Is Love “Lovelier the Second Time Around”?

I’d like to ask Frank Sinatra, who’s crooning voice made this lyric popular, “Then why is the divorce rate much higher for second and subsequent marriages?”

Our culture is still trapped in the unrealistic assumption that stepfamilies are no different than a first family.  That belief is a weak, untrue foundation on which to try to start building a strong marriage and family.

It’s a shock when you thought you had another chance at love.  A chance to do it right this time.  A chance to heal, not only for yourself but for your children.  After escaping one nightmare, you didn’t expect to find yourself in the midst of another.

The truth is second marriages never start out the same as the first one. To begin, for many, the honeymoon is very brief.   Most are immediately thrown into the turmoil of resentful kids, new, unknown relationships, crazy Exes who refuse to co-parent with respect, leftover “issues” from the previous relationship, sometimes crippling financial demands and legal battles.

How can a new marriage and children be nurtured and grow in this toxic atmosphere?  It IS possible, but it requires two things that most second marriages don’t get in time to save them and their children from painful mistakes:

  1. Education about the unique dynamics of new stepfamilies and the strategies that get them successfully through those first few fragile years, (and beyond) and
  2. Good, effective communication skills: speaking with respect, listening with understanding, conversations that lead to agreement, and ways of handling anger when you want to take your frustrations out on any creature unfortunate enough to be in your immediate force-field.

The average length of time for a stepfamily to stabilize is 5-7 years.  I spoke with former clients this week who have finally reached the stepfamily honeymoon stage.  They’ve been married for six years.  She said the first year was “hell.”  He said, “1000% of the stress came from my crazy Ex.  She’s still crazy, but we’re handling it better.”  Their kids are doing well considering the chaos in their Mom’s home.  And this couple knows they are giving their kids the example of a stable, respectful, loving marriage and home life that will inform their belief that a loving, lasting marriage is possible.

I’ve been there.  My husband Jim and I survived the catastrophe caused by our poor communication and anger management skills.  We finally adopted a sane stepfamily strategy that stopped the constant fighting.  We found a coach that taught us how to talk to each other…say what we needed to say…but  say it without attacking each other.  She taught us how to vent our anger safely in a journal, or by hitting a bucket of balls, or pulling weeds in the garden so that we could then have a sane conversation about our “issue.”  We learned how to share our feelings rather than our opinions.  We developed empathy for each other’s difficult roles which made resolving “the issue” much more possible.

You can learn the skills and stepfamily strategies that work for most.  The communication and anger management skills can be learned by my online program called the Millionaire Marriage Club.  It’s relatively painless.  All you need is a computer and 30 minute blocks of time combined with your determination to exchange what isn’t working for what will work.  Go to my website, www.nancylandrum.com, to learn about the Millionaire Marriage Club.

In a few short weeks I’m launching a live, online pilot class called Stepping TwoGether: Building a Strong Stepfamily.  This class teaches the strategies for successful parenting and step-parenting as well as the importance of making your marriage a high priority.  Or you can click the link below to read about our story…the ugly first years, followed by sixteen years of honeymoon before Jim passed on.  You may glean some lessons from reading about what we learned.

If you’d like to speak with me and discuss how I may help, click on this link to choose a convenient time for a brief phone appointment with me:  https://meetme.com/SpeakWithNancy

P.S.  You may find some issues familiar to you in this free download: The Landrum Stepfamily Story.

Nancy Landrum has been teaching relationship skills to couples for twenty-five years.  Her signature book, How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage, is lauded by both professionals and clients. See other resources on her website, www.nancylandrum.com 

A Quick Fix for Relationship Blahs!

Is life beginning to seem like an unending list of obligations?  Is your relationship somewhere on the to-do list?  When the primary relationship of your life begins to feel like an obligation, or a habit, you may get forgetful…forgetting why you love this person…forgetting that you have fun together…forgetting what it’s like to just be with your best friend.

Valentine’s Day comes only once a year.  It may be nice to get roses or chocolates or a romantic card, but your relationship can’t survive on a once per year gesture!

There’s an easy fix.  Begin courting each other again!

But, first, there’s one must-have rule.  When you go out for relaxation and fun, you must not bring up a problem that needs resolving.  If you do, your fun date will immediately be something neither of you want to repeat…defeating the purpose.    Issues that need discussing must be scheduled for a different, separate time.  And then keep that date!

Problem solving dates and Fun dates both need regular but separate commitments from both of you!  (I’ll share how to have a problem-solving date in a future blog.)

