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By Beth Luce for LIFELines
(Last Reviewed Monday, July 23, 2007)

When a first marriage breaks up, as almost half in the United States do, it's a perfect time to start over with a second, better marriage.

Or is it?

The rate of divorce in second marriages is 5 to 10 percent higher than in firsts, according to Dr. Neil Warren, a psychologist who has counseled thousands of couples, written two books, and frequently speaks on the subject. The reason so many second marriages don't work out, Warren says, is that people jump into them without doing some hard work first.

"Many people who get divorced are so shattered by it that their immediate strategy is to get married again, with the thought that that will heal them," Warren says.

Getting married again could put you right back in the same position, says Dr. Gilda Carle, a professor of the psychology of communications at New York's Mercy College. She is a motivational speaker, and author of two books on finding Mr. Right. To fans who know her from TV and magazines, she is "the Love Doc."

"Most often people find the same, exact problems erupting," Carle says. "If they don't do the work, then they're going to repeat the same problems and suffer the same consequences."

Both Warren and Carle agree that, before tying the knot again, divorced people must work on their own self-worth, self-respect, and self-knowledge.

Who Are You and What Do You Want?
"First marriages, especially if they're young marriages, often happen before people have achieved their own identities. They don't know who they are, and they're selecting someone to live with for the rest of their days," says Warren.

"You have to know who you are, as an individual, by yourself, before you can solidify any kind of relationship with anybody else," warns Carle. She stresses that before you marry again, you should learn to like living alone. "This is so vital. People leave one marriage and jump into another, and they haven't really been by themselves. As a result, what they have to offer the relationship is very, very minimal."

When considering a new relationship, Carle advises, "Ask for what you need, and believe that you deserve to get it. If you can't do that, then you still have a lot of work to do."

"Don't be too eager," Warren adds. He says, take a long look at the first marriage, focusing on what you contributed to the breakup, and then working on those issues.

According to Carle, some people get remarried for the wrong reasons — for example, to get back at their ex-spouse, or to achieve a higher status or a better bank account. She recommends that you ask yourself, "Do you want to be committed? Or do you want to add value to your portfolio?"

Strategy Is Everything
Once you've done some self-assessing and healing, you can begin to look for a new relationship. But don't fall into the same trap. "A lot of people use the old strategy, mostly based on luck, assuming that what went wrong was that the other person failed them. But really, their strategy was probably defective", says Warren.

He has developed a system based on clinical and research work. His company helps people find candidates for marriage by matching 29 dimensions of their personalities.

A substantial body of research, according to Warren, suggests that, for a really good marriage, you should find someone a lot like you. Ignore this advice at your peril, he says, because if you're not well matched, you can work at a marriage until the cows come home, but it won't be a good marriage.

That's not to say that two people must be clones of each other. In a good marriage, each person has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, ideas, preferences, and interests. But in major areas, "If people are really well matched, they likely will make the relationship work," Warren says.

What Not to Look For
In our society, Warren says, we place too much emphasis on a short list of shallow requirements when seeking a relationship: appearance, chemistry, status, first-impression personality, and sense of humor. We don't put enough emphasis on things that really matter, such as intelligence, energy level, overlapping values or interests.

"An awful lot of people get married on the basis of those relatively superficial things," he says. "And when the romance wears off and they are left with a person they're not well matched with, they're shocked."

Warren recommends making a list of "must-haves" and "can't-stands" — in other words, the characteristics you must have in a mate in order to be happy, and those you simply can't live with.

"Over time, if someone doesn't have one of your must-haves, you're going to feel frustrated," he says. "That has a chance of wrecking your marriage."

Other Things to Think About

Sex: Before you get married, talk with your potential partner about sexual appetites. "Just like your appetite for certain foods, you have to determine what your individual appetites are," Carle says. "After the heat dies down, one person may want sex once a year and the other may want it two or three times a week."

Children: Make certain that you and the children have a good relationship, Carle says. Set up ground rules before you actually live under the same roof. The best you can wish for is to be their very good friend, someone they feel comfortable confiding in, someone who is not going to put them in the middle of battles between the grown-ups.

The other person's ex: "The opposite of love is not hate — it's indifference," Carle says. Until you are certain that your intended spouse is indifferent to his or her ex, do not decide to get married.

Your ex: Same goes for you. Continued arguments between two divorced people means that they are not letting go. You should achieve indifference before you decide to remarry, Carle says.

Take care of yourself: Don't accept treatment from anybody (potential spouse or children) that is less than positive and less than respectful, says Carle. When something doesn't feel right, speak up immediately.

Ask yourself some hard questions: Am I willing to go through hell and high water for this person? What about the children? How will I deal with the stepfamily? Will I feel like an outsider? Will I feel as though there are other interferences that are not being dealt with appropriately? Do I really, genuinely like this person?

Last words: "This is a chance for you to really do it right this time," Warren says. "You can marry your soulmate, you can have a great marriage — but you have to do the hard work."

Related Articles: Resources: So you are getting married?

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