult the step-parent when making disciplinary decisions. In fact, Dr. Tatkin recommended that, as a unit, the couple should make these kinds of decisions together. But it will be the responsibility of the parent, not the step-parent, to enforce the disciplinary action.

Be Authentic

When it comes to forming a connection, step-parents should remember to be authentic with their interactions. According to Dr. Tatkin, step-parents can view the process as somewhat of a “courtship.” They’ll want to be strategic and not overbearing—don’t force the relationship to foster overnight. Instead, have a genuine interest in getting to know the child. Be humble and curious.

Get to Know Them

In the vein of curiosity, it’s not a bad idea to start getting to know the child before moving in together if possible. Maybe this looks like picking them up from practice or helping them with their homework. We can take it a step further and be more intentional by trying to do simple outings with them like working on a project or simply going for a walk. Easing into the relationship in simple ways instead of forcing it will likely allow for the child to open up more and more.

Tips for Co-Parenting with a New Spouse

Unsurprisingly, co-parenting can be tricky, and if not handled correctly early on, can go south even faster. When a new spouse is brought into the mix, a lot of emotions can be brought up for everyone involved. Here are some action steps we can take to make the process smoother:

Remain a Couple at All Times

In Dr. Tatkin’s approach, the ex-spouse will now become a “third” in the union of the couple. As with anything else, they must work together to manage the tasks at hand, namely “raising children.” We can continue to lean on our spouse for decision-making and support. A great way to do this is to ensure that information is free-flowing at all times. There shouldn’t be secrets kept from partners, and any new information that comes in should be reviewed together.

Talk to the Ex-Spouse

Parents should have a say in who is in their child’s life, even if it means having an uncomfortable conversation. Bring up the new relationship to them and address any concerns they have head-on. Take into consideration how involved they want the new partner to be with their child (especially before the relationship gets serious), how much communication they want with the new partner, and any boundaries they may want to set.

Co-Parenting: Why I Prioritize My Relationship With My Ex’s New Spouse
Click to Read