After your spouse has been deceased for a period of time, you may think about the possibility of remarriage. In practically every interview we conducted with widows and widowers, remarriage was a common topic of conversation.
…This [article] is designed to give helpful information to you who are presently planning a remarriage or may be open to it in the future. If you ever think of remarrying, read this material carefully. Even if remarriage is one of your major priorities and you feel it is God’ will to follow this goal, there are numerous practical aspects to keep in mind.
Surround yourself scripture and prayer.
Whatever you do, be sure you’re guided by the Scriptures in your pursuits. Surround yourself with prayer to help you follow God’s will. We believe that God is Master of every facet of life. If you believe in his Word, every major step you take —including remarriage —will be directed by him.
As part of the research for writing this [article], we interviewed survivors who have married so we could list criteria to consider before remarrying. Examine each item carefully. If you have difficulty resolving any of the questions posed, you need to examine your reasons for remarriage and your overall goals. The questions below are not listed in any order of importance. Each question is vital to the success of your new marriage.
How long should you wait before you remarry?
The answer depends on a number of circumstances. Some authorities say that it should be at least a year after the death of your mate before you make any major decision. This certainly includes marriage. If the death of your mate was sudden, the resolution of your grief may be particularly difficult. You may find it best to wait several years before even considering the idea of remarriage. Conversely, if your mate had a lingering illness and you went through a partial process of grief before his or her death, you may be comfortable in remarrying in less than a year. If this is true, the timing of your marriage may be of secondary importance. We are convinced, however, that resolving the answers to the next questions could take several months, or even years, for some individuals.
If there are children, how do they feel about your remarrying?
This issue was a serious one for Rita and me because she had four adult children and I had three. At first my children had only a slight acquaintance with Rita, and her children did not know me at all. After studying this question carefully and consulting counselors and trusted friends, we took a path that has been reasonably successful in establishing a harmonious family relationship. We recommend the following guidelines for your consideration:
1. Introduce your prospective spouse to your children as early as possible.
Much of any initial negative reaction is because the individuals really do not know each other. If possible, let all the children in both families get acquainted before any marriage plans are announced. When you meet the children of your intended, be as natural as possible. Do not try to be someone you are not. They might not accept you completely, but if you show yourself to be a “phony,” they will be even more suspicious. Especially if the children are young, respect them for who they are and be sensitive to their grief over the loss of the deceased parent. It may still be very painful to them.
Avoid recommendations about child-rearing to your intended at this stage. If his or her children make you uneasy for any major reason, have a serious conversation about your feelings. Even though it may be hard to accept, you will not only become involved with is or her children but other family members as well.
2. The final decision to remarry must be made by both of you.
Although the feelings of adult children regarding your remarrying must be considered, the final decision must be made by both of you for the best interests of all. Some children may be negative toward any relationship you enter. They may still be economically and emotionally dependent on you as a parent and feel neglected if you remarry. A few people find it difficult to make adjustments in their life and always prefer the status quo. On the other hand, if your children are opposed because of some specific loving concerns, consider these aspects carefully. While you should be concerned about the feelings of your children, you need to take charge of your life and do what you believe is best.
The most logical step is to discuss your children’s reactions with your pastor, a counselor, and trusted friends who will keep the children’s misgivings confidential. You need the opinions of persons who are somewhat detached from your situation. They can best give you objective advice about your relationship.
Once you’re comfortable with the decision you have made, announce your intentions to your children privately. Ask for their love, prayers, and goodwill. After you decide to remarry, most loving children will want your marriage to succeed and will be supportive. If not, the passage of time usually helps people adjust to new situation.
3. Absorbing young children into a new marriage may be a major source of conflict for both of you.
The stepfather’s or stepmother’s role may be demanding and traumatic, when young children are involved. We have observed that a husband and wife may agree on nearly everything except how to raise children, their own or someone else’s! It’s nearly impossible to remain detached from such problems once a couple is united in a remarriage.
Often the family situation is still more challenging when you marry a divorced person and bring a child who has been living with the ex-spouse into your new home. Some children of divorced parents are very troubled and have a great capacity to spread discord wherever they go. Consider these possibilities seriously before remarrying.
Before you enter into a marriage where young children are involved, it would be advisable to air your concerns with your pastor and/or trusted friends. Don’t let the present grief of your mate’s death cause you to enter into a new marriage that is risky for all involved.
What is the financial status of each of you?
Of all the issues that may imperil a marriage, the subject of money can be the most deadly. The issues below must be studied and resolved before the marriage takes place.
An agreement must be reached if one of you has much more money than the other. There must be a clear understanding of how finances will be divided. There probably would not be a 50-50 split of assets in this circumstance. If this is a potential trouble spot, identify it early in a relationship.
A definite plan must be established with regard to spending money. Decide how much will be spent for yourselves, your children’s needs, recreation, vacations, or eating away from home. If you are planning to establish a joint checking account, there should be a clear understanding about which expenditures will be made from that source. Unless such a decision is reached, there is considerable potential for disagreement and stress.
A program must be agreed on with regard to checking, savings, and various investment accounts. The exact ownership and plans for these accounts should be described in detail in a prenuptial agreement (especially if either of you has children). Normally it is recommended that each of you keep your own name on any savings or investments that were yours before the remarriage. Decide whether the beneficiaries of the accounts will be your new mate or certain children. Sometimes joint checking accounts are established with the understanding that both parties will contribute agreed-on amounts each month. For your mutual protection, property bought jointly after marriage should be stated on the title as “joint tenants with right of survivorship.”
