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The High Failure Rate of Second and Third Marriages

Why are second and third marriages more likely to fail?

Key points

  • Statistics have shown that in the U.S., 50% of first marriages, 67% of second, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce.
  • One prime factor affecting the breakup of second and third marriages might be that children and family do not hold them together.
  • Previously married people may not allow enough time to recover from their divorce or reset their priorities before taking their vows again.

Conventional wisdom tells us that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, so why are second and third marriages so much more likely to fail? South African writer, potter, translator, teacher, and divorcee based in Israel Leo Averbach returns to explain.

Past statistics have shown that in the U.S. 50% of first marriages, 67% of second, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce. What are the reasons for this progressive increase in divorce rates?

Theories abound.

Common explanations for second- and third-marriage divorce rates

One common explanation for the failure of second and third marriages is that a significant number of people enter a second or marriage on the rebound of a first or second divorce. Often the people concerned are vulnerable; they do not allow sufficient time to recover from their divorce or to get their priorities straight before taking their vows again. They enter their next marriage for the wrong reasons, not having internalized the lessons of their past experience. They are liable to repeat their mistakes, making them susceptible to similar conflicts, and another broken marriage follows.

There are some individuals in second and third marriages who consider divorce manageable and not necessarily a tragedy. They have handled it once, so they will handle it again. They may even recognize the warning signs earlier than they did the first time around and are quicker to react, more determined to minimize the agony.

The growing independence between genders is thought to be one of the reasons for the significant increase in the incidence of divorce in first marriages during recent decades. Women have become more financially independent and men have become increasingly more domestically independent. As these gender roles break down, each gender becomes more self-sufficient in both arenas. When these individuals move on to a second or third marriage, they are likely to feel a responsibility to protect themselves emotionally and financially. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the greater economic and domestic self-sufficiency gained with age adversely affects second and third marriage even more than it does first marriages.

The family factor

However, I believe that the prime factor affecting the breakup of second and third marriages is that there is less glue holding the marriage together: children, family. Parent-child relationships can be a source of conflict in some marriages, but overall children act as a stabilizing factor, and when children are absent, the marriage is prone to be rocked by minor storms.

Because the majority of children born to married couples are born during a first marriage, many couples in a second marriage do not have common children to bind them together. Conversely, not having shared responsibility for kids means it's easier to leave when you are going through a rough patch. Perhaps "for the sake of the kids" is not reason enough the stay together, though it can sometimes save a relationship.

In addition, because the couple does not have children in common, the element of family is not as central in second and third marriages. Consequently, the desire to "preserve the family" is not as strong. For the couple, there is less at stake in allowing the marriage to collapse.

Ironically, the presence of children in second and third marriages, if they are from previous marriages, can cause problems and lead to tension. Having to adjust to your spouse's children and his/her relationship with them is often difficult for couples. Rivalries and arguments arise. In these cases, the children can be a destabilizing factor.

Generally speaking, relationships become increasingly tangled and complicated with subsequent marriages, as more and more individuals join the ever-expanding family. On a day-to-day level, maintaining those relationships is not easy.

Clearly, there are many people who learn the lessons of their first divorce and move on to happy, long second marriages. But all the evidence suggests that it gets harder and harder to keep the show on the road as you move on to the next marriage. It is this trend that is reflected in recent divorce statistics.

To read more from Leo's most recent book, Breakup, click here.

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