So, here’s some great date ideas straight out of my marriage to Jim.  (We enjoyed a loving, fun relationship until his passing a few years ago.  We had regular problem-solving dates as needed to keep our accounts with each other clear so that our fun dates were really FUN!)

Being financially stressed is no excuse to skip fun dates! When you’re under financial or any other kind of ongoing stress, you need the relief of breaks to leave the stress behind and just enjoy each other.   $25 can create a great date.   Look for two-for-one coupons for a meal.  It could be breakfast at a diner, or a spaghetti or burger dinner. Add a matinee movie and you’ve got a great 3-4 hour escape to remember that you’re a team and, together, you will eventually pull out of the financial pits.

Do you enjoy table games?  Take one of your grocery totes and fill it with games that can be played by two persons.  Gin rummy, tile rummy, Yahtzee, a travel sized game of Scrabble, etc.  Throw in an old tablecloth to cover the picnic table at your local park.  On rainy days, game tables can be found in a mall food court or your local library.

One of our favorites was a Mystery Date.  We each kept a file on the other where we collected newspaper clippings or ads about places we thought the other would enjoy.  One time, Jim let me know that our next date was a surprise.  He told me to wear casual clothes, but to take a dressy outfit to change into.  We drove to an ocean side restaurant where we enjoyed breakfast on their deck.  Then he took me to a quilting store with instructions to take my time.  (He relaxed in the car with a newspaper and crossword puzzle book.)  We wandered around a huge outdoor food court in West Hollywood choosing diverse, unusual food items for lunch, ducked into rest rooms at a coffee shop to change into dressier clothes and ended the day at a live performance in Hollywood.

Regular dates were once per week.  These Mystery Dates happened perhaps every four-six months.  They were very special occasions!  The things chosen to do were not nearly as important as the effort and planning that went into delivering the day as a love-gift.

Now that Jim has passed on, these memories are a few of my favorites!

Can you imagine how loved your partner will feel after having an entire day planned around his or her interests?  Are you ready to start collecting ideas for a Mystery Date?

Regular dates restore the love balance to a relationship that may be dragging from too much responsibility.  Regular dates cure or prevent the blahs.  Mystery Dates infuse a giant dose of loving directly into your partner’s heart.  So, get your calendars out and plan a date!

Nancy Landrum has been teaching relationship skills to couples for more than 25 years.  Her signature book, How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage is full of practical strategies to create and sustain a loving, lasting relationship.  Click Here to Order

If you’d like a phone call from Nancy, click here to schedule it on her calendar:  https://meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

Four Skills That Create a Loving, Lasting Marriage

Valentine’s Day is coming.  Our attention is drawn to loving relationships, especially romantic ones.  Everyone I’ve ever asked wants a happy, loving, intimate relationship with the love of his or her life.  That dream seems to be loaded into our DNA, tattooed on our brains, instinctively coded into our emotional make-up.

But is it enough to long for a loving, lasting, happy marriage?  Even though the longing is universal?  No, it’s not enough.  Is it enough to be madly in love when you marry?  No, it’s not enough.

Then what does it take?  There are four key areas where skills can be improved or developed that create a loving, lasting marriage.  Here they are:

  1. It takes a dream powerful enough to see you through the rough spots combined with willingness to grow into that dream by making hard choices. To exchange blaming the other for choosing new behaviors for yourself.  To let go of old patterns.  To sacrifice the immature, dysfunctional and hurtful ways in service to achieving the dream.

I ask every couple I’ve coached, “Do you have family members or friends who have a marriage you’d like to emulate?”  So far, I’ve only heard, “No.”  When you don’t see a loving, lasting marriage in operation, how can you trust that the dream is doable? And worth the effort to achieve it?

When you don’t have a healthy model to follow, use books written by those who’ve achieved the dream, like my How to Stay Married & Love It! Solving the Puzzle of a SoulMate Marriage.  (LINK) Or testimonials like those on my website.  These couples have done the work to have a happy, lasting marriage.  www.nancylandrum.com

  1. Good Communication Skills come next. Methods of speaking and listening that create connection, rather than driving more and more distance between you.  (Communication That Connects)

Without instruction, few of us realize how our delivery of messages may be triggering a reactive response…or escalating an argument.  It isn’t easy to change how we speak and listen.  Those patterns were begun in infancy by what we heard or what helped us get our own way.  But exchanging distancing methods of communication is necessary if you want a lasting, loving marriage.