Should you have a prenuptial agreement and new wills?
The establishment of a prenuptial agreement before a second marriage is advisable. This is especially true if there are children involved and either of you have various financial holdings. In the event of a divorce or death of one of you, each mate needs to have a clear understanding of his or her legal rights.
New wills are an absolute must so that each of you will know which possessions will be yours on the death of the other. Also, make sure you formalize your wishes regarding any other separate or joint heirs. Be sure it is mentioned within your will that a prenuptial agreement has been made. If it does not, there can be considerable heartache for all concerned. Your county’s legal society can recommend local lawyers who specialize in premarital agreements and wills.
Are you sexually compatible?
One of the most important aspects of any marriage is the degree of sexual satisfaction attained by each of you. Your need for sexual gratification probably did not terminate at the death of your mate. There is a lot of research data to show that a majority of healthy persons remain sexually active up to age eighty and beyond.
If you intend to remarry, discuss your degree of sexual interest in this area with your prospective mate. There is potential for a great amount of stress if a person who has previously had an active sex life marries someone who has little interest in sexual intimacy. The same is true if they have different ideas of how to express that intimacy. One of the most authoritative books regarding this matter is Sex over 40 by Saul H. Rosenthal, M.D. Another interesting publication is Common Sense Christianity by Gerald Mann, who devotes an entire chapter to “great Sex for Christians.”
What are your religious beliefs?
Of all the questions cited so far, this one may have the greatest potential for trouble between a couple. Resolve this issue before you pursue a relationship to any great depth. Our studies of this question have led us to some rather firm beliefs about related concerns.
Basic spiritual values:
If persons of any age (especially older) have never been interested in church attendance, tithing, prayer, etc, they may never be. There is a good prospect they won’t embrace all or even some of these aspects just because they marry. We hope that they will change their lives. However, they probably will not.
Evangelism in a marriage:
The Bible tells us not to be “unequally yoked” with a nonbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:14). To disobey this admonition may be an invitation to a stress-filled and unsuccessful marriage. Never enter a marriage with the expectation that your fervent witnessing will eventually lead your spouse to accept the gospel truths.
What will be your living arrangements?
There are many questions that need to be answered in this arena.
1. Will you live in the other’s home or your own?
2. Will you both sell your houses (or move from your apartments) and buy or rent a new dwelling place that is jointly “yours”?
3. Will you have his or her children (and/or your own) living with you?
4. Will you use some of the furniture of each mate or buy everything new?
5. How will you dispose of items not needed in the new home?
Our experience and survey data show that there are no clear-cut answers for each of the previous questions. Each situation has to be judged individually to find a plan that will satisfy both of you. If either of you is unhappy about living in the other person’s house, you had best make other living arrangements.
Do either of you have family or financial obligations?
Discuss these details completely before the marriage takes place. Jo and Linda were married sometime after the deaths of their mates. One month after the marriage ceremony, during a dinner conversation, Linda discovered the following information about Joe’s commitments:
- He told his mother she could live with them for the next two years instead of going to a nursing home.
- Jo was giving about $200 a month to his unmarried (and usually unemployed) son, who lived in the next town.
- He had taken limited bankruptcy three years ago and still owed creditors over $20,000.
Obviously this information was most upsetting to Linda. These facts, along with Joe’s refusal to compromise on certain religious issues, caused their later divorce. There should be no secrets of this type between two persons contemplating marriage!
Will you avoid comparison of your deceased mate with your new one?
You will never find a mate exactly like your first. Your new husband or wife will have some good (and bad) qualities your first mate didn’t have, and vice versa. Do not place your former mate on a pedestal and challenge your new partner to be the same. Leaving the deceased’s picture on the wall and remarking that he or she “was so good” about doing such-and-so is not conducive to a harmonious second marriage. Conversely, there is no profit in amplifying all the faults of your former spouse. Be fair and objective about your first mate, without making direct or indirect comparisons to your new or intended partner. What happened in your first marriage is history —let it go at that.
If you have grown children, what will be your contact with them after you marry?
Your marriage will be a major adjustment for your adult children. If you follow some rather simple guidelines, your new marriage can be very successful.
First of all, let your children know that you still love them. They should feel welcome to call you and see you within the bounds of common courtesy and good sense. Having a new spouse should not cause you to be isolated from your children, even if they have misgivings about the marriage.
Second, don’t go to your children with every problem or conflict that you have with your new spouse. It can be counterproductive to do so. In every disagreement have a private talk with your mate and try to resolve conflict at that level. Playing “mind games” with each other’s children is a sure way of breeding major problems for a marriage.
How will you manage family traditions and holidays?
The first Thanksgiving and Christmas following a second marriage calls for much planning and discussion. There are many relatives to consider, and a calm, well-developed plan can avoid much unneeded stress. Keep as many of your own family traditions as you can. But it’s good to be ready to compromise to include your new mate’s relatives. You may need to have two Thanksgiving meals —or one big one for all. Can your traditions and celebrations be exactly the same as with your first mate? Of course not. If both of you are willing to try new plans, family gatherings can be harmonious, and fun-loving for all.