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QUESTIONS & ANSWERS:
Relationships Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.

Question

I am about to be married for the second time. I'm 45 and he's 53. His children are raised. My oldest, 19, is independent; my 15 year old daughter lives with her father. I would appreciate information on how to avoid common pitfalls in the second marriage. We will be living in his home where he raised his family. I've already felt pangs of jealousy, I guess, in regard to sleeping in the same bedroom, etc. Could you give me a better perspective?

Answer

Your feelings are not unusual. The second time around does bring with it its own unique set of difficulties: blended families, his/her grand-parenting, step-parenting, ex-spouses, co-mingling of finances, comparisons of one marriage with the other, and so on. Each of these issues can present challenges. And, of course, most of us want to avoid repeating the same mistakes of our previous marriage. There are two questions embedded in the above question. One has to do with avoiding pitfalls in a second marriage and the other has to do with the family residence.

Many couples have found it helpful to sit down together to discuss such issues as whether and under what conditions grown children can come back to the family home to live, or how is the home disposed of in the event of death or dissolution, how are finances to be dealt with, what are the expectations that each has of the other, and so on. In order to avoid hidden expectations and hidden agendas, the couple develops a marriage manual or contract in which as many issues as possible are addressed out in the open. Each person states what s/he expects and fears, and each of the issues s/he would like addressed. They then focus on developing agreements for dealing with the issues. This approach attempts to minimize conflict by planning in advance of the problems.

The issue of whose home to live in becomes part of this marriage. Too frequently this decision is decided upon on the basis of practicality alone, rather than examining the psychological impact of such a move and its affect on the family system. Human emotion is not always practical. It is common for the one who moves into the other's home to feel a bit like a guest or interloper. Even if it was OK before marriage, feelings change after marriage. Some people feel like a substitute spouse sleeping in the same bed. It is easy for the home-owner to think of the new spouse in similar terms as the previous spouse simply because the context is similar. The power distribution becomes unequal because the house belongs exclusively to one spouse.

People have tried to get around these issues by (a) selling or renting the existing home and buying or renting a home that is equally owned by both parties, (b) re-decorate/re-model the existing home so that both parties feel equally represented, (c) the one who owns the home sells an interest to the other along with equal rights and the home is redecorated to represent the new marriage.

3/5/98

Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage, Family, Child Therapist, and Sex Therapist. Dr. Dreyfus has been providing psychological services in the Los Angeles-Santa Monica area for over 30 years. He offers individual psychotherapy to adolescents and adults, divorce mediation, couples counseling, group therapy, and career and vocational counseling and assessment.His book, Someone Right For You, is available in the Amazing Bookstore Catalog.

Dr. Dreyfus can be reached at: (310) 208-5700.

 

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