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Hope Springs Eternal for Boomers and Marriage

Maybe love really is sweeter the second time around

By Diana Reese

Boomers still believe in marriage — some are willing to try it again and again until they get it right.

Nearly a third of newlyweds 55 and older, and a fourth of those 45 to 54, have been married at least three times, according to a study released by the Pew Research Center in November.

Four-in-Ten Couples are Saying ‘I Do,’ Again became the report’s title, highlighting the startling number of newlyweds last year where either a bride or groom was remarrying. (For two of each of those four couples, both the bride and groom have walked down the aisle before .)

The four-in-ten number was a surprise, says Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher at Pew Research Center who worked on the report.

(MORE: Why Can’t Love Keep Us Together?)

That’s partly because attention of late has focused on gray divorce, a rapidly-growing phenomena for midlifers, and on an overall decline in the total number of marriages in America. Just 70 percent of all adults in 2013 had been married at least once, compared to 85 percent in 1960.

Yet, while marriage overall seems to be under siege, the eligible pool of people remarrying — those who’ve been divorced or widowed — has remained stable.

“The likelihood of entering into a remarriage has been unchanged for 60 years,” Livingston says. “I find it very interesting that that number has been so stable while at the same time the likelihood of entering into a first marriage has declined.”

Remarriage Gender Gap

The remarriage gender gap, however, did narrow, the study showed. In 1960, 70 percent of eligible men and 48 percent of eligible women remarried. In 2013, the percentages closed in to 64/52.

Women still aren’t completely enthusiastic when it comes to remarriage, though. Pew found that 54 percent of widowed or divorced women did not want to marry again, while 30 percent of men said they were through with the institution of marriage.

(MORE: When to Start Dating After Divorce)

Almost twice as many men as women — 29 percent compared to 15 percent — definitely wanted to marry again; the rest were unsure.

“Older divorced men are used to being cared for by their wives on a daily basis,” Andrew J. Cherlin, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University told The Washington Post. “Older divorced women may not want to do that anymore.”

That doesn’t seem to be a problem for the men, who are more likely to find a younger wife the second time around. In 16 percent of the newly remarried, Pew noted, the husband was at least 10 years older than his wife, while such an age gap only occurred in 4 percent of first marriages.

Wives were at least 10 years older than their husbands in just 4 percent of the newly remarried and only 1 percent of first marriages.

Marriage Is Hard, Remarriage May Be Harder

Those who are remarrying, beware: The divorce rate for people 50 and older in remarriages is 2.5 times higher than for those in long-term first marriages.


(MORE: Are Most Second and Third Marriages Likely to Fail?)

Phyllis Goldberg, a psychotherapist, and Rosemary Lichtman, a psychologist, both in Los Angeles and co-creators of, suggest that individuals and couples do some work before entering a second (or third, or fourth) marriage to increase their chances of staying together.

Consider working with a therapist, coach or friend or keeping a journal before marrying again, Goldberg advises. Explore “where have I been, where am I now and where do I want to go,” she says.

Also, think about your expectations.

If you came from a loving first marriage that ended with the death of your spouse, you may expect too much. But if your previous marriage ended in an acrimonious divorce, you may be on guard “like an air traffic controller looking for things to go wrong,” says Lichtman.

Recognize, too, the need to share power. You’ve gone from being “we” to “I” and now back to “we,” explains Goldberg.

Women can get a lot stronger after divorce, Lichtman says. “Remarrying means learning how to deal with the other person’s need for power and your own need for power … so it doesn’t become a struggle.”

Figure out yours, mine and ours when it comes to children, friendships, possessions and activities. “We call them blended families, but they don’t end up like smoothies often,” Goldberg says.

Remember, you no longer have the shared history or memories from your previous marriage, either. “Don’t take for granted that the other person knows where you’re coming from,” Lichtman cautions. Especially when there’s an age difference, take time to learn about your new spouse’s background.

And talk openly about the gender roles in your marriage. “It’s not always he who brings home the bacon and she who fries it,” says Goldberg. Women and men may want to try new roles in the second half of their lives.

Finally, check your “skills set,” including communication skills, to make sure you’ve got the tools to make a remarriage work, cautions Martin Novell, a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles. He offers YouTube videos on improving your relationship.

You need the right skills to solve problems, stay attached and stop the criticism in your marriage, Novell says. Otherwise, you “risk living in an unresolved conflict when an argument over leaving socks on the floor” escalates.

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kansas who blogged regularly for the Washington Post's She the People. Follow her on Twitter @Diana Reese. Read More
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