Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Ron L. Deal and David H. Olson's book, The Remarriage Check-Up, (Harvest House Publishers, 2009).

All married couples face pressures that can harm or destroy their marriages.  But spouses in remarriages are even more vulnerable. More than 60 percent of remarriages end in divorce, recent studies show.  Adding stepchildren increases the risk still more to 50 percent higher than the risk for remarried couples without children.  

So if you're remarried, it's vital to check the health of your marriage regularly.  Just as avoiding medical or dental exams can be hazardous to your physical health and skipping regular oil changes can break your car, neglecting marriage checkups can lead to an unhealthy relationship - or even divorce.  But regularly checking the health of your marriage can lead to better decisions that make it stronger.  

Here's how you can check the health of your remarriage:

Identify your strengths and weaknesses as a couple in key areas.  Consider whether you and your spouse are doing well or need to improve in these key marriage areas: expectations, communication, conflict resolution, financial management, affection and sexuality, spiritual beliefs, roles in your relationship, and family and friends.  Identify and discuss where you are now in your relationship.  Talk about issues and where you'd like to be.  Then develop an action plan to get there.  Keep in mind that your goal is to turn stumbling blocks into strengths.

Get close.  Couples with close marriages: Feel confidence and trust in each other and feel secure with each other; Include each other in important decisions; Share leadership within their relationship; Have a mutual respect for each other; Have similar likes and interests; Are committed to spending time together on a regular basis and intentionally plan ways to be together; Feel the freedom to ask each other for help; Choose to be loyal to each other; and balance the time with family and friends so as not to take away from their relationship.

Be flexible.  The more flexible you and your spouse are, the happier your marriage can become.  Handle differences creatively, being open to exploring new solutions with each other.  Compromise and seek win-win solutions, consider the other's opinions, and be open to being influenced by each other.  Work together to organize your daily life, schedule, and household.  Work as a team to make decisions and seek unity in leading your household.  Be humble and willing to change when necessary.

Adjust your expectations.  Identify any unrealistic expectations you or your spouse may have, and change them to better reflect reality. 

  • Expect that it will be stressful to live in a remarriage and stepfamily; work together to find the solutions to the dilemmas that will arise. 
  • Expect that it will take time for your stepchildren to adjust and grow close to their new family members. 
  • Expect that your former spouses, extended family members, and children from previous marriages will impact your remarriage, and you'll have to adjust your family life accordingly. 
  • Expect that both you and your spouse will have to deal with emotional baggage from your previous relationships, and make time to pursue healing. 

But don't let these realities cause you to act in fear.  Ask God to give you the confidence you need to overcome your fears and work to create a strong marriage in spite of the stresses you must face.

Parent well in a stepfamily.  Seek a balance between the love and energy you give your children with what's necessary to sustain and build your marriage.  If you're a biological parent, gradually pass authority onto the stepparent and help your children build trust in him or her.  If you're the stepparent, move into the relationships with your stepchildren gradually, and discipline them only after you've earned their trust, respect, and honor.  Try to work together with your spouse to lead in unity and support each other in front of the children.

Use your personality differences to work with (not against) each other.  Rather than focusing on the ways you wish you were more alike or the parts of each other's personalities you'd like to change, ask God to help you learn how to understand, appreciate and work with your personality differences.  Keep in mind that those differences can benefit your marriage as you both bring unique abilities and perspectives to the relationship.  Consider how you can best work together to manage differences like these: extroverted versus introverted, open to change versus conventional, conscientious versus less organized, agreeable versus forceful, and calm versus reactive.  Also, work to change unhealthy attitudes and behaviors that can sabotage your marriage.  Avoid being moody, critical, negative, controlling, depressed, withdrawn, stubborn, or hot-tempered.

Communicate well.  Create a safe environment with each other that allows for open, vulnerable communication.  Listen carefully to each other's thoughts and feelings.  Don't criticize each other. Speak kind, encouraging words to each other whenever possible.  Make time for focused, meaningful conversations with each other every day.

Resolve conflicts well.  Manage conflict wisely so it won't harm your marriage but will help it grow as you work through issues.  Avoid blaming each other; take responsibility for your part in problems.  Don't bring up old issues; stick to the facts of the current issue you want to discuss.  Work together to find solutions that benefit both of you. 

Enjoy an active, shared leisure life.  Make plenty of time for fun and romance in your marriage so you both will feel more willing to work through life's stresses together.

Manage money well.  Find a financial management system that reflects each of your core values and works well for both of you.  Adhere to a budget while paying off existing debt and avoiding new debt.  Live simply, spending more time acquiring experiences, insight, and relationships than you spend acquiring things.  Save and give all you can.

Enjoy a healthy sex life.  Work on building the emotional intimacy that supports sexual intimacy.  Communicate with each other honestly and often about your wants and needs, and respond by lovingly trying to meet those desires and needs.  Don't compare your current spouse to your former one, and don't let insecurities from your former relationship spill over into your remarriage.

Enjoy a healthy spiritual life.  Share each other's spiritual values and orient your marital life around them.  Pray together, worship together at church, work together to serve others in need, and talk often about your spiritual journeys.  As you each grow closer to God, you'll grow closer to each other in the process.

February 13, 2010

Adapted from The Remarriage Check-Up, copyright 2010 by Ron L. Deal and David H. Olson.  Published by Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Bloomington, Mn., www.bethanyhouse.com.

Ron L. Deal is Founder and President of As For Me And My House Ministries, LLC and Successful Stepfamilies, an organization that empowers stepfamilies for healthy living and equips churches to minister to the unique needs of stepfamilies.  He is author of the book The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family and creator/presenter of the "Building a Successful Stepfamily" seminar.  Currently Ron is serving as Stepfamily Educational Consultant to Focus on the Family.  Ron is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Licensed Professional Counselor, and a member of the Stepfamily Association of America's Advisory Council and Institute Faculty.  Ron and his wife Nan are also members of the National Advisory Board for The Association of Marriage and Family Ministries. 

 

David H. Olson, PhD, is founder and president of Life Innovations, which produces a variety of products designed to build stronger marriages. A national and international marriage and family expert, Olson is professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota and the author of more than twenty books. Dr. Olson has appeared on a variety of television programs including Today, The Early Show, Good Morning America, and Oprah. He lives in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota.