Rule number one: Don’t make the same mistake twice. At least, make a different mistake this time out. Make sure you are not choosing exactly what did not work out the first time, presuming a second marriage comes after a divorce.
Take a good look at why the first marriage did not work. Don’t put all the blame on the other whatever happened.
In my own case my first husband announced one night, after drinking a whole bottle of Vodka, reverting at this moment of drama to his Russian origins, that he had fallen in love with another woman. He presented it as if he had been struck by lightning. He was desperately sorry, in such confusion and such distress that I ended up comforting him.
I put up with his comings and goings for many years, turning the other cheek as I had been taught in church and listening to my mother in law, a savvy Southerner, who would say things like, “The family is sacred.” Or “Don’t make him feel guilty. No one likes to feel guilty, do they?” Or” Pretend he’s got the measles.” Somewhere within me I believed that if I were patient enough, good enough, saintly enough, he would come home. He took to calling me “Saint Sheila.”
Yet none of this worked, of course, and it was only when lightning struck a second time ( a new falling in love!) that I up and left him. Obviously no one is omnipotent and probably none of this was very good for him or for me or even for our three young children whom I hoped to protect.
So, even if you believe you are without blame, have a good look in your heart, or see a therapist who can help and make sure you start anew and find someone who will treat you and above all whom you will treat differently.
Rule number two: You must get on with your step- children. A second marriage, where children are so often involved, can only work if you can help your partner with his or her children. Remember the words my own daughter said to me when I complained at something one of my stepsons had done, “ But Mummy it has nothing to do with you! It is not who you are but what you represent.”
Once again, no one is omnipotent, and we can only do so much. Be prepared. Your step-children may not like your cooking (Do I have to eat this! ) ; they may not even like all the books you want to read to them. They may ignore you at best and address all their comments to your partner, but with the years and patience and if you are lucky, you might end up being firm friends. They may come to respect you for who you are, and for what you have done, and you may actually come, as I have done, to love and admire them for their considerable accomplishments.
Rule number three: always be respectful of your step- children’s other parent, whoever they are and whatever they have done. Never make disparaging remarks about their mother/father or compete with him/her in any way. Make sure your partner does not offer you up as a perfect example and better than the original model in any way.
Finally, as in all of life, luck, of course, plays a great role in this difficult endeavor. One can only hope and pray that you may lucky enough to find someone you can love for all the days of your life.
Sheila Kohler is the author of many books including the recent Dreaming for Freud.