Do Couples in Second Marriages Learn from Mistakes of the First?

While the rate of success for second marriages is lower than for first marriages, some experts say divorced couples can learn from their mistakes and enjoy much happier and stable second marriages.

Conflict from step-children and the baggage brought into the second marriage can lead to stress on the marriage, contributing to increased failure rates. However, some believe that learning from one’s previous mistakes before beginning a new relationship with wisdom and maturity can increase the odds of success.

This article from the Daily Mail in the U.K. cites many couples who explain that false expectations, lack of agreement on what they wanted from marriage, or rushing into a young marriage, caused them to fail the first time around. They say after growing up themselves, and clearly defining what they wanted in a partner and in a marriage helped them to succeed the second time around.

That means the couples didn’t rush into a new relationship, but rather spent the time to explore their past mistakes so as not to repeat the same patterns.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Michael Mantell is cited as saying, “Second marriages can be more successful than the first, since couples have typically matured, learned from any mistakes they made and taken stock of exactly what they are looking for the second time around.” He adds that couples tend to take longer to get to know one another the second time, and are not “blinded” by love.

Couples who are successful may also understand there is no perfect mate, but rather that each partner must work to keep the relationship strong and interesting. Premarital counseling can help couples identify mistakes, patterns and routines they may have fallen into, says Mantell.

It’s usually a mistake to say you married the wrong person, and you want to leave your spouse and try for a better relationship. (Read We All Married the Wrong Person.) I say usually, because I’ve also known people who were abused in marriage and needed to get out for their own physical and emotional safety. Success in a relationship is much more about how partners interact than about whether they chose the ideal partner.

That being said, I’ve known many friends and relatives who did find a much happier and more stable marriage after their first marriage failed. Sometimes I’m surprised to learn couples have been divorced in the past, since they seem like they’ve been happily married to each other forever.

While I disagree that second marriages have better odds of success than first marriages (that just isn’t backed up by research or my experience), I do agree that second marriages can be as loving, stable and just as successful as first-time marriages. That is, if they are willing to put in the work of understanding their personal mistakes and the mistakes of their marriage—not just placing all the blame on their ex. In addition, they will need to be prepared to handle conflict in a healthy manner, in particular in dealing with the (sometimes quite daunting) challenges of step-children and ex-spouses. I believe many people in second marriages work harder to keep the relationship strong, and refuse to take one another for granted. We should all take a cue from those behaviors and do the same.

Are you on a second marriage? If so, what did you learn from your first failed marriage? How long did it take you to remarry, and do you find it harder or easier the second time around? Whether you’re single or married for decades, what do you think about the odds of success in first versus second marriages?

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13 responses to “Do Couples in Second Marriages Learn from Mistakes of the First?

  1. I knew already that the success rate of second marriages is statistically less than that of first marriages, but every time I am reminded of it, it still surprises me. I don’t know a great deal of couples in a second marriage, but the two I can think of off the top of my head – the individuals in question were young and perhaps niave first time around. My father married in his teens first time around, it didn’t work out then he later married my mother at 25 and they have been married 36 years now.

    Maybe some of the people that aren’t successful second time around just aren’t ‘cut out’ to be married to someone else for a long period of time. You’d think them having to overcome all the ‘baggage’ that can come with a second marriage would make their determination and resolve stronger but perhaps it isn’t always the case. Some people fall in love very quickly and rush into things. If they don’t learn how to break that habit then there is a good chance they will end up with a lot of failed relationships/marriages.

    Maybe some get married second time around in an attempt to erase the pain from first time around and to show people ‘look, I can do it!’. Logically, you’d think more would get it right a second time, but that second time can bring added pressure, baggage and can be entered into for the wrong reasons. As with any marriage, I think there should be a long period of careful consideration before saying ‘I do’.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. True, first marriages probably occur more often to younger or less mature individuals. Whether young, middle aged or older, careful consideration is in order. But marriage is a blessing at any age for people who are loving and respectful of one another. Learning better relationship skills can help boost marriage satisfaction rates.

  3. Sexy Christian Wife

    It seems like after a divorce and all the pain that causes, it would be hard to not learn from your mistakes.

  4. Actually no. So many people are comfortable blaming their previous mate for the divorce and don’t take responsiblity for it. They also don’t learn good conflict resolution skills which is the number one cause of marital break ups nor do the majority of marriage counselors teach this vital skill
    John Wilder

  5. I’d say some couples I know have learned a great deal about themselves and about relationship mistakes they have made through divorce. On the other hand, I’ve seen others who only learned to blame their mate for the failing of the marriage. So it’s a bit of both, but the potential is there to learn from pain. And this effort should be made before undertaking another relationship to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

  6. It depends.

    If your first mate ran off and had an affair instead of working on her marriage, then I wouldn’t expect her to have much better luck in her second marriage.

