The loss of a partner through death or divorce is a tragedy at any stage of life. In the pre- and post-retirement years, remarriage can be complicated as it deals not only with developing a new relationship but also with the expectations any adult children may have.
This is the third and final of a three-part series looking at issues couples may face approaching retirement from an interview with family therapist and author of Searching for Intimacy in Marriage, Dr Bryan Craig.
Typically, most men will remarry within two years of the loss of their partner through divorce or death. For women, it can be four or five years, sometimes more. ‘This means there’s a danger that men, in particular, can rush into a remarriage without giving themselves the chance to see what kind of a relationship is developing,’ says Craig.
There’s wisdom in the oft-given advice to those thinking of remarriage: ‘Take your time.’
Craig agrees. ‘You don’t develop a strong relationship in six weeks or six months. It takes time—just as it does for first-time relationships.’
Building a strong relationship
Building a relationship is about working on such things as good connectivity, the ability to problem-solve, to make decisions together, and respect for each other. It’s much bigger than what a couple have in common or what they share. It’s about having a connection where they can express emotion and fondness and are able to support each other.
Without these kinds of skills, any couple is likely to get to a point where they’re surprised by something in their relationship and say something like, ‘We never thought about that and now we’re in a hole.’
‘I would encourage any couple planning to marry the second time to not only take the time to build the relationship, but also to have some good premarital counselling,’ says Craig.
‘The time allows them to focus on the nature of their relationship and develop a sense of confidence that their decision to marry isn’t just attraction-driven, but based on a healthy relationship. The counselling will help them understand the strengths and weaknesses in their relationship and help them manage the weaknesses.’
The extended family
Remarriage at this stage of life often means an extended family including adult children who are looking at having a step-mother or step-father. This can be tricky.
So much happiness and satisfaction for the couple depends on how family members relate to the new relationship. That can range from them seeing the relationship as a disaster, to reluctant support, to being happy and supportive. Of course, various members of the family may have different perspectives within that range.
Then there’s the complex issue of finances and inheritances. This can be the trickiest part for the couple to work through because of expectations that may be within the families.
‘There are legal and practical issues that a couple can be tempted to ignore believing it isn’t a problem,’ says Craig. ‘Then something happens—perhaps one of them dies—and with no agreement in place about who gets what, it can rip the family apart and even leave the next generations suffering the pain of it all.’
For second marriages, a prenuptial agreement could be helpful by putting in place what is to happen in the case of divorce or death. A new will is vital. In Australia, a marriage annuls all previous wills.
If there’s no will and you die, your new spouse will inherit everything. If you both die and there’s no will, the government has formulae to work out who will receive the estate. It may not be what you, your spouse, or your family think is fair.
Transparency—the best option
‘I don’t think that a couple planning to remarry need to feel intimidated by what may seem to be gigantic hurdles they may have to get over,’ says Craig. ‘It’s a matter of being transparent.’
And that’s about being transparent with each other as a couple, and transparent with your families about your plans, including those for finances and inheritance. And then setting in place what needs to happen to make these plans come to pass.
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