Thursday, April 13, 2006

New Hope for Second Marriages

My students come to the family class knowing one big scary fact about marriage: 50% of marriages in this country end in divorce. I am therefore always happy to help unpack that idea. The most encouraging fact I can give them in response is that most first marriages endure. Indeed, since they have managed, with only a couple of exceptions, to get beyond their teenage years without kids or marriage, and are likely to graduate from a good college and be employed, the odds for their marriages working out are quite good, indeed.

So how can we have a 50% divorce rate if most first marriages last? Because most second marriages don't, and the odds go down with each new iteration as you approach the Elizabeth Taylor/Jennifer Lopez asymptote. The divorce rate for first marriages is under 50%. The divorce rate for second marriages, though, is over half, closer to 60%.

Recently, though, I have read some good news about second marriages, too. Barry and Emily McCarthy, in Getting It Right This Time, report that second marriages which make it through the first two years successfully have the same divorce rate as first marriages. That is, most second marriages which make it past the first two years will endure.

At the Gruntled Center, we are strongly in favor of first marriages enduring and thriving. But we also believe that it is never too late for a happy ending. For those who are already divorced or in a second marriage, it is cause for celebration that you can get it right the second time. The McCarthys go into detail about how to have a healthy second marriage, and we are definitely all for healthy marriages. A healthy second prevents a sad third, a disastrous fourth, and the death spiral beyond that.

The divorce rate for first marriages is going down, for good reasons and bad. It is now a little below 50%. We may hope that if the opinion leaders of America come back to supporting marriage, we might get that rate below 40% in a decade or so. That would mean fewer people in the position to consider second marriages. But it would also be good to bring down the divorce rate of second marriages. It would be realistic, I think, to aim to get the second marriage divorce rate below 50% in this same coming decade.

8 comments:

Tom Strong said...

I wonder how second marriages for widows/widowers compare to those for divorcees...

LMR said...

that's an interesting point, Tom. I also wonder how you categorize someone who has never been married marrying someone who is divorced or widowed.

Gruntled said...

I would think that widow/widower marriages would have fewer risk factors than any marriage involving divorced people.

The X factor, I think, is whether kids are involved. Kids from divorces tie exes together in ways that keep intruding on the second marriage.

KLG said...

I agree with lmr - mine is the first marriage for me, second for him, so is this a second marriage that has beat the odds, or a first that is doing as well as expected? (Of course, we're only coming up on 19 years, so maybe the jury is still out?, and depending on the day, I don't rule out murder or mutilation as an alternative to divorce)

Gruntled said...

I wrote to the McCarthys, who confirm that the second marriage is more likely to work out if there were not children from the first. Was that the case for you?

KLG said...

Yes, no children from the first marriage. The four we have now are plenty 'nuff! That's probably a strong indicator - since if there are children from the first marriage, there must be continued contact with the first wife, which is not the case for us.

Gruntled said...

Was your first outing an example of "starter marriage?"

KLG said...

I would say so - he married his HS sweetheart, even though it was at the end of college- they went steady all through college. After two years, they split up - where as I went through college and several serious relationships, graduated, then met him and we married. So I'd say his first was a 'starter marriage', whereas my first (and only) was after I'd had a chance to live on my own awhile.