Second Marriage – First Impressions

Who came up with the phrase, “blended family?” According to Merriam-Webster, “blend” means to “combine into an integrative whole” and “to produce a harmonious effect.” Is a blended family whole and harmonious? Not initially, that’s for sure. My husband and I are only a few years into our second marriages. Neither of us thought in a million years that we would ever wed a second time, yet here we are in a “blended family.”

The Hollywood Elite make their blended family life look carefree and relaxed as they smile for the camera. We are further deluded by movies and sit-coms like the Brady Bunch, where cooking enormous meals and doing mounds of laundry appear to be the highest hurdles. Trying to squeeze everyone into one house or car, however, is not the hardest part of merging two families.

My husband and I falsely assumed that our previous marriage experiences would provide us with all of the knowledge we need to succeed in our new marriage. It is difficult to say whether this knowledge helped at all. When we joined the Second Marriage Club and met other step-families, we discovered that our challenges were not unique. We may have saved ourselves a lot of struggle if we had talked to these families, or at least read a book or two about second marriages before we got married.

With that in mind, these are the top 5 things we wish we knew before the big “I do:”

  1. You and your new spouse bring baggage into the marriage. We had heard that before, but had no idea what it really meant. The blissful state of your new marriage will not erase the pain from your past, whether it is the pain of divorce, abuse, or death. We learned the importance of allowing continued grieving over our losses.
  2. Your new spouse may not be like your old spouse. Whether you married someone who is a pretty good stand-in for your old spouse, or the polar opposite, you need to take time to learn how your new spouse wants to be treated. For example, the things that made your first partner feel loved may not be as endearing to your new spouse. Your previous communication style may not work the second time around.
  3. Don’t expect love at first sight from other family members. The ex-spouse may not like you. The fact that he/she doesn’t even know you is irrelevant. And, shocking as this may be, your kids might not like your new spouse. Just because you are crazy about him or her, your kids do not inherit love from you. A lack of love brings pain and stress into the new family unit. The children will probably grow to at least like your new spouse, but it will take time.
  4. Raising your spouse’s children is difficult and can feel thankless. You have no blood connection to these children, but they come with the deal. Jealousy and resentment can rear its ugly head. Childhood is fleeting. Instead of being resentful, we learned to be thankful. We try to use the time we have to love our children into the Kingdom. Raising these inherited children is a challenge, but God has chosen you, and will equip you for the job.
  5. Your marriage is part of God’s Sovereign Plan. Before we got married, we believed that He brought us together for His purpose, but found ourselves doubting that when times got tough. God has used the challenges of our second marriage to mature our faith and draw us closer to Him. Since second marriages have a much higher failure rate than first marriages, it is important to have faith that God brought your family together. Put Him at the center of the marriage.

In his book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas questions, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” He states that marriage is “more than a sacred covenant with another person. It is a spiritual discipline designed to help you know God better, trust him more fully, and love him more deeply.”

We have found that the hardest part of blending families is nurturing functional, loving relationships. It is not about who is going to do the laundry or manage the checkbook, or even how the children will be disciplined. In reality, it takes tremendous patience and effort, blended with the grace of God for the parent-parent, parent-child, in-law, and ex-law relationships to be whole and harmonious. That is the character that defines a true “blended family.”