Break-ups more common in remarriages

Some looking to remarry start with the right intentions, but wrong assumptions, experts say

This story was first published on April 12, 2015

One may think that people who remarry learn from past mistakes and are better prepared the second time round.

But that myth has been debunked by experts and, more recently, by findings from a Government study.

Counsellors told The Sunday Times that remarried couples face unique challenges such as making comparisons with their ex-spouse and disagreements over the parenting of stepchildren.

A Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) report released last week showed that break-ups are more common among remarriages than first marriages.

Among those who wed in 1998, for instance, three in 10 couples in which both partners were previously married, annulled their union or divorced before their 15th anniversary.

This figure is about one-and-a-half times that for couples in which the partners are getting hitched for the first time.

This trend is seen across marriage cohorts from 1987 to 2012, which is the subject of the study.

The findings also show that Muslim remarriages face greater risk of divorce (see chart).

Marital counsellors and divorce lawyers said some of those looking to remarry start with the right intentions but wrong assumptions.

Reach Counselling head, Mrs Chang-Goh Song Eng, said: "Couples want to make their next marriage work, but they don't think about why their last one failed."

Avoiding conflicts instead of resolving them is one bad habit they take into the next marriage, she added.

Ms Petrine Lim, principal social worker at Fei Yue Family Service Centre, said: "They assume they won't repeat their mistake. They don't ask how they contributed to their first divorce, and end up repeating the mistake."

Stepfamily life also has its challenges, which couples may not have faced in their first marriage.

Problems include disagreements over how to bring up stepchildren; and unhealthy comparisons by stepchildren and in-laws to the ex-spouse.

Harry Elias Partnership lawyer Koh Tien Hua recalled a divorce case involving a remarried couple in which there was much friction over the stepchildren.

The husband had two children in primary school from his previous relationship. They disliked his new wife, and this led to conflicts between the couple. They split before the fifth year of marriage.

Ms Fazlinda Faroo is the centre manager of PPIS Vista Sakinah, which offers specialised help to stepfamilies.

She said one reason behind divorce rates being higher among Muslim remarriages is that Muslim families are more accepting of remarriage, and divorcees going out on dates is sometimes seen as inappropriate behaviour.

Findings from a PPIS survey released in 2010 found that 86 per cent of the 314 remarrying Muslims polled felt their families fully supported their new union or were open to it.

"Some also think that finding a new partner is the easiest way to get over the grief of divorce or death of a spouse," she said.

"We tell our clients that remarriage is an option, not necessarily the solution."

Counsellors encourage couples intending to get hitched again to sign up for remarriage preparation programmes, but this is sometimes not easy.

Ms Fazlinda said: "We've had clients tell us 'I've been married before, so I know better'."

Mrs Chang-Goh said some also shy away from help as they are reluctant to talk about their previous union.

Ms Lim said: "Remarrying couples should put in the effort to understand what went wrong previously, and what's needed to make things right."

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg