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Photo courtesy of Life Magazine

Here comes the bride and the groom.  And her kids and his kids.  And his ex and her ex.  And her pets and his pets.  And her family and his family.  

When one remarries, they not only gain a spouse, they gain an entire village.  And in this case, the axiom, "it takes a village to raise a child" usually doesn't apply.  The reality is that for many, mass pandemonium ensues and all hell breaks loose.

I specialize in working with couples in remarriage and as someone who remarried when I had four teenagers, it would be an understatement to say that I understand intimately the challenges and struggles inherent in remarriage.

There's a reason I call my practice with these second hand roses, "Married with Baggage".  Before their remarriage, many couples romanticized the notion of the "blended family" and getting another chance at love and marriage.  They were determined to "get it right".

As anyone who brings to the marital table a pre-made family knows, the challenges of remarriage are not for the faint of heart.  And there isn't a remarried couple I've worked with who has not experienced the balloon breaking disillusionment of the "blended" family myth.

What I have found in my work with these couples, and in my own remarriage of ten years, is that way too much time is spent on conflict about the children and the relationships with the ex-spouses. The guilt that individuals have over their previous divorce infiltrates the new marriage like a slow growing cancer. The guilt then metastasizes into full-blown angst over how the divorce and subsequent remarriage is affecting the children who quickly become the center of the newlyweds' focus.

Talk about a libido killer.

As these couples are legitimately tussling over the realities of stepfamily life, the bloom quickly falls off the rose of love that brought the two together in the first place.

Survival mode kicks in and couples find themselves in a marital rut as soon as the honeymoon ends and the realities of the complicated lives of stepfamilies begin.

It's been said that, "three's a crowd".  The truth of stepfamilies is that not only is there a crowd, but often a messy hoarde of individuals who are all struggling to figure out how to figure out their place and role within the new "blended" family.

If these couples want to make sure they are not yet another dismal divorce statistic, it is critical that they take the time to find love in the midst of a crowd.

Without fail, when a couple comes in to try to sort out their complicated messes, I ask them if they have a consistent "date night" and the answer is always an abrupt, "No."  

No date night is a potential deathblow to any marriage.  

"Date night" is one of the most common recommendations any marriage and family therapist makes.  It may sound like a cliché but it's not.

When my husband and I went on our honeymoon ten years ago, we went away for a month to lands far away where text messages and phone calls were difficult.  The children were kept in regular contact but they were also put on alert that their parents were on their honeymoon and not to be disturbed (other than the obvious emergency that could only include imminent death or death itself).

We knew that when we got off that plane, there would be five children waiting for us.  The phrase, "the honeymoon was over" became a reality as soon as our plane touched American soil.

Given that my teenagers were in the throes of angst and rebellion and were quite adept at crashing cars and getting under-aged drinking tickets, and my husband's daughter was only five and quite confused, the romance got swallowed up by the realities of focusing on the needs of the children to help them through this major life transition.

But we were also adamant about the non-negotiable rule we had made clear to them that our once a week date night was sacred and not to be messed with.  We also made sure to get away for the occasional weekend, even if it meant holing up in some cheesy motel for a night.

Given that there is over a 70% divorce rate in second marriages, it is more than critical that couples give their marriage top billing.   As an astute client of mine said, "We need to make our children our top responsibility, but we need to make our marriage our top priority."

Wise woman.  

Couples in remarriage don't have the luxury of hoping and waiting for the day they can truly focus on one another.  They have to implant the priority of their relationship into the core of their lives from the moment they say, "I do."

As gimmicky as it may sound, couples in remarriage must build into their routines one-on-one time to reconnect after a busy day.  They need to make date night a once a week priority.  And an essential rule for date night:  No talk of children, ex-spouses, finances or any other realities that could take away that loving feeling.  

Couples need to use their date nights to fall in love once again, dream about the future, make plans and focus on one another.

After all, it's the reason they got married in the first place.

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