    However, her betrayed husband, the one who tried to address the issues in his first marriage, instead of running from them has now learned to look for a second wife who is unlike his first. You see, amongst his mistakes are not just his behaviors, but also his choices.

    So if he learns not to choose women who betrayed her vows before, and learns skills to be a better husband, he is likely to not only learn from his first marriage, but have a far better second marriage.

    It’s not the number of marriages you’ve had, it’s how much you learn and grow in your marriage(s).

    Those who bail out, have affairs, and so forth don’t learn very much and are unlikely to do better the second time around.

    Now some may take this as blaming my former spouse. However, I tried owning my stuff and ended up divorced anyway. So who else would be to blame for the divorce but the one who had her affair and got the divorce she wanted? Once that decision is made, it’s like going nuclear in a conventional war. You can argue and fight about who did want prior to going nuclear, but once someone has escalated to that point, is it really fruitful to talk about what happened prior to the nuclear blast?

  7. True, Tony. There are times as you mention when better evaluating/choosing is the biggest learning from a terrible relationship. I would put those who married abusive spouses in this category as well. Thanks.

  8. I learned to completely erase my first marriage from my memory. Frankly, I actually forget that I was once married to another man. Memories, emotional baggage, any remnants have no place in my second marriage. My husband deserves a kind of newness in me no matter how badly he gets on my nerves! Besides it’s enough to learn each other without adding all the etceteras!

  9. Some clearly do learn from THEIR mistakes, but the majority do not. I see a lot who are so focused on the mistakes their spouse made that they can’t or won’t look at their own mistakes.

    • I think that can go the other way too. Too much focus on your own mistakes, or at least a subset such as only your behaviors, and not enough focus on what kind of spouse you chose.

      After all, if you choose someone who had an affair, why did you choose her and what can you do to avoid women who are unfaithful in your future choices?

      I think an honest assessment requires both looking at the behavior and choices of both in a failed marriage, even if she will not do so herself.

  10. Wednesday Martin’s “Stepmonster” cites several stats that show that while 2nd marriages (especially ones with children from one or both marriages) fail at a much greater rate than 1st marriages, if you can make it past the 5 year mark, 2nd marriages actually have a much HIGHER rate of success than 1st marriages. It’s definitely a trial-by-fire– if you can figure out how to weather the storms of exes and figuring out parenting roles and associated drama, then you have a rock-solid relationship. However, they are big stressors on the relationship and often not something there is a lot of education on how to successfully navigate while building a stronger relationship with your partner.

  11. I have rewritten this reply now 5 times. And i find myself with this bleak offering that after 15 years of being alone in a relationship!, I, as a woman, who, is almost about to see my 15 year relationship with my estranged husband end (10 years of marriage 5 years going out before that) ……. that I am much more anxious and excited to finally embark on the rest of my life.

    I am my harshest critic, and I blame me but!…. and i needed to know why/ how I fell short of my estranged husbands ideals and needs. It took me a very long time to realise that he did not love me. That i did not love me, and even more courage to stand up and say NO to it all. I lose here. i made no gain in my marriage, financial or otherwise. My marriage … as has my divorce….. was stated by the judge to be unprecedented in every way. My marriage has cost me much more than money and public humiliation. It cost me my self esteem and my ability to trust own judgement again….. to come to the realisation that you weren’t loved but you were a good ride….. is a very hard pill to swallow….. especially if that remains the case. I am 34. And i can say that divorce is soul distroying…. but …..I can also say that I do not hate the man that used me. That abused me and my trust. He has proven to be a very big lesson to me in life. Yes he may be on the spectrum of aspbergers and a clear narcissist. Life clearly goes on.

    For the point of me seeking to read this article is.. that I chanced on a new relationship with man that i met….in the most unlikely of circumstances….. on the other side of the world…..For yes …. he too is divorced.

    We discuss the potential of our relationship lasting, all the time ….. With all the factors we have to consider and sacrifices he is willing to make to be with me…. with everything that I have to process…. is it that I will alawys doubt my ability to be a clear thinking rational individual?. That i do not look to find the “same” qualities or factors in him that i suffered with my ex!!?…. if as a woman, i had enough guts and courage to stand up and end a disfuctional relationship….. will have the courage and guts to try again??….Cos I can note the glaring differences…. I feel loved for the first time. and It feels nice. i feel wanted.. and that feels amazing. but…….time will tell if that will be enough for me to trust again. I hope it is.

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