Love is grand – but love is equally complicated. To ensure that you start off on the best foot possible, there are questions that should be asked before you decide to walk down the proverbial aisle again. These questions will open up important conversations that couples need to have so that the next marriage will be better than the former and will most definitely stand the test of time - the rest of your time. After all, where there is love, there is hope.
Before you 'start walking', consider these 8 questions:
1) How will we manage and co-parent our new blended family? How will we build our new family together and create new traditions? Creating a new family by blending two old ones has challenges and often creates more questions. However, the key here is to have a discussion about how both parts of this new marriage will actually make this work. What will their new traditions be? How important are the traditions they might currently have? Do they want to keep any of them? How do their children feel about the changes?
2) How involved (or not) will either of us be with discipline with each other's child or children? Some people believe that the new stepparent shouldn't be involved with the discipline; others argue in the other direction. I think the main point is how they present as a team. Regardless of what they decide, it should be presented as a united front AND discussed during a family meeting. This ensures that there is no mind reading, second guessing, or putting the child in a position where he can pit one against the other or 'play' the stepparent by saying 'you are not my mother or father' when they don't get what they want.
3) How will your financial obligations to your ex-spouse affect our lifestyle? How will mine? Ah, money. Many arguments are created when couples don't discuss money. This fact is made more apparent when one spouse is paying their ex-child and/or spousal support. And, in today's world, it is no longer men who are making the payment. Many women were the breadwinners in the marriage and how find them paying spousal support. Either way, this discussion must occur. For example, does the money going out prevent you, as a couple, from doing things, like traveling, buying a house, or having more discretionary income? And, if so, how do you feel about this? When things come up that you might want to do but cannot because of your financial situation, how will this affect your relationship and your feelings? People often think they will be ok with this situation because they are happy and in love, but if this is not discussed at the beginning, over time, this issue can wear on a couple and cause strife they didn't anticipate.
4) What if our children don't get along? This is a common problem seen in blended families. It often depends on the age, gender, and where each child is with the divorce. What will you both do as a couple to help your children get along - or get along as well as can be expected? Sometimes when parents intervene too much, they actually make the situation worse. Children have the capacity to work issues out among themselves - often better than parents do.
5) Are you open to couples therapy before you get married to make sure all of our issues are sorted out? Oftentimes many of these issues can be discussed and resolved with a couples' therapist trained in couples' therapy. The therapist is the third and neutral party that doesn't have an investment one way or another and can therefore offer other alternatives or ways of looking at things from a different perspective. This route is often very beneficial.
6) How will we make OUR time work? What will our time look like? Remember that the family is created because of the couple. The couple should make sure that they make time for their relationship by spending time away from their children and nurturing that relationship. If they don't do that, there will be no family. It is not uncommon for a couple to be overly focused on the family, the children, and making sure the family blends in 'just the right way.' This is a common complaint registered by many - not just in first marriages, but even more so in second and third marriages where children from previous marriages come with their own baggage, schedules, demands - and their own transitional period of their new family. However, this can ultimately hurt the couple because one might begin to feel disconnected from the relationship and that will ultimately create greater problems. Focus on the relationship first!
7) Have we both sorted out our 'stuff' from our previous marriages? This is one of the most important issues that must be discussed before marriage. Although we all come with some type of 'baggage' carried over from a previous relationship, you should ask yourself: to what degree will this hurt my current relationship? Don't I owe it to myself to make sure that I am bringing my best self to this new relationship/marriage so that I don't repeat past mistakes? Couples should be able to have a conversation or have had conversations about why their previous marriage didn't work out and how they contributed to the ending of that marriage. Despite who wanted a divorce, each person bears responsibility for the problems in that marriage.
8) What if you don't agree with some of my choices that I make? How will that affect our relationship? This will happen, but I am a strong believer that how couples have these conversations before they get married and continue to have these conversations while married is imperative and can ensure that it will not overly affect the relationship/marriage. However, it is important that these conversations happen in private and not displayed in front of the children. Having it in front of your children is harmful because it makes them feel unsafe in their new environment (and may feel that a divorce will soon follow) and it also it undermines the unity of the couple, which should be protected. These are the things that are discussed by couples without children around.
Every couple and every blended family is unique in their own way. However, taking the time to ask and answer these questions before you get married will, no doubt, help prevent future arguments and headaches from occurring. This is not to say that there will not be bumps in the road – that's one thing that you can count on.
But starting out as a unified couple, on the same page, and moving in the same direction without having to mind read (because – hint, hint – that never works), will start you out in a positive and healthy direction. This new direction will undoubtedly hold promise and hope for your future together!
Dr. Kristin Davin (AKA "Dr. D") is a Divorce Mediator and Clinical Psychologist practicing in New York City. Her approach is based upon Cognitive Behavior Therapy combined with Solution Focused Therapy. You can learn more at www.kristindavin.com .