Sue said to me, “When we were first married we fought viciously, yelling and name calling.  But it didn’t take long for us to realize that if we wanted our marriage to last, we had to stop doing that.  We changed.  We’ve now been married forty-five years and are still in love!”

  1. Respectful Conflict Management is essential. Every close relationship has conflict.  When two human beings throw in themselves and the welfare of their futures together, there is a lot at stake.  And, face it, we all love to be “right” and will sometimes fight for the winning position.

Researchers Markman and Notarius state unequivocally in their book We Can Work it Out, Making Sense Out of Marital Conflict ,  “Love is needed to get a relationship off the ground, but it doesn’t provide enough fuel to keep a marriage flying toward success over time…nor does commitment.  It’s how couples manage conflict that makes the difference.  The key to marital success is to teach couples how to talk without fighting.”

John Gottman’s research validated this when he observed couples having a disagreement in his lab.  After years of observation, he could predict within 93.7% which couples would divorce within six years based on how they fought.  He labels criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stone-walling the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse…the fighting methods that eventually destroy the relationship.   The Gottman institute blog.

It’s often necessary to make a date to discuss an issue that needs resolving.  Set a time when you are free from other distractions and the kids are asleep or out of the house.  Making a date to resolve a conflict says, “I care enough about you and our relationship to set aside time to work this out.”

If it isn’t resolved in one try, then before closing that session down, set another date to pick it up again…and do this until you find a resolution that suites both of you.

Fighting badly was one of the habits that my late husband and I had to change in order to save our floundering marriage.  Our story of learning to safely vent anger away from each other is told in Chapters 12-16 in How to Stay Married & Love It!  LINK  The day we committed to always treat each other with respect…and then practiced doing that…was the day the fighting stopped and the marriage began to heal.  It took us six months of two-three Conflict Dates per week before we finally found a solution that worked for both of us.

  1. Regular FUN Dating is a must! Who says the courtship is over when you marry?  Frequent courting needs to be included in every loving, lasting marriage plan!

There are a couple of rules to continued courting dates.  1) Never discuss a “hot topic” while on a fun date!  Dating is meant to remind you of why you fell in love, and to keep the flames of love alive.  That won’t happen if every date is used as a time you’re finally away from the kids and so “let’s talk about…”

And, 2) Do something that is fun for both of you.  Jim loved going to a baseball game.  I didn’t, but I loved being with him.  I took a book to read, or a knitting project and just enjoyed hearing his pleasure about the plays or the players.

During a financially stressed time, we were on a strict, tight budget, but allowed $25/week for our date.  I saved two-for-one coupons for a burger dinner and we’d go to a matinee movie.  It wasn’t a spectacular date, but it gave us time away from the stress and a chance to just enjoy being together.

How long has it been since you’ve had a fun date?  Make it a weekly commitment, even if it’s just a quiet stroll around the block or an ice cream cone.

SUMMARY: These new skills are easy.  Children pick them up quickly when adults are modeling them.  But by the time we are in a marriage, or a second or third marriage, we’ve been using poor methods of handling stress and poor communication habits for many years.  Changing the ways we interact with another or handle our emotions when stressed is like hacking our way through the jungle, forming a new path in the brain which is highly resistant to change.

Not everyone will do that.  I think it’s because the dream isn’t vivid enough…isn’t believed possible. Stressful conflict combined with an ego that says, “I’ll change after you do,” or, “You’re the one who needs to change!” makes achieving the dream impossible.  The old patterns are replayed over and over again until the relationship dies, or you give up the dream and just make do with what is.

Many couples see divorce as the only way out of this relationship vise.  Others, many others, just settle for the status quo.  They become so accustomed to a certain level of emotional distance and stress in the relationship that it feels normal…as good as it can be.  The dream must have been a fantasy, unachievable, so it’s useless to try for more.

As a coach, it’s a heartbreak for me to see couples get amazing results from the skills I teach, and then hear that they’ve gone back to the old ways that give them the same old, painful results.

Do you want the dream badly enough?  Are you willing to do the hard work of exchanging old patterns for the four main new ones that will produce the loving relationship for which you long?  Have you known you needed to do something different, but just haven’t known what “different” looks like?

Schedule a call with me. I can help!  https//meetme.so/SpeakWithNancy

Nancy Landrum, M.A. has been teaching couples these transformational skills for twenty-five years. She has written six books on the subject and recently launched an online program where these skills can be learned from your computer.  Explore the Millionaire Marriage Club on her website: www.NancyLandrum.com

P.S.  Download the Free Communication That Connects.