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December 4, 1999
Column #953


     In the opening words of a cover story in ''U.S. News & World Report,'' ''Tori La Londe hosts a large Thanksgiving gathering every year at her home, but she is never sure who will show up. It could include any combination of her four biological children from two marriages, her stepson, the two foster children she raised... Although La Londe has little contact with her two former husbands, she has a close, enduring relationship with Jud, the stepson she helped raise. She also has a strong friendship with Jud's mother.''

     Some 46 percent of marriages involve someone who was previously married. Half of them have children. Like the example cited above, marriages involving children from a second marriage do not tend to work out very well. In fact, two-thirds fail. A child who has lived through one painful divorce has a 50 percent chance of living through a second by age 18.

     Fortunately, there is a new book which can reduce those odds of failure for couples entering a second marriage with stepchildren. It is called ''Preparing To Marry Again'' and was written by Rev. Dick Dunn, who served as Minister of Singles and Stepfamilies at Roswell United Methodist Church for 16 years, before he retired last summer.

     It is written in a workbook format, with brief chapters followed by questions, with space to write answers. Couples might use this resource by themselves or clergy might well require that the book be used as part of a premarital preparation program.

     When Pastor Dunn, who is himself in a second marriage, counsels couples marrying for the second time, he asks for a commitment to not even consider divorce for the first three years of marriage. If they stick it out that long, tough stepfamily issues ''will have improved considerably and their marriage will have a good chance.

     ''Second, I ask them to agree to seek counseling whenever the other person thinks they need it. Seldom do both feel the need at the same time.''

Below I've condensed other elements of his advice:

  1. ''All subsequent marriages are bourne out of grief.'' This is a time for friendships, not romance. Loneliness is not a reason to remarry. ''People should never consider marrying until they have learned to be happy as individuals. Marrying in order to be happy is not only a bad idea, but it seldom works.''

  2. Stretch out the courtship past the period of infatuation. ''Eventually all illusions give way to reality. It is far better for this to happen before rather than after, people marry.''

  3. ''No one should marry without premarital counseling,'' Dunn wries. That should include four elements: a) taking a premarital inventory such as PREPARE or FOCCUS. b) reading at least one book on stepfamilies, c) talking with a couple in a stepfamily who has been married for at least five years, and d). Attending a support group for stepfamilies.

  4. Do not live in your old home or hers, but sell them and buy a new one for a fresh start. That avoids ghosts of past marriages.

  5. ''Finances need to be discussed prior to the wedding, and definite decisions need to be made about the distribution of funds available to the couple.'' Complete financial disclosure is essential, so that one's debts and assets are known to the other. Be sure to protect tangible assets that you want to leave for your children, and leave instructions about which tangible family properties are to go ultimately to your own children. Often the assets of one partner are simply left to a spouse, which means they could end up totally in the hands of that person's biological children, with nothing left to your own.

  6. The former spouse is likely to continue to have conflicts with an ex that adds strain to the marriage. Here is where one needs to be in a stepfamily support group, to learn techniques for handling the conflict that others have learned who have ''been there, done that.'' Ideas are needed on how to handle holidays, particularly Christmas which is full of ''hidden land mines.''

  7. The grief of children over a divorce will outlast the grief of a parent who remarries.  Kids long for a ''childhood fantasy that Mom and Dad might get back together,'' and resent a substitution of a new parent for the old one. A teen might say to her mother, ''How dare you get married before I go away to college?'' Expect children to learn how to drive a wedge between husband and wife. Only a stepfamily support group will have answers.

To order a copy call Rev. Dick Dunn: 850-231-2975 or email:

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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